Should Computer Languages Count as Foreign Languages?

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In the UK, the government is struggling to encourage more students to pick up a foreign language. Across the pond in the United States, however, some legislators are taking a different tack: allowing students to learn a computer language instead of a foreign language.  The states of Texas and Oklahoma were the first to allow students to substitute. Now, New Mexico and Kentucky are jumping on the bandwagon.

Should learning a computer language count as learning a foreign language? Why not encourage students to learn both?  In New Mexico, at least, funding appears to be the main issue.  Senator Jacob Candelaria, the senator who proposed the measure, told the Albuquerque Journal that computer classes would not necessarily replace all foreign language instruction:

“Districts could still teach Latin, French or Spanish, but it provides the incentive for them to incorporate (computer) coding into their curriculum without it being an unfunded mandate.”

In Kentucky, the goal is more to incentivise students to take the classes early. Currently, computer science is an elective and many students put it off until last year of school and don’t engage with the material as fully as they might have earlier on in their high school careers. Also, foreign language instruction is already getting the shaft, and the state is frequently short on teachers. As Sen. David Givens told TechRepublic,

“Foreign language teachers are limited,” he said. “By adding a computer programming option, an accredited math teacher can pick up that credential and help with the overflow of students that need language credits instead of searching for a foreign language teacher.”

Not everyone thinks this is a good idea. Albuquerque Public Schools Board President Marty Esquivel told the Albuquerque Journal, ““I think we in a society should stress being bilingual in a traditional sense.” He also questioned whether taking computer science instead of foreign languages would leave students at a disadvantage in high school. Even Roxanne Emadi, grassroots strategist for, an organization which encourages people to learn code and public schools to teach it, expressed some uncertainty about the proposals, preferring computer science to count as a math or science credit.  She told TechRepublic, “We advocate for more of that rather than replacing it as a foreign language,” Emadi said. “[Foreign languages] are important, too.”

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