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Becoming a Polyglot: Lessons from Natural Language Learning

Wednesday 12:20pm, Ballrooms B and C

About This Talk

As a trained linguist and former university language instructor, people often assume that my natural language* (spoken, signed, or written) learning analysis background made learning to code easier for me. They might say something like “That makes sense, they’re languages, right? They have syntax.” These casual comments seem true on the surface when talking about parts of speech and variable types. But once you dig deeper, it becomes clear that there are far more differences than similarities between these types of languages despite the shared name. However, many skills and methods I have utilized in learning languages and teaching languages as an adult to adults have served me well as a developer.

This talk first addresses key points of divergence between learning a natural language and a programming language. Perhaps most importantly, natural languages are meant for communicating with people and programming languages are meant for giving a computer directions.

However, many areas of overlap exist in learning and perfecting these skills; these shared aspects of learning are the primary focus of this talk. (* And, yes, that’s the same ‘natural language’ as in ‘natural language processing.’)

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Rebekah E Post

Hi! I’m Rebekah Post and I am a developer at the University of Texas at Austin. I work in the Office of Institutional Research, Reporting and Information Studies where we take vast amounts of operational university data and turn it into information that can be used for analysis and decision making. I determine data sources, write programs or scripts to pull it (depending on the source and need), help analyze it, and then put it into Django websites for university decision makers. Prior to finding an interesting job where I can be paid a decent salary to figure out puzzles all day, I taught French and Arabic for 6 years while completing a PhD (also at UT Austin.) I love teaching, learning, and finding ways to use my previous work experience as a developer. (And baking and being outside, but those aren’t really applicable here.)