The value of learning multiple languages

Last night I was talking with a 13 year old who is creating some
impressive works in Photoshop.  He created some very cool graphics
for his Counter Strike clan web site.  I have to admit that I was
really blown away by what he created.

As we talked I asked him what he used to create the graphics, and that
is when he told me about using Photoshop.  I asked what else he
was doing on the web and he replied “Some Javascipt … and a little
PHP.”  Wow … I was surprised.  We talked about Javascript,
and although his knowledge was not incredibly deep, he had a good grasp
of the basics of the language.  I showed him some of the stuff
that I have been working on lately and he asked some good
questions.  We then progressed to talking about PHP, and he
explained some of the small things that he is learning there. 

What struck me today is the shift in learning to “speak” different
“languages”.  Decades ago, or even hundreds of years ago, it was
seen as important to learn to speak other languages from around the
globe.  People in non-English speaking countries learned
English.  Most of the schools here in the USA taught middle and
high-school students Spanish, French, German, and other
languages.  (I actually spent years learning Spanish … although
it is very rusty at this point!)  It always seemed to me that the
intent was to give me a leg up on interacting with people of other
countries and origins.  I have, from time to time, found value in
my Spanish learning.

Today it now appears that the future is more in “talking” to computers
and the Internet.  And so now it seems there is more value in
learning “computer” languages … then “foriegn” langauges.  As I
thought about this today, I realized that this is probably true. 
More and more people from around the globe are learning English, and
much of the Internet – and computer technology in general – is based on
English.  So where do children turn?  To “interacting” with
computers.  And so understanding the languages used by computers
is becoming more and more important.

Its fun to think about the evolution of computer langauges, and to see
the various roots of the popular langauges.  In addition, most of
the scripting languages are becoming so high-level, and the component
libraries so rich, that even a beginner at programming can create
powerful applications.  With the Internet as a platform, Web
Services, XML, RSS, and many other standards are emerging as the APIs
independent of operating system … or programming “langauge”.  I
can only imagine what a 13 year old, who today is learning Javascript
and PHP, might be developing in 5 or 10 years.  I know that it
will be fun to see!

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