If you learn a language intending to write prose or delve deep into its praised literature, you’re only going to do it because you want to and because it’s enjoyable. But you don’t always learn a new language to be an accomplished author.
Not everyone learning English is going to win the Nobel Prize in literature, but just knowing how to simply read improves your quality of life and your ability to understand and navigate the world around you. You can’t write like Mark Twain but the fact that you can read “STOP” on a red sign or “Cash Only” at a restaurant probably helps you on a daily basis. Learning how to read “TOXIC” on a bottle is possibly life-saving. A step further away from utility, the fact that you can read a magazine or comic book has probably provided some enjoyable moments in your life. A step further from pleasure, the fact that you can read a novel has probably deepened your understanding of culture and made you a better person.
It’s not necessary for a designer to learn how code but learning how to read code is important. Learning how programs work, how networks speak to each other, learning the process of what makes the systems we depend on, is not only useful but leads a deeper appreciation of the world we have constructed.
I think of the American, tired of New York, packing her bags up to move to Berlin, intending to reside there indefinitely. It’s a fun city. “Everyone here speaks English,” her friends have told her. and so this person can get around fairly easily. She has many English speaking friends living here, a lot of the signs are in English. She’s eager to adapt to life here. There’s still a disconnect though. It’s still a town in Germany and it’s still a different culture. A few weeks in she quickly runs into some confusion. There’s some confusion opening a bank account. There’s some misunderstandings at her new job. While it’s very convenient, the bumps in the road due to gaps in her knowledge of the language remind her that she’s an outsider. That being said perfectly fine for her to not learn German and she will have an enjoyable time regardless.
A few months past and now she’s more comfortable. She’s picked up a few phrases and words in German. With that, she understands enough to have a deeper relationship with her friends here. She can go to the bank and expect to not have trouble. She’ll be fine at most restaurants. She can leave for a weekend trip to a small town and be assured she’ll be okay.
A few years later and Berlin is truly her home. She can fully converse in the language. She’s formed deep relationships with friends. She never has any trouble finding a job. She has a much deeper understanding of the culture. At this point, whether or not she decides she wants to learn as much German to be able to read Nietzsche natively or perhaps write an essay will be up to her but in the mean time, she’s perfectly fine.
With technology, we’re not traveling to a different culture. It’s traveling to us. This new culture and language is on our doorstep now, affecting our daily lives. But this doesn’t have to be a bad thing. You may not be able to program a blogging system from scratch. But knowing how a database works, what an array is, what a loop does, the difference between server and client, and a general idea of how this all plays together makes all the difference in understanding this strange world that walked into our lives. Know how a printing press works and the books you make will only be more beautiful.
Some good advice.