Becoming a Polyglot: Lessons from Natural Language Learning

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Becoming a Polyglot: Lessons from Natural Language Learning
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As a trained linguist and former university language instructor, people often assume that my natural language* (spoken, signed, or written) learning analysis background made learning to code easier for me. They might say something like “That makes sense, they’re languages, right? They have syntax.” These casual comments seem true on the surface when talking about parts of speech and variable types. But once you dig deeper, it becomes clear that there are far more differences than similarities between these types of languages despite the shared name. However, many skills and methods I have utilized in learning languages and teaching languages as an adult to adults have served me well as a developer. This talk first addresses key points of divergence between learning a natural language and a programming language. Perhaps most importantly, natural languages are meant for communicating with people and programming languages are meant for giving a computer directions. However, many areas of overlap exist in learning and perfecting these skills; these shared aspects of learning are the primary focus of this talk. (* And, yes, that’s the same ‘natural language’ as in ‘natural language processing.’)
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so why did this popped into my head well when I was 13 I started learning french like what people do in high school not big deal going to college kept learning French decided I wanted to teach it but student teaching a lot of my students were native Spanish speakers so like I should gradually get isobar in Spanish the gradient I can teach my students better and then I did that now actually high school and Lola off I should become a college professor so I went on and was working on my phd and decided that that was so I do I had lived in Tunisia for a year between undergrad and grad school and I thought in along the way they speak Indonesia Super off and I wanted to use some studies about stuff like that and so I learned well it's going take learning Arabic and I think any you know PhD Arabic but do and that was store that I realized you know being a professor probably isn't really the lifestyle that I'm after and I had done so Python to analyze my language data and became a developer instead when I tell people that they're like 0 yeah that kind makes sense you know languages syntax and length of that at the and so but certainly not the and it just in
case you think that if the people that I've met I got this quote from the code Khatami's JavaScript course just like a language has nouns verbs and prepositions JavaScript has its own building blocks instead of calling them building blocks however because that's what nouns and verbs cold whatever and developers call in data types really well OK alright there's some similarities there are also some differences and on similarities and differences helps us to better appreciate where we can transfer those ways of and where we can sell start the differences but but I the same natural
language a lot throughout this someone might wonder why introduce a spoken language spoken language sure that's going to be English French Spanish Arabic whatever else but we have such a wealth of languages in the world that are signed languages American Sign Language British Sign Language did know that not all English as environment which we don't and so by saying natural language were being sure to include all natural languages and that's pretty awesome I now want to the differences the 1st thing
that we want think about is hello who is this language trying to get information to with the natural language pretty
obvious people human beings we are communicating ideas to people who are ideally listening and in a conversation having some sort of exchange with us thinking about the words that were saying of kind of stuff with a programming language computer we're
giving instructions to the computer to carry out the lesson here is that these are fundamentally different there's just there's no back and forth with the computer there's and might without errors will get there and and it's just so different to begin with because of who these languages are for the then
why why is it so fundamentally different that's partly about why we're using these types of languages with natural
languages we are expressing our emotions we're asking for clarification we're giving more information we might be simply using things in a certain way to express part of our identity who we are that language is a lot more about that ideas around what we're saying then the actual content of the words of what we're saying and we can express a lot of things to the way we say things when we come to a programming language we
might be doing some amazing stuff and a lot of people in here are doing just incredible stuff hopefully everyone and but no matter what we're doing with that programming language we're still writing code that's going to be turn into assembly language sent to us an assembler turned into machine code we're giving directions to a computer which mean doing all these amazing different things but at the end of the day that's a programming it's giving directions to a computer as were the ones doing amazing things the computer cannot do on its own the computer when exist without other amazing people the lesson here is then that these types of languages have very different goals the communicating to weigh more than 2 and with other human beings is just extremely different from giving directions to a computer and how to do what we want then there's also
how we learn things with natural
languages if we're hearing before even born we start to hear the language that is spoken around for languages right it's not uncommon it's actually more common in the world to hear more than 1 language those western US often forget uh and so we start using these languages and even newborn babies react differently when they hear the languages the language or languages that were spoken around them while they were in the world than they do with a different language that they've never been exposed to the superoxide so from the very beginning were before the beginning how you look at it and we are allergic learning languages that deaf children art scene signs or seen gestures if their parents are hearing and they are learning it from the start later on we might add 1 2 3 4 or more you can keep learning languages literally until you die it'll take you longer but you still can do it which is pretty awesome do cool things but then there's
