A Beginner’s Guide to Programming Languages

With its own language and jargon, programming can seem completely overwhelming and confusing to a newcomer. Well, not only do programmers have their own language, they use several languages, each with its own vocabulary and grammar. The most basic definition of a programming language is a formal language with its own syntax and semantics used to communicate instructions to a machine (in this case, a computer). Some of the most popular languages that programmers use to communicate include both older languages like C and newer languages like Ruby. Here, you can find a high-level overview of some of the more commonly-used languages:

Software Languages


Originally developed in the early 70s, the C programming language is a popular, general-purpose language that creates lists of instructions for a computer to follow. Many later languages like C++ and Java borrow from C. C was created as a rewrite of the B language and was tied to the UNIX computer operating system. Today, it’s an essential part of any programmer’s dialect.


C++ is a more evolved version of the C programming language. They are both generic and imperative languages. Originally called C with Classes by the creator Bjarne Stroustrup, C++ adds object-oriented features to C. It is one of the most widely-used programming languages ever, and its proficiency is often required of software and IT professionals. This language is standardized by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO).


Yet another C-related language is the ever-popular C# (pronounced see sharp). Developed by Microsoft, this is by far one of the most common languages learned by software developers. It also happens to be one of the newest hybrid languages inspired by C. It’s most often used to develop Web applications, and bears quite a few similarities to Java.

Visual Basic

Visual Basic refers to a programming language originally developed by Microsoft, which was often used with a corresponding graphical programming environment. This somewhat-out-of-vogue language was launched in 1990, but it paved the way to being able to use programming languages in a more visual way. Visual Basic was created to try and make programming easier for everyone.


Java is a programming language created in the tradition of C and C++, but with one other hope in mind: “write once, run everywhere.” It’s a language independent of platform, so programs can be run on many different types of computers. Another feature that sets Java apart is its API, which is a library of thousands of classes. The language of Java is a simplified version of C++ but the enormous API sometimes makes learning the language difficult. Nevertheless, it’s a well-known language for software developers and IT professionals.


Python is a high-level interpreted language created with simplicity and readability in mind. Its syntax is meant to be easy to learn and understand so that businesses can increase productivity. It closely resembles the English language, with common words like “not, “list,” or “if.” Here’s a fun fact: it was named after the hit television show Monty Python.


One of the younger programming languages (though still over 20 years old), Ruby is a dynamic programming language originally developed in Japan. Like Python, Ruby was created to increase productivity. It was also created with the intention to be fun!

Web Languages


XML, or Extensible Markup Language, is a markup language used to be readable by both humans and machines. It’s a flexible language used to describe data. XML documents are used both on the Internet and in company networks. Like HTML, it uses tags.


HTML is a language used to create Web pages on the Internet. It stands for HyperText Markup Language, and is written using tags enclosed in brackets. This language provides the building blocks of websites, and can be used in tandem with other languages like CSS, or Cascading Style Sheets. Without this code, websites would not appear as they do.


Modern HTML pages also often use JavaScript. JavaScript is a scripting language used to make websites more dynamic and interactive. The language is often placed within HTML documents. Unlike Java, JavaScript does not create stand-alone applications, but runs on browsers.


Modeled after Visual Basic, VBScript (Visual Basic Scripting Edition) is a server scripting language developed by Microsoft. It is similar to JavaScript and also different in key ways. It’s used to make Web pages more dynamic, and is the default language in ASP (Active Server Pages).


Like Java, PHP is a scripting language often used to make Web pages more dynamic. It stands for PHP: Hypertext Preprocessor and can be embedded into HTML text. With it, you can connect with servers and databases, communicate with external websites, and personalize content based on IP address or data and time information. It’s one of the most common and most important scripting languages to learn for Web developers.