With hundreds of coding languages in existence, it can feel overwhelming to break into the world of computer programming or introduce these concepts to students.
With help from our Vice President of Engineering, Brian Kellner, Sphero is here to break down why various coding languages are developed, the most popular types of languages and their applications, and where beginners should start on their coding journey.
But first, let’s start by learning what exactly a coding language is and why different types exist.
What is a coding language?
A coding or programming language is a tool used to deliver a set of instructions for a computer to follow. Because computers “speak” in binary — strings of 1s and 0s — coding languages were developed to translate these 1s and 0s into a language that humans can more easily read and write.
Brian explains this definition further, stating, “I think of a programming language as a way for a human to tell a computer to do something in a way that both of them can understand.”
Why are there so many different coding languages?
In the same way that the English language has changed alongside our cultural advances, computer languages evolve alongside our technological advances, too.
Brian tells us, “Sometimes an existing programming language can evolve along with those changing environments. Sometimes this evolution creates new ‘flavors’ of existing languages. Other times, entirely new languages are created to better meet these new requirements.”
Additionally, different coding languages have different use cases, and many developers have unique tastes and personal preferences when it comes to which language they use. Each of these factors has contributed to the wide array of languages available today.
Types of Coding Languages
Programming languages can be categorized by their applications and their level of abstraction from human language. Broadly, coding languages are considered either low- or high-level languages, and both categories can be broken down further.
1. Low-Level Languages
Low-level coding languages bear little resemblance to human language, which means they are less efficient for us to read and write. These languages require in-depth experience to learn and use, and they tend to vary from computer to computer.
For example, binary (or base-2) is a low-level machine language that only uses 1s and 0s to perform operations. For example, a computer could use a hypothetical binary code that may look like “0110101100101000” to perform a designated action.
2. High-Level Language
High-level programming languages more closely resemble human vernacular and are further abstracted from machine language. These languages are therefore easier for most programmers to use, and they are more likely to function across different computer types.
Developed by Dennis Ritchie in 1972, C is a programming language that was originally created to write an operating system. “This language has been around for quite a while and has a bit more complex syntax compared to newer languages,” Brian tells us.
C features low-level access to memory, simple keywords, and a streamlined style. Brian goes on to describe its real-world uses, explaining, “C is often used to create programs that run the chips that power devices, including Sphero robots.”
3. Object-Oriented Languages
Within the category of high-level languages, object-oriented languages were designed to hide internal details of data structures, making large-scale programming much easier. These languages make code modular by splitting it into segments, allowing developers to analyze elements of large-scale programs one at a time.
Developed by Guido van Rossum in 1991, Python is a free and open-source programming language that features an intuitive syntax. Today, it’s one of the most widely used languages for its understandable code and range of uses.
“Python is considered easy to learn and has a very active community of developers,” Brian states. “It can integrate with other languages, and it is used for many applications, including artificial intelligence.”
Java is a cross-platform programming language released by James Gosling and Sun Microsystems in 1995. Designed as a “Write Once, Run Anywhere” language, Java is widely used for developing applications as it can be written on one system and function on any other Java-enabled system.
“This is used a lot in client-server applications as well as programming apps for Android (although Kotlin is the more modern language for Android development),” Brian says of Java.
Pronounced “C Sharp,” this programming language created in 2000 is easy to learn, especially for those who are already familiar with C or Java syntax. C# is primarily used for developing desktop applications and is the go-to for Microsoft apps.
Brian explains, “This is a language developed by Microsoft and can be used for everything from servers to Windows applications. It is also used for programming some of the apps that Sphero builds via the Unity development platform.”
How to Learn Programming Languages
If you’re new to coding and computer programming, figuring out where to start can feel overwhelming. Thankfully, there are plenty of free programs out there — including visual languages designed for education — that can help orient you and your students on your coding journey.
“If you’re really new to the idea of programming, I would recommend first trying a block programming solution like Scratch,” Brian suggests. “This will help you learn the key concepts without getting hung up by things like typos.”
When you’re ready to move on to learning a specific coding language, Brian recommends starting with the high-level language Python. “I think it has fewer of the confusing ‘gotchas’ that other languages have, and you can do almost anything with it,” he explains. To get started with Python, Brian suggests a popular course called Python for Everybody Specialization.
Start Coding Today with Sphero
The world of computer programming is complex and constantly evolving, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible to learn how to code.
While low-level languages might be difficult to comprehend for beginners, many high-level, object-oriented languages resemble plain English so you can read and write code more easily. Plus, with a plethora of free programming solutions and entry-level courses available, the barrier to entry for coding gets easier to overcome every day.
Looking for even more hands-on resources for learning how to code? At Sphero, our play-based programmable robots and STEM kits can help get the ball rolling on coding education for learners of all ages.