Parlez-vous Java? Bonjour La Monde != Hello World: Barriers to Programming Language Acquisition for Non-Native English Speakers

Brett Becker

It is widely accepted that learning to program is fraught with challenges and the literature is not short of work that supports this view. There are many studies related to programming difficulties, barriers, and misconceptions as well as topics such as what language is best for learning and what techniques for teaching programming are most effective. It is often overlooked that globally, the majority of programming students are non-native English speakers. In addition to the barriers faced by all programming students, these non-native English speakers face a substantial class of additional barriers. This is because English is often the language upon which programming languages and their documentation are based, as well as the language of instruction and other environmental conditions.

There have been relatively few studies on the impact of human language on learning programming and the potential barriers this may cause. These barriers also span a wider range than may be obvious upon initial inspection. To complicate matters, natural language issues can add an additional layer of complexity to more universal barriers to learning. For instance it is well known that programming error messages present most novice programmers with difficulty. When these messages are in English as they most often are, any difficulties interpreting them and using them to produce error-free code are most likely compounded for non-native English speakers.

Particularly in a time when broadening participation in computing is a primary objective, the community can no longer afford to overlook the unique barriers faced by non-native English speakers who want to learn to program. This paper discusses these barriers, presents some questions to guide future research, and outlines the author’s work-in-progress in the area.

Type of Publication: Paper
Conference: PPIG 2019 - 30th Annual Conference
Publication Year: 2019
TitleParlez-vous Java? Bonjour La Monde != Hello World: Barriers to Programming Language Acquisition for Non-Native English Speakers
Publication TypePaper
AuthorsBecker, B
PPIG Workshop: 
2019-08-30th