How Learning JavaScript Is Like Learning English

Dan Pickett

By Dan Pickett

July 6, 2023


Are you totally new to coding? That’s what Launch Academy is here for—to orient new programmers to the coding languages behind the world’s award-winning games, life-changing mobile apps, and culture-shifting software.

If you’ve never seen a programming language or encountered syntax of any kind, a career in software development may feel untenable. But our coding academy’s always-fresh curriculum is designed to train you (yes—you!) in 18 action-packed weeks!

To get new students started, we begin with a simple analogy:

Learning to code with introductory languages like JavaScript and Ruby is like learning English.

Learning to code with introductory languages like JavaScript and Ruby is like learning English.

Launch Academy leverages the English language rules you learned in grade school to help you comprehend and visualize coding syntax for JavaScript, Ruby, and other programming languages. 


How English Language Rules Make You a Better Coder

If computers ran the world (we see you over there, AI!), we’d all be programming solely in 1s and 0s. But let’s be realistic: deciphering the difference between “0100” and “0110” would be time-consuming and utterly maddening.

Instead, we express software commands using syntax—the rules that dictate how to structure a language’s symbols, punctuation, and vocabulary. That syntax then gets translated into the 1s and 0s that make the software “go.” 

Every programming language uses its own syntax, but the principles for learning those syntaxes remain consistent from language to language.


Getting from English grammar to coding syntax

We form most English sentences with two primary parts of speech: nouns and verbs. The noun or subject is paired with a verb clause or predicate that says something about that noun. If you write, “Cats can’t be developers,” the subject is “cats,” and the predicate is “can’t be developers.” (Our apologies to cats everywhere.) 

Programming syntaxes are similarly structured, but the terminology is different, with “objects” instead of “parts of speech.”

  • The subject in a line of code is called a “string,” and it represents data
  • The predicate in a line of code is called a “method,” and it represents the action 

When writing in syntax, we can create alpha-numeric strings, hold them in variable values, then call methods on them, as in this example:

alert(“I am a cat”)

  • “Alert” is the method—the predicate
  • “I am a cat” is the parameter—the subject; in this case, the parameter is a string that is always enclosed in quotation marks

In English, a collection of sentences makes a paragraph.
In syntax, a collection of strings makes a function.

In English, a paragraph embodies a main idea. 
In syntax, a function includes a header that defines the function’s purpose.

In English, multiple paragraphs form an essay.
In syntax, multiple functions form a program. 


Creating simple code with clear takeaways

Clarity is as important in coding as it is in essay writing. We want to structure our code so it’s clear and understandable—both to our future selves and to other engineers who work on the project.

Well-written code quickly demonstrates what the software does and how a user can harness its power.


How Reading Helps You Write Code

When you’re first learning how to become a software developer, you’ll do more reading than writing. Just as great novelists are also prolific book readers, great coders must be adept at reading code written by others.


Open-source resources

You can deepen your understanding of coding languages with open-source libraries on sites like GitHub, Bitbucket, and GitLab, where you can freely browse content and familiarize yourself with different syntaxes. 

Will you understand everything you see? Definitely not! But you’ll soon learn to identify parameters and methods as easily as you can point out a sentence’s subject and predicate. 

Pay close attention to how these elements are organized into functions—the paragraphs of code. This exercise will prepare you for your next phase of learning—and there’s always a next phase of learning, whether you’re just starting coding academy or many years into a software engineering career.


Growing your vocabulary

What do you do when you read a word you don’t know? You look it up in a dictionary. And what do you do when you encounter unfamiliar coding terms? You reference the programming language’s documentation!

MDN Web Docs, previously Mozilla Developer Network, is a terrific resource for expanding your programming knowledge. MDN allows you to view all the methods you can call on any string type. This developer-led project’s interactive approach has helped many coding academy students become stronger software engineers.


Building better applications

Each programming language has its own vocabulary of strings, numbers, arrays, and more. Most modern software allows you to build on these standard elements by downloading add-on dictionaries that contain new, rich sets of objects that you can incorporate into your code.

For example, let’s say you’re writing a program that integrates with Google Calendar, but neither Javascript nor Ruby provides native hooks into GCal. The solution? Download a package of pre-built “subjects and predicates” that allows you to complete the integration!

Software engineering is smarter, stronger, and more efficient precisely because we can share and borrow code, building upon what others have already created to expand our vocabularies and become creative, competent programmers.


Learning a New Language with Launch Academy

At Launch Academy, you’ll learn programming languages like JavaScript much like how you learned high-school Spanish or French: by starting with simple sentences and a small vocabulary. 

Over time, you’ll expand your programming vocabulary to include hundreds and then thousands of core objects for multiple languages, similar to how your spoken vocabulary is constantly growing. You’ll also learn each programming language’s unique syntax.

Most importantly, you’ll learn how to become a software developer by doing the work. That’s how you’ll become fluent—with ongoing, active code writing

When you leave our coding academy, you’ll be more than a Launch Academy graduate. You’ll be a software engineer. 

Download our syllabus and start your journey into programming!