I’m in Greece trying to tell my great aunt that I enjoy her hospitality, but my Greek’s a little rusty and I don’t know how to exactly articulate my thoughts.
Maybe, in broken Greek, I’ll indicate that her house looks beautiful or that her food tastes great, but none of these sentiments convey the same message as enjoying her cooking.
Oddly enough, writing a computer program in the Java language presents a similar dilemma. Much like communicating in a foreign language, I know what I want the program to do. Let’s say I want it to multiply two polynomials. Before writing the code in Java, the thought How do I go about telling the computer to do perform this operation in some lines of code in Java? will haunt me for hours, sometimes even days, before I attempt to write anything.
Much like attempting to convey a thought or feeling in Greek, I know exactly what I want to say in my native tongue, English, but the slightest slip-up in my words could result in something different from what I intended. If I write an inaccurate line of Java code, I could be instructing the program to subtract polynomials instead of multiplying them.
Writing my own programs reminds me of how challenging going from one language to another is, as well as the subtleties involved.
Just when I’ve thought that I wrote all my lines of code in a way that makes the program do what I want it to do, a test run frustratingly indicates that something is still off, or that there is a “bug” lurking somewhere: the code keeps running infinitely, the wrong equation may come out, or it may simply crash. A line-by-line search of the problem, which could be anything from a syntax error to misspelling a word, the error was simple, will typically reveal a simple error.
The same thing happens when I try to express myself in Greek. Sometimes I’ll say something in a way that sounds sarcastic when I don’t mean it to or vice versa. Or just one letter can send a person to the table (trapezi) instead of to the bank (trapeza).
Even though communicating in different languages can have trying or amusing results, every blunder opens up my mind a bit more.