Learning to code is like learning to read

It’s just like learning a new language…

Learning English

I remember learning to read in English; my class teacher presented me with a thin A5 “beginners’ reading book” from the Infants’ department.  I was 9 years old and had left my home in Milan as a fluent reader and writer in Italian as well as being a fluent speaker of Marathi.  Needless to say, during that first year, I amassed a collection of unread “easy-readers” in my desk.  In the meantime, I spent my time in the local library, tussling with the social and linguistic complexities of Paddington Bear and The Famous Five.  Thirty six years later, I have become fluent in several more languages and worked as a primary teacher; a positive outcome to a rather sorry start to my English education.  This experience came to mind when I undertook a coding workshop as part of this week’s lecture.  It was evident that I was encountering a familiar problem; I needed to learn to read.  Again.

Learning HTML and CSS

Of course, HTML and CSS are strictly not languages, they are simply a way of adding context, style and structure to text so that it can be displayed in a web browser.  Nonetheless, as with a language, the pages of code needed to be understood and used to communicate something.  My strategy at the age of 45 was the same as that which I used at the age of 9. Firstly, I ignored the complex details and looked at the broad meaning of the written code.  (As with any language, you do not need to know every word to understand the meaning of a sentence.)  Secondly, I trotted off to the Library where I found some accessible manuals and online references (dictionaries and grammar books).  Lastly, I am spending time trying to build a basic understanding using contexts, phrases and expressions borrowed from web designers (native speakers).

Enjoying Learning

As with any of the languages I speak, there are major gaps in what I understand and can currently achieve using HTML and CSS.  However, I am heartened by the fact that a year after dispensing with my “beginners’ reading book” I finished  the “The Hobbit”. I don’t know if I will make similar progress with coding but in the meantime, I am enjoying learning and I am rather pleased with my achievement to date:

First Page

REFERENCES

Duckett, J. 2011. HTML and CSS: design and build websites. Indianapolis, IN: John Wiley and Sons

McFarland, D. 2009. CSS: the missing manual. 2nd ed. Sebastapol, CA: O’Reilly Media

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