Please Don’t Learn To Speak French

6 minute read

This essay is a parody of this essay. You should read it as such. It will be of little interest to the great majority of my readers but there was no point in putting it on my rapidly dying technology blog.

Today (regardless on which day you are reading this) on Twitter, a hundred or so people publicly declared their desire to learn French. A noble gesture of some sort or the other to be sure but if any of these people need to learn French to do his or her job, there is something terribly, deeply, horribly wrong with the state of whatever it is that his or her non-French requiring job happens to be. Even if those hundred or so random people did learn how to speak French, I expect we’d end up with something like this:

Le vin a du gros cuisses. C’est la vie. Translation – The wine has fat thighs. Such is life.

Fortunately, the odds of this linguistical (sic) flight of fancy are zero and for good reason. Most of those people are just tweeting shit out their ass and have no desire to put in the requisite effort to actually learn French. Hopefully, they have other things to do in their day to day job like dig ditches or take out the trash or…do I need to go on?

To those of you arguing that speaking French is an essential skill we should be teaching our children right up there with reading, writing and arithmetic (Is anyone really arguing that programming is an essential skill? Or are we arguing that the world needs more programmers, let’s see if there are people out there who are interested?): can you explain to me how this random person I picked off the Internet would be any better at her day to day job doing whatever the hell it is if she woke one morning as a crack French speaker (it’s at this point in the essay where I really want to go off on a tangent about a modern day Kafka and a French speaking roach but I’ll refrain. The essay I’m parodying is bad enough as it is.) It is obvious to me how being a skilled reader, a skilled writer, and at least high school level math are fundamental to performing the job of a whatever job it is that that poor random person linked above does. Or at any job, for that matter. But understanding what “gateau” or “chat” means and to be able to use them in a sentence? I can’t see it.

(A minor digression from the parody. It’s interesting how we jump from “reading, writing and arithmetic” to “being a skilled reader, a skilled writer and at least high school level math”. It’s as if teaching our children the basics of all three will make them experts at two but average at the math part. But we know that Jeff thinks writing is hard. He said as much back in 2006. In that post, he said writing was just exercise and the more you do of it, the better you get at it. This is absolutely, unequivocally true up to a certain, God given talent threshold. But isn’t the same true for programming? Can’t I take any random person of average intelligence off the street who is willing to put in an hour a day and have them improve drastically as a programmer? If they want to be a better programmer – or writer – why question their motives? This is one of the fundamental flaws of Jeff’s entire argument not to mention an interesting clue into what he really thinks about reading, writing and math and the ability to become good at some but not others.)

Look, I love French (and the French and France and French toast.) I also think knowing how to speak French is important…in the right context, for some people. But so are a lot of skills. I would no more urge everyone to learn to speak French than I would urge everyone to learn to weave baskets.

(Another digression – here lie some big fucking dragons. Did he really just say that he thinks programming is right for the right people in the right context? Seriously? That’s like code (pun intended) for some serious discrimination at the very least. Maybe not racial or gender discrimination but he’s clearly supporting a position that has been shown to be untenable for decades in most other arenas. To hop up on a big ass high horse and say programming may be right for me but it’s not for thee is opening a can of worms he can’t possibly mean. I have to chalk this up to some truly bad writing. I hope.)

— END OF PARODY due to lack of ongoing interest in parodying a self-parody.

In the pantheon of Coding Horror entries, this one is going to go into the list of “Top Three Horrifically Bad Essays”. No one (to my knowledge) is saying that “everyone should learn to code”. But if coding (or French or any other skill) interests you, what a wonderful, amazing time to be living in. There are resources available (like CodeYear, the site Jeff is going out of his way to denigrate) that make learning to code (or speak French, hello Rosetta Stone) infinitely easier than it was 20 years ago. Why write a thousand words telling people to not do something they might have a genuine interest in? No one in their right mind would tell people not to learn to speak French. Do what you want. That’s the beauty of the Internet and the spread of information it provides.

Please DO advocate learning to code (or speak French) just for the sake of learning how to code. This is exactly why we should learn anything, for its own sake. For too long, education in this country tried too hard to take the enjoyment and satisfaction out of the act of learning. Places like CodeYear are fighting an uphill battle to change that. Do everything you can to support learning for learning sake. And if it results in a $79K a year job, God bless you and the Internet.

Why would Jeff malign the Mayor of New York’s light hearted attempt to learn programming? Zed Shaw thinks it’s because of resentment. This may be true but invoking Hanlon’s Razor (and with apologies to Atwood, I don’t actually think he’s stupid, just rather misguided in an overly public way this time), let’s not attribute to malice what can easily be explained by stupidity. Jeff can write (not in a Cormac McCarthy kind of way but in a “my audience is largely .Net programmers who like to play video games and build computers that glow” sort of way) as evidenced by the post before this “Don’t Learn To Program” atrocity. His post about automatic cat feeders is interesting, amusing and not likely to offend anyone other than my cats for whom I’m immediately considering getting automatic feeders for. He can write as long as the subject is clear, concise and lacking in any kind of subtlety.

The real problem is Jeff’s writing doesn’t lend itself well to subtlety. Attacking an idea like “More people should learn to program” requires a deft touch and a subtle ability to tease out nuances, assuming there is any reason to attack such an idea in the first place. Frankly, that’s just not how Jeff writes. Telling people “Please Don’t Learn To Program” in bold H1 at the top of your post while inserting a small “I suppose I can support learning a tiny bit about programming just so you can recognize what code is, and when code might be an appropriate way to approach a problem you have” sentence at the end isn’t the best way to explain why you think CodeYear is a bad idea. This is one of those posts that Jeff should have run through multiple censors before hitting the publish button. If he actually believes any of the horrifyingly illogical suppositions he puts forth in the essay, he needs to try much, much harder in explaining them because this time, he’s come across as a resentful, maladjusted programmer who wants to take his ball and go home.