What Exactly is a Programming Language?

Programming language names around a laptop screen

One of the best ways to gather knowledge is to ask questions. And more questions. And even more questions. Of all the questions people ask who want to break into the tech industry, “What is a programming language?” is a common one.

Programming languages are extremely essential tools used for software and web development. Learning about the fundamentals and core elements of programming languages can help you better understand what they are and how they work.

A programming language is a set of instructions that computers can understand and execute. Because computers “think” in machine code called binary – strings of 1s and 0s – these languages are designed to allow humans to comprehend the data and write it out in code. These coding languages are composed of letters, numbers, and characters that enable humans to translate our thoughts into instructions for computers to carry out.

There are several fundamentals a prospective coder could learn in-depth through one of Kenzie Academy’s programs. Let’s take a look.

High-Level and Low-Level Programming Languages

There are two types of programming languages: low-level and high-level.

  • High-level: High-level programming languages are what make the magic happen. These high-level languages replicate how humans communicate as they use words like object, class, request, order, etc. The most common application of high-level languages is to develop software that runs on many different types of computers.
  • Low-level: Low-level programming languages (or what’s considered a computer’s “native language”) are more challenging to understand because they closely resemble machine code or binary. Low-level languages work primarily with a computer’s hardware elements and limitations. The allure of low-level languages resides in the fact that they’re fast and offer precise control over a computer’s functionality.

Examples of Programming

  • Paradigms

    Programming paradigms refer to the style of programming. A programming language is like any regular spoken language — whereas a paradigm is the type of story you tell with the language.

  • Declarative

    Declarative programming is like ordering a cheeseburger and fries at a drive-thru. If you ask, “Can I have a cheeseburger and fries?” You’ll get a bag of your order, but you don’t know (or care) what happened in the kitchen to cook it. This style is convenient.

  • Imperative

    Imperative programming is the opposite. This is like giving the cook step-by-step instructions on how to cook your cheeseburger and fries. You say, “Please put the frozen patty on the grill, cook for 10 minutes, put it between the hamburger buns, cook the potatoes for the french fries, etc.” This style gives programmers more control, but is less convenient.

  • Syntax

    Much like in the English language, computer programming languages follow a set of rules that define particular structures of letters, symbols, and punctuation. Bonafide syntax ensures that the computer can accurately read and interpret the code.

    Every programming language uses a distinct set of word sets in different orders — their own syntax. Regardless of the programming language, computers work to interpret the structure of the syntax to achieve the desired outcome. A language can’t function without syntax.

  • Programming Languages

    There are several popular programming languages that you’ll come across as you begin learning the ropes. The following list is composed of open-source languages. Open-source refers to programming written code that other people can freely use and modify. Here are some examples:

    Java (our Software Engineering Program focuses on this language)
    JavaScript (our Full-Stack Certificate emphasizes this language)

Are you ready to become a professional in the world of tech? Contact Kenzie Academy today and we’ll help you find the program that best suits your career goals. There’s no better time than today to begin your new adventure. Apply today or fill out the interest form for our Software Engineering Program below.


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