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A study of transfer of skill between programming languages

Jean Clarice Scholtz, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


Experienced programmers transferring to a new programming language have a far easier time than the novice learning a first language. However, they still experience considerable difficulties. The objective in this study was to characterize the kinds of learning and transfer that take place in the early stages of using a new programming language and where difficulties develop. The learning procedure and difficulty aspects were compared for programmers at three levels of expertise and for languages similar and dissimilar to Pascal, the language which all subjects knew. Think aloud protocols were videotaped as subjects went about trying to write a program in a new programming language. Documentation and computer facilities were provided for subjects' use. Three types of analyses were done on the recorded protocols: a procedural analysis showing the methods subjects used as they learned the new language, a language concepts analysis showing in what areas of program development difficulties were encountered, and a solutions and algorithms analysis showing how successful the programmers were at using unique features of the new language.^ We found that the procedures programmers used to learn a new language were independent of the language being learned. The slight differences that existed in procedures were between levels of expertise. We also found programmers spent the majority of their time reading the textbook. The language concepts analysis showed that programmers main area of concentration was planning how to implement their approach given the constructs available in the language. We observed many iterations of programmers trying to implement plans, failing and having to revise their plans. Syntactical considerations also posed problems for the programmers but these problems were more easily resolved than the problems encountered in implementation. Examination of the subjects' solutions and implementation approaches in Pascal led us to believe that programmers learning a new language are sometimes biased by their implementation of algorithms in previous languages. ^

Subject Area

Computer Science

Recommended Citation

Scholtz, Jean Clarice, "A study of transfer of skill between programming languages" (1989). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI9013627.