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Supporting the Study of World Languages and Computer Science

ACTFL advocates the study of both world languages and computer science.  Both are essential skills in a world that is connected across borders and through technology.  Both provide specific skills and a way of thinking; however, the perspectives and skills gained are not equivalent.

A computer coding course is not equivalent to a world language course for the following reasons:

  • The study of computer coding does not allow students to gain the intercultural skills, insight, and perspectives to know how, when, and why to express what to whom. In other words, computer coding does not meet the standards outlined in the World-Readiness Standards for Learning Languages (National Standards Collaborative Board, 2015).  
  • Computer coding cannot be used by people to interact and negotiate meaning with other people.
  • Computer coding cannot be used to investigate, explain, and reflect on the relationship between the products, practices, and perspectives of a particular culture through the language.  Languages provide an historical connection to society and culture and have been around for centuries, gathering the elements of culture, preserving stories, and being used for human communication.
  • In comparison to most world languages with about 10,000 vocabulary words and grammatical structures, computer coding does not utilize large numbers of words, nor does it use them in the same ways.  A “typical computing language has a vocabulary of about 100 words, and the real work is learning how to put these words together.” (Hirotaka, 2014)
  • Merriam-Webster provides the following “simple” definition of language: the system of words or signs that people use to express thoughts and feelings to each other. Computer coding does not express thoughts or feelings.
  • Colleges and universities vary in their policies for accepting computer coding as fulfilling students' foreign language entry requirements.
  • Computer coding is part of the larger field of computer science, which is a critical 21st century subject and deserves its own graduation requirement.  Computer science is much more related to mathematics and science than to languages.

Additional statements in support of computer coding and world languages as separate credits: formally opposes the idea of classifying computer science as a foreign language. First off, ‘computer coding’ isn’t what we should teach students. ‘Computer science’ is what we should teach. Just like in English class we don’t teach just handwriting and grammar, we teach English literature and composition. Learning ‘coding’ is just one part of computer science. Learning algorithm design, computational thinking, how the Internet works, data analysis, cybersecurity, these are equally important aspects of computer science, and none of it, not even the coding, has anything to do with learning a foreign language. The only people who would suggest that computer science is akin to learning a foreign language have never coded before.”
Hadi Partovi, CEO,

“While computer coding is a vital skill for modern times, it should never be at the expense of foreign languages. I had the opportunity to study in Switzerland for a year on a Fulbright Scholarship at the Université de Neuchâtel and became fluent in French. I couldn’t agree more with you about the critical thinking skills inherent in learning a foreign language and the necessity of doing so in our increasingly connected linguistically diverse global community. We need computer skills and foreign-language skills. Both are critical to our modern world.”
Delegate Mark Levine, Virginia House of Delegates, serving Alexandria, Arlington, and Fairfax

"Coding is an incredibly important 21st century skill for our kids to learn, and that is why we spend so much time trying to teach it. But I don't believe it is the same or even really comparable to learning a foreign language. It would be a shame to lose something so important for the sake of adding something else, even something as important as coding. Clearly, education leaders must figure out a way to teach both."
Srini Mandyam, CTO and co-founder of instructional coding company Tynker

“, Computing in the Core, Microsoft, Amazon, Google, Facebook, the College Board, and the Computer Science Teachers Association and numerous other organizations, support a policy allowing computer science to count toward mathematics or science graduation requirements.”
Amy Hirotaka, Director of State Government Affairs,

For the criteria of what would be considered a world language, see “What is a World Language?”.


"Definition of ‘language’" Merriam-Webster. Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 03 Aug. 2016.

Hirotaka, Amy. "Computer Science Is Not a Foreign Language." ANYBODY CAN LEARN., 30 Jan. 2014. Web. 03 Aug. 2016.

Perisic, Igor. "Don't Swap Coding Classes for Foreign Language." LinkedIn. LinkedIn, 23 June 2015. Web. 3 Aug. 2016.

The National Standards Collaborative Board. (2015). World-Readiness Standards for Learning Languages. Alexandria, VA: Author.

Thursday, January 26, 2017