Which Language to Learn and Why

Do you want to equip your kids with skills that give them a lifelong advantage? Want to learn something new yourself and impress strangers? It’s as easy as learning a cool new language. Here’s all you need to know for deciding whether you and your kids should learn Mandarin or JavaScript, and why.

Accessibility

How easy is it to learn a new language? Are you a child? If yes, no biggie. If not, good luck.

But don’t despair! For JavaScript, the story is a bit different. Coding languages are per definition a lot less complex than human languages; they are designed to be understood by machines as simple as your alarm clock, after all. Kids are still best at acquiring new coding languages, but it’s also very feasible for adults. Crash courses in JavaScript claim they need around 3–4 months to provide their participants with fluency.

For Mandarin, things are a little bit more complicated. Infants younger than seven months can distinguish between all possible sounds and tones in human languages, from the Germanic “b” vs. “v” to the Mandarin “mā” vs. “má” vs. “mǎ” vs. “mà”. Once infants get older without having been exposed to a certain language group, they lose the ability to recognize its unique tones. Still, kids can become native speakers to most languages as long as they hear it often enough while they are younger than 12 years. Once you’re an adult, you will need to dedicate more time. And a lot more effort. Estimates indicate it can take adults 3–4 years spent in China before they achieve fluency in the language. In summary:

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Accessibility: Javascript +1

Users

Mandarin is the biggest human language, spoken by one fifth of the world’s population. Even though most of these speakers are located in the far East, knowledge of Mandarin could be your key to many Chinatowns worldwide alike.

JavaScript probably won’t catch up in users amount to Mandarin anytime soon — that is, if you only count in human users. Count in all the machines that speak code, and it’s no contest. Just think of all the machines in your house; this includes the microwave, the alarm clock, and so on. You get my point.

Users: Mandarin +1, JavaScript +1

Career benefits

Say that you will invest the time to learn Mandarin. It’s often claimed to be a big career boost, but is that true? You will have a quality that is somewhat unique in the Western world, but this can also be a downside. US and EU companies will usually not require a fluent Mandarin speaker in job descriptions, because it’s simply too hard to find one. Communication is a lot easier in English, in which most Chinese professionals are fluent. Basically, to receive the full career benefits of speaking Mandarin, you might have to enter China’s job market first.

There is an estimated lack of 900,000 IT specialists in the EU in 2020. For the US, there is a predicted shortage of 1,000,000 STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) professionals over the next decade. The UK and Finland have already made it obligatory to teach coding in all primary schools; many more countries will follow soon. In the future, knowing JavaScript will no longer be a special skill, like knowing Mandarin. Rather, it will be an essential skill. If the jobs of the future require coding skills, and the generation of the future has these skills, then you’d better make sure not to be left out.

Career benefits: Mandarin +0,5; JavaScript +1

Intellectual value

What is really more “intellectual” than knowing a language with which you can’t communicate with over 95% of the people in your country, f.e. speaking Mandarin while living in the West? Exactly.

As for JavaScript, learning a programming language will force you to go back to the most basic level of understanding, such as the brain of your microwave. There is no social context to rely on; you have to give the exact right instructions for the machine to do what you want to make it do. This requires a much deeper thought-processing than normal communication, and thereby trains logical thinking, creativity, problem-solving, accuracy, and project-based working. To summarize it in Steve Jobs’ words: “Everyone should learn to program a computer, because it teaches you how to think”.

Intellectual value: Mandarin +1, JavaScript +1

Fun

Imagine this scenario. You’re flying to China for holidays and are waiting in line, ready to board. In front of you, there’s a couple with a small kid, blonde hair and summer outfits. The stewards are talking to each other in Mandarin. Suddenly, the kid replies! In Mandarin!! The stewards are shocked, as are most of the other people in line. The family and stewards start talking vividly, laughing, about — well, obviously, you have no clue what about. How jealous are you? Very jealous.

Fun: Mandarin +2

Okay, ok, we shouldn’t forget the fun JavaScript offers. You can create games, make websites, develop apps: basically unleash your inner creative spirit. Programming as an activity is often praised by coders as being relaxing, almost ‘hypnotizing’. Also note that learning a coding language— given that you’re at least seven months old — will probably be a lot more fun than learning Mandarin.

Fun: JavaScript +1.5

Future perspectives

How about this one — is JavaScript actually the best programming language to learn? What about Python or Ruby or C?

Someone who knows Dutch can easily learn German. A native Portugese speaker can read Spanish. In the same way, programming languages form their own language group in itself. If you know the basic grammar rules and concepts that recur in every code, such as loops or conditionals, you can apply it to every programming language out there.

Final countdown: Mandarin 4,5; JavaScript 5,5

Conclusion: learn JavaScript. Or better yet: learn the basic concepts of coding languages.

PS: Feel inspired to learn the basic concepts that are applied in all programming languages? Start playing Bomberbot.