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The amazing fabulous wondrous connection between languages and Computer Science

你好 ! Bonjour! Hey, how’s it going?

Languages and computer science. You might think it’s a strange combination, but surprisingly, it works. And we’re not just talking about the typical programming languages that you often associate with computer science, we’re talking LANGUAGE language! The one that is imprinted in your brain the moment you are born, the one that revolutionised the way we speak, listen, write, and communicate with each other. But what exactly is the link between languages and Computer Science? It’s not one we often recognise, so when a friend of ours noticed that a decent amount of people in Computer Science seemed to be bilingual or studying a second language we were also quite surprised! While there is some research to help explain this .

One aspect that you may have already noticed is that both areas are associated with the word “language”. Just like how we use language to communicate with family, friends, pets, and strangers, we use programming languages to ‘communicate’ with the computer. As programmers, we need to somehow let our computer know what we want it to do. But how do we get that information across? That’s where programming languages come in. Just like the usual languages that surround us, programming languages like Python and Java have their own features, nuances that make them unique, and even a grammatical structure that programmers have to abide by. Researchers such as Chantel Prat have looked into this and discovered that people with greater aptitude for foreign languages often find learning programming languages easier too!

But learning how to code is only half the trouble in computer science. If you choose to work in software, you’ll be part of a group of programmers all working on the same code as you. Learning how to communicate with your teammates is vital, and learning a second language is great for this! Obviously, if you’ve got a teammate who speaks your second language, your language skills are going to be a big help. This isn’t unusual – large tech companies like Google have projects worked on by people all across the world at the same time. But even besides that, by learning a second language you’ve learnt not only how to communicate but what to do when communication breaks down. I know when I’ve been practicing my second language with native speakers, I’ll often find myself resorting to pointing at objects and rephrasing all my points so they can begin to understand me! Learning to avoid frustration and find new ways to share your ideas helps you explain concepts to your teammates (and can help if your computer doesn’t understand you either)!

So, it turns out there is more of a link between computer science and languages than we would have thought! Learning a new language helps you communicate with other people, regardless of what they speak, and it’ll prepare you for learning programming languages. And as an added bonus you get a skill you can show off for years to come! So start up that Duolingo again, and good luck! Croyez en vous! 加油 !

Ariane Pearce:

Ariane is a second year undergraduate student at the University of Adelaide studying Computer Science (Advanced) and a Diploma of Languages (Chinese). She’s passionate about language learning and has been studying Chinese for 8 years. In her free time she likes drawing and watching television.

Trinity Liao:

Trinity is a second-year undergraduate student at the University of Adelaide studying Computer Science (Advanced). She loves expanding her French learning and also speaks Mandarin at home with family and friends. In her free time, you’ll find her listening to music and learning to cook.