programming languages you can start pretty on our of code has a really fun free reader section but a you still have to have a kid who's got a certain level of logic in a certain level of facility with a computer so maybe for 5 I'm guessing that uh I started with code can be great website free stuff of undermined went to it developers Academy which I'm just using to show all these boot camps encoding academies that exist out there no matter what the maybe have a teacher maybe you don't know what you're doing is learning to sit down in front of a computer and learn how to give a computer the directions that it needs in order to do the things that you want to do it you can learn a lot of programming languages you might have a special connection with your 1st programming language but the lesson here is that there are no native speakers of programming languages and some may stabilize the matter well there's this common conception possibly misconception we can talk more about that lunch that native speakers are the gold standard by which everything should be judged and you can't judge yourself again something that doesn't exist so when where coding everybody has learned this they may have learned more easily or more slowly they may be amazing under they still may be working on it that everybody has learned in a conscious way it's not that baby hook just unconsciously learned that language are next
comparison is variation and change on my favorite topics if we're working with
natural language then we will see different ways of saying the same thing there might be new answers between these different ways but the basic goal is the same so you might go to the store you should go to the store or in the self will here you might should go to the store and why you might you know did a little bit when my co-workers use my could all of it but you still understand the basic intent the there are also standard ways of speaking better completely balanced and that we can understand despite so if you hear something like I that never done nothing like that before you may have judgments about it that's your problem but you will understand that this is also this tolerance for variation is how we did change at some point someone said for the 1st time let me Google App your en whoever they're speaking to you may or may not have understood now we definitely all understand it and the fact that this court on is also meaningful because certainly nobody says let me out that for you and but
with programming languages we don't have quite so easy if we want something to work in Python and not just come back with an error we can replace that equal sign with an a is or within each you we can change the order to a way that a human being would naturally understand all reactions same thing that at school that work I can do that not the computers in a throwback errors that you know it's just not the way it is if we try to use a rejects and we do read out search great everything's fine if we tried just type in readout Google linear syntax error and somebody's really going all the way I can do that I could tell you to accept readout Google that's awesome you could give directions to the computer to make it learned variation and that's the point that you have to tell the computer that this variation is completely acceptable otherwise it is truly doesn't know what to do with that we've all had no a space in the wrong spot on indentation error in Python or for a period of extra or missing depending and you have to go back and fix it because it has to be literally what it expects yeah computers don't variation people to variation people add variation for the computers to understand then that's to the similarity so we've
learned a lot from the differences will begin can't expect out of these programming languages
brains present of all they do so many amazing thing that we don't think about that we just automatically do fantastic would pick up information on the world all around us and they help us remember things like natural languages and programming languages but they just don't go on forever writing you need to sleep to commit memories so getting enough sleep when you're trying to learn a natural language for programming language will help you luminous mistrust can help you read a lot of stress not good so more sleep less stress can help us be better I natural languages or programming languages the lesson here is to respect your brains limits there other ways and as long as you know people say self take a break at at this stage respectively the the next thing is that
OK you got these physical things that we're talking languages right yeah where languages or skills programming languages natural images of their skills the example I like to use in Texas where I talked big football school FIL classes 25 students coming online French the so exciting imagine I give the quarterback the premier quarterback inflatable skin the playbook and a book about how to throw a football so Max analogy me like what's wrong with you and so the next day or do it with that person on the field for the 1st game and then there were 5 rate reading about the thing is not the same as doing a favor you trawl football just by reading about it like even and generally athletic person then I will throw it you know technically yes I threw it landed there but and but you're not to throw it all in other fields and that's the goal and that we need to practice natural languages or programming languages we absolutely have to practice the minute we quit practicing it so sad but our skills start declining and you might say all you can pick it back up yeah those neural pathways are there they just have to be strengthened all the time so you can think about that later it will be easier to relearn mental and the 1st time but it's it's just the way skills work somebody puts playing football in the stone of the rules is to convert about the counter quite spots before it then we are talking about skills
1 we're teaching natural images we haven't talk about the 4 skills we've got speaking listening writing and reading hold great students are often better add 1 or 2 words meaning 3 of the 4 men another 1 but there is that imbalance that if someone learning French there is a huge amount of French and English vocabulary that's shared of fluent English-speaker workers Spanish speakers to lower the vocabulary and grammar shared so maybe you can have an easier time reading but when it comes to writing it still might be a little bit harder and if you're trying to listen to real speech on the radio Bulletin and be take some practice for Arabic at least the way it's time you tear to kind of flips the alphabet so different that it's easier to speak and listen to it for students at 1st than it is to be able to read and write it even now I have to kind of force myself itself to stop on those Arabic facebook posts and keep practicing reading arabic Lin for our programming languages we don't really think about it but it's kind of the same we write code of course that's what we learn to do that's how it's hot most of the time here break code it's amazing you can make a computer do mains power so on most of us that I know we write some code but we spend a lot of time reading other people's codes because some bone came up somewhere because we have to integrate with some and the product because we can't figure out what's going on with this existing systems and we just need to add on to it so we end up reading code which is a different aspect about skill maybe there's a badly convex would go stack overflow being able to sift through what's just rudeness and was useful is a skill then talking about code talking to our co-workers about code talking to our clients about how and when it's going to deal all these the skills that the practice that you can get better at so when you feel like you're doing terrible at something or somebody else so much more often something startling about the full skill set because we all have strengths and weaknesses and of course to compare talks but you must up the lesson here then is that there are many many facets of skills to work on and that we all can be working on these in 1 area or another
