Communication++: A Writer Learns to Code

English is my mother tongue. I learned it first and it comforts me. If I need to communicate something, I naturally turn to English (and maybe some gesturing with my hands!). In school, I studied Spanish, French, and Jamaican Creole/Patois. I’m currently working on being fluent in Spanish. My Puerto Rican partner helps motivate me, but when I’m trying to communicate in Spanish, I find myself grasping for words just out of reach. I long for the familiar words of English to communicate larger issues. Finding myself at a loss for words is difficult for an English major. I feel so confident with spoken and written word—in English.

Living in Language

I recently read Ewa Hryniewicz-Yarbrough’s article “Little Bowls of Colors” in the American Scholar; Hryniewicz-Yarbrough discusses how stepping outside of your native language creates vulnerability and confusion, so you really start to think about your words. And with this distance, you see yourself in a new light. As she writes, we live in language, not a country.

No matter where I move I would live in English—at least for a long time. It would take many years to have me live comfortably with another language. I’m monogamous with English even though I flirt with Spanish.

So I find myself flirting once again—this time with a computer. I’m trying to learn new expressions and syntax all for the sake of getting the computer to understand what I want and where I want it. And, again, I find myself grasping for words that, in English, would flow freely. I could easily design that image or web page with English words. I could describe and draw all sorts of things . My pictures could easily be abstract. But with coding, I find myself wanting to create something complex—something that would make the viewer really think—but I am at a loss for words.

So I scale back. I return to the words I know well. I just learned to make the mouse control the movement and place the box at the X and Y coordinates of my choosing, so, no, I can’t yet make the Magic 8 Ball shake when the user clicks their mouse. I want to. I carefully describe it in English to my partner Arturo, who has a Ph.D. in computer science. He applauds my ambition and reminds me to scale back—at least for now.

Learn a few nouns and a verb, and then use those until I can add more words to my vocabulary. I get it. But it is frustrating.

Learning a Programming Language

Communication is never an easy process no matter how comfortable you are with the language. But learning coding is similar to moving to a foreign land where my mother tongue is not able to help me. I find myself making jokes that native speakers of this new language will not find as funny. The push command becomes my inside joke of “Push it. Push it real good,” and I know that commas should always go inside the parentheses, not outside.

But I’ve decided to visit this foreign place, so I must do as the locales and try to embrace this new language. So I am immersing myself in coding and hoping that that the strangeness of it allows me to come away a more complex human being—or, at the very least, become a computer whisperer.

2 Replies to “Communication++: A Writer Learns to Code”

  1. I connect to your living in a language idea. Growing up I spoke Kannada at home, while learning Kannada, English and Hindi as a language at school, whose medium of teaching was English. I also spent few years learning Sanskrit and was exposed to television in more languages than I have fingers. I come from a country where most people know 3-5 languages as every state has its own language and culture. My father’s language is Kannada and my mother’s language is Tulu. Tulu had no written script until recently when they adopted the script of Kannada language. My mother never taught me Tulu, but family on my mother’s side speak it. My father speaks Kannada Tamil, Telugu, Hindi and English, while my mother speaks Tulu, Kannda, Hindi, English.

    I presently live in a country where I primarily speak English, and a home where I primarily speak English, because neither my wife nor my child speak the other languages I know. My wife who has a Masters in Linguistics knows English, Italian, French, Mandarin, Spanish and can understand a few more languages, but the language that connects us is English.

    My thoughts aren’t in a single language, it is usually mix of many… Hinglish, Kanglish, KanHingLish or whatever else you want to throw in there. Now let’s add to that a mix of Greek and Latin because of my medical degree, and all the coding languages that I have acquired over time, it often feels tiring to narrow down my thoughts and communicate to others in a single language like ‘English’… I feel the true voice in my head is hidden.

    1. DrDeveloper says: Reply

      That is really interesting! I have always been fascinated by languages and taught several classes on literature that address what you are talking about. I find it fascinating which language people feel comfortable speaking in and which one they dream in. I know it must be frustrating living in a place where you mainly express yourself through one language. I wish people here spoke more languages.

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