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Katarzyna Kmiotek

Learn to Learn

Private3 min read

Learn to Learn

At the beginning of the CodeClan course we were told that we need to learn how to learn again. That now as an adults need to adjust remote learning to our day to day situations. I don’t have children running about my flat, don’t have any health problems I am lucky enough that can focus on learning 100% so thought that learn to learn won’t be challenge for me. But didn’t expect that something I recognize as my extra skill can become an obstacle.

Defining the obstacle

Before I decided to join CodeClan my boyfriend sent me lots of links to support this decision in career change. Some of them were about learning to code vs learning new language. Conclusion of them was that it is easier for bilingual people to learn programming languages.
This convinced me! But is it actually true?
Articles like this made me feel that I have this super-power that will make my next 16 weeks easier but then I noticed they were written by native English speakers and this has change everything...
I moved to Glasgow when was 24 so all my education was in Polish and on top of it didn’t choose science, math or physics path but art and literature so can comfortably chat about relations between paintings and poems in XIX century but please don’t ask me about chemical laws. I would say my knowledge level of English is good and 30% of it I have learnt by using it in day to day situations (in chats at shops, at work and by reading books).
I think I realized that not being native in English affects my learning as Professional Software Developer when after 5th week of the course; when submitted my first project and wanted to present it to my sister didn’t know correct words to explain it in Polish.

Defining strengths

Since I am aware of this obstacle I could fight with it.
My superpowers against language barrier are:

  • I am used to learning new words everyday in everyday situations - constant learning! that’s what software development is!
  • I am good in memorising words even without knowing the meaning (REST, JSON, HTTP - at the beginning all were memorised rhythms for me)
  • I learn from context - rather on meaning of the word I focus on situation to use it (I figured out what assert_equal means on a second day of Ruby testing)
  • I am aware that learning doesn’t end after 16 weeks of CodeClan course but its ongoing process

Let’s fight

One of my first approach to this challenge was looking for polish websites explaining coding concepts. It was waste of time because how to google unknown word? Was there a need for me to know that array means tablica. It was adding extra effort to this course and I was looking for something opposite.
Another idea was to join CodeBar . I went (online) for codebar workshops three times and happened that twice was assigned to polish speaking coaches. We decided that easier and more beneficial would be to chat in English! Both of my codebar tutors gave me tips and suggestion, explained meaning behind a words ( eventBus … I thought this lab will be about bus stops). Explained concepts that are obvious for native English speakers.
Decided to make myself surrounded by software development terminology and get use to those strange words as much as busy schedule allows by attending online workshops, conferences and talks. Joined LadiesOfCode meetup for regular zoom calls about tech related talks: Data Engineering, User Testing, Product Management . Dialled in to UX Glasgow talks. Attended Digital Diversity Group meeting, SmashingMagazine conference… and there is lots more there and all online and free.
Reading documentation it’s a huge problem for non-native English speaker. Understanding concepts, reading style guides of frameworks is for me very interesting part of this course.
Happily google everything; let’s say Gang of Four; open wiki; and? Lines of text when every third word has no meaning to me. Have heard it before but not sure what represents. Philip Guo asked in his survey non-native English developers what troubles them in learning to code. The most common answer was documentation. If I could travel in time I would give myself an advice at the beginning of course: There is YouTube tutorial for everything! Where in plain English even most difficult concepts are explain. Long live the internet!

Lesson learnt

Another advice I would give to my future self would be: don’t be shy to ask questions, ask instructors to explain new to you word, ask them to use synonym word to explain methods, ask for a 5 min break when your brain stops translating. Shame I was never brave enough to admit in front of others that struggle with basics. I am just a “don’t need special treatment!” type of person.

Now I would know how to use language barrier as an advantage in this course. I wish I knew that there is an obstacle at beginning. It would make first 4 weeks much easier.

But without it I wouldn’t learn how to learn and whole process wouldn’t be that rewarding as it is now.

Pleased to say I will be teaching at CodeBar in Berlin (long live the internet!) next Monday!


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