word the I think that's probably some blue sky on a tree doesn't that just happen when you are listening to a new language reading a new language trying to fix a bug in a language a less familiar with the what the heck did you do I have no idea what's going on here I know this language like I can pick out some of these words just like the colors but what is going on we have to ask questions there are other people who know more and answers or who know different things the us or who can help us think in different ways asking questions is so important to learning and to becoming an expert missing along a this is harder than they would know later on I'll everything
larger if they think that you have to know everything because each of us sometimes personal of sometimes the person on the right we all know more in 1 area than another we all know last in 1 area and then another if the super amazing at coding in all the languages that you know right now that is also good for you hopefully you can remember what it was like to be the person who knew less if you can't then pay more attention to the people who do know let's see how they act to see how they interact with other people and see where you can help that sometimes the people who know last will ask questions that will help the people who know more improve their come 9 planets do it this way instead of this other way that I just write about and means the way to do it that way you know it can be a good experience so we might not all be experts and everything were definitely not where but were also not all just completely clueless and everything here the lesson here is that we need feedback and review code reviews can be intimidating but without that you don't know if you've got some major flaws that you're just gonna come by to amass like 5 minutes after goes into with learning natural languages to I I think that heard this word error rate in the dictionary means there's the problem great I got in the world and I use the squared negative feedback reaction but this means this right now and what it is that the you only say if you're trying to make somebody all way or you only state depending on the culture if you're a man or a woman and you just you cannot see that word the that happen so we have to interact with other people we have to make ourselves vulnerable to being told were wrong in order to improve and get better all right and the
cycle which states without 7 doing that 7 happens to represent a glottal stop which is not a meaningful consonant in any language that I can think of no and in most languages that use the Roman alphabet but in American English you'll notice it and things like of is not there over whole so that little break right that that the glottal stop so in school honest this 1st Nations language being on the coast of Canada on the west coast I mean you know different from that on count as they have a lot of stuff and they write their language primarily in the Roman alphabet might have k cool months definitely about natural languages already gone so b is art if statements
in the 4 languages that I work with on a regular basis on the top left the if with a Colombian bottom of Nintendo that a nice little curly brackets 10 % signs if and when I add that in death squished together 1 word lowercase talk radio is SPSS syntaxin in my particular shop we use this for the data that and have to be to do with if the capitals are convention not requiring any the period at the end of all of these statements and you have in the space it period then we have the programming language called natural has done by software AG that we use a UT with our super also mainframe so that capitals are required in this 1 then also required and that's it so if I'm doing a lot of natural I am I going to SPSS an accident we do in batch if there is no meaning in there and I can do that again where fighting onto iron might be like in space in you know it's still not working this is completely normal this happens all the time bilingualism or poly legalism of multilingualism has lots of benefits that helps us to thing faster see things in different ways but there are also some things that we end up doing like mixing up which is which every now and then the begin natural languages it can actually help to delay the onset of Alzheimer's and dementia which is super cool and nobody wants that uh but it's also good for programming languages because you can learn to think about things in different ways and learn which of your tools might be the right 1 in each situation
so a lovely signed for the lesson that a bilingual is not 2 monolinguals in 1 that we see things differently we work with things differently and that is just such a great thing it brings richness into how we approach problems and what we do and so it can help us as we're trying to fix problems and can help the organizations we work for finally
1 line those beautiful nice green dollar bill the what you may know a lot of areas that if you speak Spanish mothers US if you speak Spanish you might get paid more for being bilingual school teachers for example you get a bilingual policy I wonder at conference 2 weeks ago that this is true of programming as well that on average learning adding a new language to your estimate is about 3 thousand dollars more in salary per language that will like that so the ceremony bloke thing is languages are also whether
they're natural languages or programming languages natural languages learning more them can help us communicate with more of the world in their native language and if you don't understand the value of that full he's going on natural language go talk to a native speaker of that language in their language and then in your native language and see how it feels different see how communication changes because it well and if you think it doesn't they tried the but with programming languages to we really do think about it differently met with all the tools I have I will now OK so for this and somebody's use Python for this on the news SPSS because my shop uses it but actually trying to get them to try to do 1 more fun because they think that panders will actually end up being a better solution than SPSS syntax and that's correct that project or you know maybe many-to-one to learn something else because I'm not quite sure of my tool set is the best right now and I want to make it even better and all of these things will give us the right tools for the right job and help us to be better developers and the and that sort of yeah the
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