A lot of articles focus on which language to learn next – and I’ve been guilty of thinking the same way myself. In fact, I think this way at least 50% of the time, hence me wondering if it’s productive to focus on the next language to learn.
The answer for me seems like a “no”. Why? A language isn’t only a language but it comes with a whole bunch of ubiquitous libraries (if you’re lucky) as well as several third party libraries. So would you be better off knowing your primary language better or knowing a second or third language not to the level that you can be highly productive in it?
I’m not sure the comparison with spoken languages is even valid beyond the fact they are called languages but as I am pretty knowledgeable in that field, I’m using it anyway My mother tongue is French and as a teenager, I made a concerted effort to learn English. My goal was not only to be able to write in English but to actually be fluent like a native. Why? Because I intended to move to England!
Well, 15 years on, I live in the UK and I’m always told my English is as good as a native’s so I have achieved my goal. Along the way, I have had to learn other foreign languages for school/Uni (namely Spanish and Russian) but as I didn’t want to lose my focus on English, I didn’t do so well in those. For a long time – until I felt 100% confident with my English – I kept thinking that it was a shame I hadn’t stuck to Russian or Spanish, both pretty widely spoken languages that would have given me access to two culturally rich worlds.
However, now that I have achieved the same level of confidence in English as I have in my mother tongue, I understand I have made the right choice. Another language would have distracted me from that. Only now am I ready to learn other foreign languages well (and I am working on this).
Back to the problem at hand – programming languages – the question is whether the same approach would work and indeed would be the best. When I learnt English, I didn’t only learn vocabulary and grammar but also a whole culture – it’s one thing to be able to express yourself, it’s another to not look like the odd one out in an English pub! Can the culture of a spoken language be equated with the libraries and tools of a programming language?
I do not have any answers – I’m only trying to ask the right questions
At the moment, thinking back on my experience with spoken languages, I am thinking that until I am completely fluent with not only my primary language but with all its tools and libraries, there is no point distracting myself with another language. But is this the right way to think, or is this analogy misleading? Or, in fact, is the analogy right but is my own experience with learning English misleading me into a conclusion that isn’t actually accurate?
Does your experience of learning programming languages match with your experience of learning foreign languages? How so or not so? Should you be fluent like a native speaker (perhaps a native speaker of a programming language could be somebody who actually worked on its implementation for example?) in one language before embarking on another?