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Aside from my duties here at HB Design I also teach college courses at Clark College in Vancouver, Washington—including teaching an “Introduction to HTML.” Having taught the course for many years I have been struck by a comparison to learning a foreign language. Let me explain.I often see articles on how easy it is to learn HTML. My students would undoubtedly disagree. But there is some truth to it if you consider learning HTML at the level these articles are discussing is similar to learning, say French, from a traveler’s guidebook of phrases. You simply memorize enough phrases to get by. Bonjour, comment allez vous, où sont les toilettes s’il vous plaît, etc. Or in HTML,

Hello, how are you, and where is the bathroom, please.

Knowing a handful of HTML tags, such as the p tag, can get you by, especially if you are using a WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) editor and only occasionally having to look at the raw HTML code.However, if you want to be fluent there is a lot more to it.

You need to understand the grammar and syntax of the language. HTML and CSS are like French. There are some basic grammar rules you need to learn, but there are also a lot of special cases where the rules don’t quite work. Also there is a lot of vocabulary you need to learn: in French the nouns and verbs, in HTML/CSS the attributes and properties.

So how do you become fluent? Just like learning French. Taking a college level course can be like a French language immersion program. It can be overwhelming at first but over time the rules start making sense. And like learning a language the best thing you can do is practice, practice, practice. Write snippets of code to demonstrate some feature of HTML and CSS—experiment. Read a lot and look at other people’s code.

It also helps to understand the culture and history of the language and the people speaking it, whether it be French or HTML. Study the history of the web and of HTML and CSS. And, of course, have fun! Understanding the languages of the web will undoubtedly enhance your job marketability.


w3schools – HTML4 and HTML5 Tutorial
HTML Tutorials
Code academy – Learn HTML
HTML reference by
CSS selector tutorial


History of the Web – World Wide Web Foundation
The Evolution of the Web
A Brief History of the World Wide Web

Updated 7/11/2023 to fix a formatting issue.