When setting out to learn programming, one of the biggest problems you face is deciding which language to learn first. You can find many articles on this subject online, each offering different opinions and advice.
But what it really comes down to is personal preference, and what you’re trying to accomplish.
Programming languages are really like musical instruments. When you pick up an instrument for the first time, you must learn not only how to operate it, but how music itself works. When learning programming, you learn the theory behind the logic you are writing.
These concepts are universal, so moving from one language to another becomes much easier after you’ve learned your first language. And just because you start learning programming with one language does not mean that you have to use that language forever.
Deciding which language to start with can be a daunting proposition, so let’s consider five important programming languages:
Python is one of the most commonly recommended languages for beginners to learn. Python’s strength lies in its straightforward syntax. That is, the “grammar” of the language borrows much more from regular English than most other languages. However, it can also be harder to build larger, more complicated applications in Python. It can also be more difficult to solve errors.
Python’s syntax, although straightforward, is actually very unique. Learning another language (like Java) after you learn Python can be confusing initially, as you will have to get used to a completely different style of code.
Difficulty for Beginners: 2 out of 5 (5 Being the most difficult).
Used For: Back-end web development and data parsing, as well as many other uses.
Java is the world’s most highly utilized language. If you are serious about becoming a programmer, you should learn Java. Java has the widest range of applications of any language, from making full-scale software to games to mobile phone apps.
Plus, Java has a huge community of developers supporting each other and creating libraries that programmers can implement in their own programs, so there are a ton of resources and support available online while learning Java.
Since Java is so powerful, it can be complicated at times for a new programmer. To remedy this, Digital Media Academy makes use of a special Java library and application called Processing in its beginning Java course.
The Processing development environment allows users to write Java code without a lot of the confusing definitions that a beginner may not initially understand, allowing the user to focus on learning to code while still using the syntax of Java. Moving from Processing to full Java becomes much easier (and much more fun) when using Processing.
Difficulty for Beginners: 4 out of 5
Difficulty to Learn Using Processing: 2 out of 5
Java and C# share a common language ancestor: C. The syntax of C# and Java are nearly identical, and when you learn one, moving to the other will be very easy. C# is designed to be elegant and powerful, and is probably slightly easier to learn than Java.
C# is most commonly used for developing desktop and website applications. One of the most important other uses for C# is game programming, and it is the language of choice for many game developers who use the Unity Game Engine.
Difficulty for Beginners: 3 out of 5
Best Reason to Learn: To make games in Unity.
There isn’t a lot to say about Swift…yet. Swift is Apple’s new programming language that was developed for programmers to create iOS and OSX applications with. It is well designed and easy to learn, but right now it has limited uses. However, that may change with the release of Swift 2.0, which is coming later this year.
Swift uses a syntax that is somewhat similar to Java and C#, but borrows some elements from Python as well. It’s fun to use, and you may really like it, assuming you’re similar to most people and enjoy using Apple products.
Difficulty for Beginners: 2 out of 5
Key Question: Q: Can you make Android apps with it? A: No.
Scratch is a block-based programming language designed to make programming easy for kids. It’s excellent if your typing skills are not quite ready for a full language like Java or Python, but you are ready to start programming games and other interactive experiences.
It’s true if you learn to use Scratch that you won’t be able to make something that could run on your phone or tablet, but you can view or share your creations in any web browser.
Difficulty for Beginners: 1 out of 5
Fun Factor: 10 out of 10
Master the FUN-damentals!
Picking the right language for you can be a difficult task, and the best way to decide is to try them all! Once you learn the core concepts of programming, you will find which language “speaks” to you best.
Try DMA Online’s Fundamentals of Programming online course to get started, then take one of the many programming and app development summer courses that DMA offers.
Shane White is Assistant Director of Curriculum and Instruction at Digital Media Academy.