Lesson: What is a programming language?

Explore what programming languages are and how we use them.

Gain an understand what a programming language is. Understand the difference between text based and visual languages.


When we are programming, that is creating a program for a computer to execute, we will use a programming language. Like English or Spanish, a programming language is a written way to communicate with someone (or something). Computer languages allow you to encode the operations you wish to have the computer perform with a syntax (language) that is much easier for you to understand than the numeric language (binary) that computers understand. There are many text based languages such as Basic, C, C++, C#, Java, JavaScript, Python and many more. Each language was created for various reasons to serve varied populations of programmers. In this course we will be studying the Java programming language.

Here is the Wikipedia description of a programming language.

When we say a language is text based, we mean that the language is expressed in written statements, which are typically entered into a text file and then processed for execution by the computer. Text based languages in general provide more capability in expressing what you want the computer to do at the price of being more complex to learn and use.

Note that there are also many visual programming tools (might be a stretch to call them languages) that seek to simplify programming by allowing the user to assemble programs by manipulating pictures instead of text. Such tools have visual objects that map to functions the computer can perform and programs are created by arranging such objects on a visual workspace. Generally such tools sacrifice some amount of capability for simplicity of learning and ease of use.