Report Forget Math; Language Skills Are Stronger Predictor of Programming Ability

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  1. tom_mai78101

    tom_mai78101 The Helper Connoisseur / Ex-MineCraft Host Staff Member

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    New research from the University of Washington finds that a natural aptitude for learning languages is a stronger predictor of learning to program than basic math knowledge, or numeracy. That's because writing code also involves learning a second language, an ability to learn that language's vocabulary and grammar, and how they work together to communicate ideas and intentions. Other cognitive functions tied to both areas, such as problem solving and the use of working memory, also play key roles.

    "Many barriers to programming, from prerequisite courses to stereotypes of what a good programmer looks like, are centered around the idea that programming relies heavily on math abilities, and that idea is not born out in our data," says Chantel Prat, an associate professor of psychology at the UW and at the Institute for Learning & Brain Sciences. "Learning to program is hard, but is increasingly important for obtaining skilled positions in the workforce. Information about what it takes to be good at programming is critically missing in a field that has been notoriously slow in closing the gender gap."

    Prat is lead author of "Relating Natural Language Aptitude to Individual Differences in Learning Programming Languages," published in Scientific Reports. The research examined the neurocognitive abilities of more than three dozen adults as they learned Python, a common programming language. Following a battery of tests to assess their executive function, language and math skills, participants completed a series of online lessons and quizzes in Python. Those who learned Python faster, and with greater accuracy, tended to have a mix of strong problem-solving and language abilities.

    In today's STEM-focused world, learning to code opens up a variety of possibilities for jobs and extended education. Coding is associated with math and engineering; college-level programming courses tend to require advanced math to enroll and they tend to be taught in computer science and engineering departments. Other research, namely from UW psychology professor Sapna Cheryan, has shown that such requirements and perceptions of coding reinforce stereotypes about programming as a masculine field, potentially discouraging women from pursuing it.

    Read more here (Communications of the Association for Computing Machinery, monthly journal)

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