What is a programming language? I’d say it was a computer language you could use to make a computer do a series of actions. This is why HTML, for example, ISN’T a programming language, since it just specifies how text and images should be displayed on a website.

Let’s suppose, for example, that we want to display a message on screen (a basic command in most languages). Here’s how you would do it in various languages, with notes on where you would use the languages and their strengths and weaknesses.

Visual Basic and Visual C#

In Visual Basic the command to display a message on screen is:

MessageBox.Show(“Wise Owl says tu-whit!”)

In Visual C# it’s more or less the same (you’d just stick a semi-colon onto the end of the line). VB and C# (as they’re often called familiarly) are used as the two main languages within Microsoft applications, and particularly within.NET programs such as ASP.NET. So the next time that you visit a website and see that the URL ends with.ASPX, reflect on the fact that at the web server a program written in VB or C# is furiously collating the results to send back to you.

Visual Basic for Applications

Often called by its shorter name of VBA, Visual Basic for Applications is like Visual Basic, but is designed for programming within Microsoft Office applications such as Excel and Word. The command to display a message in VBA is:

MsgBox “Wise Owl says tu-whit!”


JavaScript is (among other things) the language used on websites everywhere to do things at the client (that is, to carry out tasks once a webpage has been downloaded and displayed on your screen). If ever you’ve booked a holiday and filled in a form, it’s JavaScript that is validating your data.

In JavaScript, you’d display our message as:

alert(‘Wise Owl says tu-whit!);


I’ve left SQL to the end because it’s not quite a proper programming language. Yes, you can issue commands in it (including conditions and loops), but its main purpose is to select and manipulate data in a database. The closest you can get to displaying a message in SQL is the command:

PRINT ‘Wise Owl says tu-whit!’

However, this message wouldn’t appear as a pop-up message on screen, but rather on the Messages tab at the bottom of the SQL Server query.

The world has many other programming languages, such as Fortran (my first love), which is mostly used by scientists, but that list should serve as a taster to whet your programming appetite!

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Saturday, Feb 4, 2023