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PyTongue - OSFY article


Teaching programming with non-English languages

Title                     : Teaching programming with non-English languages
Author                 : Arjoonn Sharma
Target Audience  : People who teach programming at various
                               levels and general programming enthusiasts

Any program which must be run needs to be converted to a string of bits in
order to run. This has been true ever since the inception of programmable
computers. If this is the case, then all we need to do is write the proper
string of bits to make any program. Then what do programming languages do?
After all we are not writing bit-strings but are writing text based programs.
The bit-strings are all that a computer needs to run. The programming languages
exist to help us make sense of what we have written. This means that
programming in a language of our own is very much possible. All that is needed
is a method of translating the language to the appropriate bit-string. This is
where PyTongue comes in handy. It lets you teach people who do not know the
Latin script how to program.

For the purpose of teaching programming to children who do not know English I
developed PyTongue. Thus I can teach them Python without having to teach them
English first. Python3 was the choice of language as it has nice Unicode
support throughout and Python by nature has a small learning curve. After a
while people have to learn English as it is the language of the trade. This way
however I can make sure that a child who has the potential to program does not
miss out simply because of a language barrier.

PyTongue has simple logic powering it. It is a transliteration service to be
precise. It takes a program written in one language and transliterates it to
normal Python code which is in English. The new code is then executed.

To get started with PyTongue we must first install Python3 and then install
PyTongue. For this article Ubuntu 14.04 was used.

First we make sure that Python3 is installed. Next we create a directory
`pytongue_folder` and download PyTongue in it.

sudo apt-get install python3
cd ~
mkdir pytongue_folder
cd pytongue_folder
git clone https://github.com/theSage21/pytongue
cd pytongue

In case the `git` command shows an error you can download the `zip` file from
the same link and unzip it. The effect is the same. We need to have a folder
called pytongue. After that we navigate into the folder with

In order to write code in a certain language we need to get the mapping for it.
Some mappings like Hindi, Russian etc are already provided.
Mappings are obtained by running `pytongue-mapgen hi` for Hindi and
so on. The two word short forms are from

A mapping is a word-for-word translation of the basic keywords and builtins
in Python. To create a mapping we need to create a file with the required
language name and write a JSON encoded dictionary having the general structure
of :.

This creates a mapping for the requested language. While it is downloading the
language it prints out the keywords mapped. After this we begin to write a
program. For the purposes of demonstration we will first write a simple 'hello
world' program and then a simple calculator in Hindi.

To write these programs any plaintext editor will do (gedit, vim, notepad etc).
The first line of the program must always be of the format
`# `

Program1: hello.py
# HI
छाप('हैलो दुनिया')

This prints out हैलो दुनिया'

Program2: calc.py
# HI
क = पूर्णांक( इनपुट('एक संख्या दर्ज करें'))
ख = पूर्णांक( इनपुट('एक और संख्या दर्ज करें'))
कार्य = इनपुट('क्या करना है दर्ज करें (+,-,*,/) : ')
अगर कार्य == '+':
    छाप(क + ख)
अगर कार्य == '-':
    छाप(क - ख)
अगर कार्य == '*':
    छाप(क * ख)
अगर कार्य == '/':
    छाप(क / ख)

This prompts you for two numbers and then an operation to perform on them. It
prints out the result of the operation on the two numbers. The translation
created for this program is:-

a = int(input('Enter a number'))
b = int(input('Enter another number'))
op = input('Enter the operation:')
if op == '+':
    print(a + b)
if op == '-':
    print(a - b)
if op == '*':
    print(a * b)
if op == '/':
    print(a / b)

How would someone know what words to use? That is done using the created maps.
The maps are stored as JSON in the languages folder. They are thus editable by
hand. Hence if some translation seems strange to you, you can simply edit by
hand to make it more to your liking. In order to know what a particular
function is called, you simply need to open the particular language file
(`$ gedit ./languages/RU` for russian) and look up the particular
translation pair.

After writing the desired code, we need to run it. Instead of the traditional
`python3 hello.py` command we would have issued, we run the shell script called
`pytongue.sh hello.py`

That is all. We have successfully written python in Hindi. For other languages
similar procedures follow. To sum up, we need

1. Mapping of the required language
2. Source code with first line as `# `
3. Run the program with `pytongue.sh .py`

Have fun with the software and let those who may become great programmers
experience programming even without knowing the Latin script.