Madison Iszler, October 24, 2016 | 2 min read

Learning a New Language

Like many students in the United States, I took Spanish classes in middle and high school. I spent years studying flashcards, taking quizzes and doing vocal drills, but less than a decade later, I’m embarrassed by how few terms and phrases I remember.

Learning to code through Tech Talent South’s part-time immersion course reminds me of those Spanish courses because learning how to code is akin to learning a new language. The course I’m enrolled in focuses on Ruby, a programming language, as the foundation of the class.

The main reason I remember very little Spanish now is because after I graduated from high school and went on to college, I stopped practicing reading and speaking it. To succeed at coding, the same techniques for learning any language are required: memorizing terms and phrases, understanding the community’s culture and practicing on a regular basis.

It’s new and unfamiliar territory, and sometimes it’s quite intimidating. Completing a handful of homework problems takes me hours and often requires troubleshooting into the wee morning hours with help from my fantastic teacher, Julie Harrow. Trying to balance the eight-week intensive course with work, errands, relationships and other aspects of life is tiring.

But while it’s often 4 A.M. when I finally understand the logic behind a particular code or master a set of commands, I feel a tremendous sense of accomplishment. I’m a journalist, and I enrolled in a TTS course because I wanted to learn how to create data visualizations, interactive features and web apps in order to become a better storyteller. I’d tried to learn how to produce those things through YouTube tutorials and online classes, but found that didn’t quite work past a certain point. It’s encouraging to be learning alongside others instead of on my own.

I have five weeks left, and I can’t believe how much I’ve already learned. But I’m already thinking of what will come of the commands and skills I’m learning after I finish the course and I’m on my own. I know what won’t work; just try having a conversation with me in Spanish.

Progress is slow and intermittent, but the more I practice, the more familiar coding becomes. I don’t have to look up every command in my notes any more, and I’ve been able to create some small, fun programs. With familiarity comes a degree of comfort, and as I continue memorizing and practicing, I’m hopeful that over time coding will become less forced and more natural to me.