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Coding as a Second Language: Incorporating Computer Science into Language Arts

Coding is the language of computers. It takes human input and transforms it into a numerical-alphabetic language that can be read by a computer. 

Our favorite devices, including phones and laptops, rely on code. Traffic lights, medical devices, automobiles, and many household conveniences also rely on millions of lines of code.

STEM disciplines are necessary for future advancement and a comfortable tomorrow. Therefore, STEM-based engagement is needed to forge critical thinking among new generations of scientists and engineers. Coding is the first step on that journey.

What Are Some Good Programming Languages to Learn?

Incorporating computer science into language arts begins with selecting the right coding languages that are accessible and beneficial for students. One ideal choice is Python, renowned for its clear syntax and readability, which mirrors the structured thinking found in written language. 

Python supports diverse applications, from web development to data analysis, making it a practical tool for integrating coding projects with language arts curricula. Students can use a simple Python platform in a controlled environment to hone their deductive reasoning and data analysis skills. 

Another suitable language is JavaScript. As the backbone of web interactions, JavaScript allows students to create interactive essays or digital storytelling projects, blending literary skills with technical execution. While more complex than Python's, its syntax introduces students to conventional programming patterns and real-world application scenarios.

For younger learners or those new to programming, Scratch offers a visual approach to coding. Developed by MIT, Scratch uses blocks to represent code concepts, enabling students to grasp fundamental programming principles without the intimidation of text-based coding.

A student codes a Sphero BOLT using a laptop with block and text coding.

Where Human Languages Come Into Play

While the combo seems outlandish, languages and code are a perfect combo for educational purposes. Adding coding languages into language arts curricula fundamentally transforms the learning experience. For instance, students might use coding to create digital portfolios showcasing their essays and projects, learning to present content in an engaging, modern format. In particular, this is a good way to showcase how fun front-end development is or even point out the connections to SEO and marketing. 

Coding also allows for the development of apps or tools that facilitate peer review or track changes in writing, reinforcing the editing and revision process. Furthermore, coding can enable the exploration of artificial intelligence in poetry or storytelling, where students experiment with AI to create new forms of literary expression. 



Stimulating Both Sides of the Brain

This practical application of programming skills enriches students’ understanding of language arts and equips them with valuable technological competencies.

This allows children to start viewing language and speech from the prism of data science and vice versa, as the two are inseparable in manipulating information in a wider sense. Whether learning how to connect a QR code to a website or how to manipulate anchor texts and use crawlers, all activities related to coding or language comprehension will turn them into better coders. If administered properly, that is. 

Syntax Synergy: Words Are Code, Too (and Vice-Versa) 

The connection between programming syntax and linguistic grammar is rooted in their structured rules that govern composition and interpretation. For example, the order of words in English in a sentence is crucial: "The cat chased the dog" conveys a different scenario than "The dog chased the cat." Similarly, in a programming language like Python, the syntax determines the execution: print(5 + 3) outputs 8, whereas print("5" + "3") results in 53.

Both fields also stress the importance of clarity and precision. A misplaced comma can alter the meaning of a sentence, such as in "Let's eat, grandma!" versus "Let's eat grandma!" which drastically changes the context. In coding, a missing semicolon in languages like Java can lead to a compilation error, preventing the program from running.

Understanding these parallels can help students appreciate the importance of meticulous, structured thinking in coding and writing.

Going One Step Beyond: Is Dual Billingualism Too Challenging?

Inevitably, some learners will grow out of basic connections between English and Python syntax. Here, the true potential of combining coding and language learning fully shines.

The concept of "Dual Bilingualism" in both linguistic and technological contexts presents unique challenges and advantages, particularly for the extra-gifted learners who are often socially and emotionally capable of mastering complex systems simultaneously. 

Just as learning related Romance languages such as Spanish, Italian, and French can be advantageous due to their similar grammatical structures and vocabularies, selecting complementary tech stacks in coding—like HTML, CSS, and JavaScript for web development—enables a more cohesive and efficient learning experience.

This strategic approach to learning harnesses synergies that can accelerate comprehension and proficiency. Understanding one Romance language can provide cognitive shortcuts to others in language learning. 

Similarly, mastering JavaScript is enhanced by knowledge of HTML and CSS, as these technologies collectively shape the web experience. For gifted students, navigating these dual paths can be both an intellectual challenge and a profound opportunity, allowing them to apply cross-curricular thinking and integrate diverse knowledge areas seamlessly into their skill sets.

A table full of Sphero RVR+ robots and laptops containing text code.

Challenges of Incorporating Computer Science Into Language Arts Curricula 

While few combinations can stimulate young minds as vigorously as CS and linguistics, there are still some hurdles before programs like this become an everyday occurrence across the world: 

  • Curriculum integration: Designing a curriculum that effectively blends coding with language arts can be challenging. Educators must find meaningful intersections between the two that enhance learning without diluting the core principles of either subject.
  • Teacher training: Many language arts teachers may not have a background in computer science, requiring significant professional development to gain the necessary skills and confidence to teach coding concepts.
  • Resource allocation: Schools often face limited budgets, which can restrict the availability of necessary technology like computers and software, let alone programming robots. Furthermore, the unwillingness of local governments is also hindering the implementation of a coding-integrated curriculum.
  • Student engagement: While some students may be excited about coding, others might find it intimidating or irrelevant. Hence, making the project utilitarian is important, at least from the child’s perspective. If they’re tackling a lot of school work, maybe having them make a PDF to Excel converter, but with a focus on proper language conversion, would be a good, sufficiently challenging goal to strive towards. 
  • Assessment methods: Developing assessment strategies that fairly evaluate both coding skills and literary analysis can be complex, as these require very different criteria and methodologies.
  • Balancing depth with breadth: There is a risk that trying to cover both coding and language arts within the same curriculum could lead to superficial treatment of both subjects rather than allowing students to delve deeply into either area.

Wrapping Up 

Language arts and coding both benefit students, but their true potential is unleashed when combined. The goal is for kids to grow up as tech-literate individuals who can easily take on changes and challenges. 

Teachers already weave in concepts like syntax, grammar, expressions, and classification by analyzing basic English sentences and Scratch coding tasks, moving on to Java, Python, and other languages afterward. And later? Who knows? The sky is the limit. 

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