The Three Factors In Really Learning a Language

Learning a new programming language isn’t always easy, but to build a lucrative career, it is necessary.

Thankfully, learning code is a valuable skill that goes beyond being a programmer. Many employers look to hire people skilled in programming knowledge for a variety of fields. In fact, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that there will be about 488,500 new jobs in the computer and IT field between now and the year 2024.

So whether or not you decide to be a full-time programmer or you transfer your coding skills to another career field, it pays to know what you’re doing.

When it comes time to buckle down and actually learn a new language, however, there are a few key factors that can help make sure you maintain those valuable skills for the long haul.

Let’s take a look…

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Learn the Right Language

The first thing you want to do when learning a new language is make sure you’re spending your time on the right one. There are many different programming languages to learn, so it’s easy to be distracted by what’s easiest or what’s “cool” in the programming world at the moment.

But successfully learning a language starts with understanding the end-goal of the types of projects you want to produce. Sure, maybe you want to code basic HTML websites now, but you dream of one day developing the newest and coolest mobile app…

Well, mobile apps require a whole different language from your standard fare. Here’s a breakdown of the different languages for your consideration.

Dynamic Languages

Dynamic languages are generally considered easier for beginners to learn because they’re more flexible and you can quickly build websites or apps with less lines of code.

However, dynamic languages are considered “high level” in that it takes more time to understand the concepts of the language itself (the syntax, documentation, etc.) than it does to actually build something with it. But if you’re motivated to learn at a deeper level and you want to build things quickly, dynamic languages are for you.

Dynamic languages: JavaScript, Ruby, Python, PHP

Static Languages

Static languages tend to be more scalable, stable, and maintainable, but they’re far more strict with errors, meaning that you have to pay more attention to details when using them. They can also be more complex in that they require more code to build a prototype, but they have the ability to handle larger projects like game engines, mobile apps, and enterprise level websites.

If you want to develop projects on a larger scale, you’re a stickler for details and you don’t mind spending more time on each individual project, then static languages are a great choice.

Static languages: Java, C, Objective-C / Swift, C++, C#

Other Languages

You may also want to consider learning SQL (Structured Query Language) if you plan on doing a lot of database work. Though it’s not designed to build apps, it does help you manage the data in those apps, so it’s worth having some knowledge about if you’re building on a larger scale.

Practice, Practice, Practice

Once you have a good idea of the language you want to learn, the next step is doing your research. There are many different coding language books you can pick up from the bookstore, the library, or online.

There are also plenty of tutorials you can find on sites like Code Academy, Code Avengers, and Code School.

Of course, books can only teach you so much, and many programmers find books to be slow, especially if they’re trying to learn more advanced skills and don’t want to “sit through the basics” of a tutorial or book for beginners. In which case, the best way to learn a new code language is by actually doing it.

Try starting with simple projects using your chosen language. If you’re used to playing with dynamic languages but you’re trying to switch to building apps, start simple.

At Stanford University, for example, they teach their CS students new languages by having them create simple games like Hangman using JavaScript, or new command prompts using Ruby and Python.

Websites to Help You Practice

There are plenty of different websites out there dedicated to helping you build smaller projects to learn code faster. Trying one (or all) may be helpful in sharpening your skills and putting your knowledge to practical use. Here are a few of the tops sites:

Dash – Learn JavaScript. Dash projects are short, incremental, and based on real-world needs, so you can easily learn skills that you would use in your day-to-day life as a programmer.

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CodeWars – Learn JavaScript, Ruby, Python, etc. CodeWars is a community site with code challenges and solutions to which coders can contribute. There are also aspects of gamification and other more difficult elements that slightly more advanced coders may prefer.

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CheckIO – Learn Python through gamification. CheckIO is a code gaming platform for coders that want to practice Python. You undertake programming challenges to move from one stage to the next.

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Whether or not you invest in learning with a website like the above or you simply start messing around with building a site or app and learn as you go, the important part is that you don’t spend the entire time stuck in a book.

Learn from the Masters

Perhaps the most important key to truly learning a language is to pick up on tips and tricks from programmers who have been in the industry a lot longer.

One of the first stops for learning a new language should be a language forum like CodeGuru or Hack Forums, but if you can’t get your questions answered, you could always search for outside resources.

Resources for Programmers

If you’re looking for real people to connect with that can help you learn code faster or answer any questions you may have during the process, you can check out a few of these resources:

IRC (Internet Relay Chat) is a highly valuable and often underused resource full of active “gurus” who can answer almost any question.

Talent Buddy has three-month long paid mentorship programs with real expert developers, but you can also use it for free to help sharpen your skills.

Social media channels like Twitter are also great spur-of-the-moment resources for coders who want advice from other industry insiders. Simply add a few hashtags or tweet at other programmers who may have some further insight.

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Final Thoughts

While learning a new programming language isn’t going to happen overnight, you can speed up the process by incorporating several strategies into the mix.

Make sure you’re using the right language for the types of projects you want to create, and then stock up on both books and resources that will help you learn the language on a daily basis. Use sites that let you practice building the projects you want, or put together your own simplified projects to practice on your own.

Don’t forget to go to the experts for advice, whether it’s through a mentorship or simply by tweeting at industry leaders you know will have the answers you need.

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