The World of Codes

The World of Codes

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The World of Codes… sounds secretive doesn’t it! But it is not just spies that use codes! You do too!

People have been using codes for thousands of years. As early civilisations evolved, people began to create ways to record the spoken word using pictures and symbols. Unless you knew the system for these pictures and symbols they would be impossible to understand. That is just the same for languages of today… Here is an example:


The following words are written in Thai, Russian and Spanish.




Each of these words are code for the word…. you guessed it… code! Your own language is your code and not something that everyone understands. Can you work out which word is from which language?

To start with, armies could use their own language to communicate without the enemy understanding, but as times changed, there was further need for top secret codes. Julius Caesar, the leader of the Romans over 2000 years ago, came up with a clever way of disguising his messages. His code used a cipher which is a way of scrambling the letters. Only his generals knew how to unscramble it. He skipped three letters ahead for every letter in his writing. E.g instead of writing A, he wrote D.


Using this cipher, write a word for a friend and get them to decipher it!


You can imagine, particularly in times of war, there was a great need to keep things secret. Before and during World War 2, the German army used an Enigma machine to create ever changing codes that seemed impossible to crack. Scientists working for the Allied forces built a mechanical device which could try different solutions much faster than the human brain and were finally able to interpret the German messages . This breakthrough led to the first computer.


Let’s jump forward in time. Code is an essential part of the digital world of today. We use pin numbers and passwords as a form of code so only we can log in to accounts and approve actions. When buying something on the internet, personal details, such as credit card numbers, are coded so noone can steal them. Emails can be coded. And then there are supercomputers. These are very powerful and can code and decode messages in millions of ways. They are used by governments and their armed forces.


On a side note, code is also the word for the language of computing and programmers use this code to build apps and programmes. Programmers have to learn the language of code to do their job. Fortunately it is not a secret and you too can learn the language of computer coding!


Digging Deeper

Over time some famous secret codes have been used, such as morse code, semaphore code, quilt codes and even Wig Wag- signalling! Can you find out more about these?

Now watch this video about the Pig Pen code. Can you work out the message at the end?