Should coding count for foreign language requirements?

A bill in the Louisiana State Senate could allow schools to offer programming languages in place of a foreign language.

Foreign language teachers in the state are largely opposed to the bill, arguing that learning how to code is not an adequate replacement for learning how to speak a foreign language. While programming languages and written language share similarities — for example, both are composed of a distinct syntax and vocabulary — there has been some research in recent years to suggest that the human brain processes these languages differently.

“Language is to communicate with one person. Coding is to tell a machine what to do,” Janice Patton, a Louisiana-based French teacher told a local NBC affiliate news station. “When we communicate, we’re not telling people what to do — we’re passing our message and they are acknowledging it and sending a message back. To me, that’s not what coding is.”

Senate Bill 191 is currently awaiting approval in the House, however even if passed, it would not go into effect until the 2025-2026 school year. While the bill wouldn’t entirely replace foreign language courses with coding courses, it would allow high school students to fulfill their foreign language requirements with courses in a programming language, like HTML or JavaScript.

While coding may enlist similar skills to learning as foreign language, they are largely considered to be separate skills. In 2020, a study from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology reported that reading lines of computer code activate different regions of the brain compared to reading written language. Not only that, but the two perform fairly different functions — foreign language courses allow students to engage with foreign cultures that they may not otherwise be exposed to.

This hasn’t stopped legislators from attempting to offer coding in place of foreign language programs before, though: Florida, Virginia, and Maryland have all introduced bills in the past (once again, to significant resistance from language educators in the state) that would do the same as the aforementioned Louisiana bill.

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Andrew Warner
Andrew Warner is a writer from Sacramento. He received his B.A. in linguistics and English from UCLA and is currently working toward an M.A. in applied linguistics at Columbia University. His writing has been published in Language Magazine, Sactown Magazine, and The Takeout.

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