Feb 12, 2009


Image from Engadget

I read this article from Reuters about 2 weeks ago regarding a 9-year old boy from Singapore who developed an iPhone application which has been downloaded over 4,000 times. Besides this accomplishment, he already knows 6 other programming languages. This reminded me of the 9-year old girl from India who became the youngest Microsoft Certified Professional. She is currently reviewing for the Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer exam.
I was kidding with friends before that if ever I have a child, by the age of 9, he/she already knows how to program in C/C++. It was a tongue-in-cheek statement but because of these news, this is no longer a laughing-stock.
Quite astounding feats for such young children don't you think so! You may be wondering how did they do it? Genes? Environment? Parental support and motivation? Combination of these 3? Common sense will dictate that these 3 factors are indeed critical but I'll provide another perspective in providing an explanation. 
This will be in the realm of psycholinguistics, which is defined in Wikipedia as, "the study of the psychological and neurobiological factors that enable humans to acquire, use, and understand language." To summarize the language development process, children roughly go through these 4 stages. 

Stage 1 Babbling stage 4 months old
Stage 2 One-word stage 1 year old
Stage 3 Two-words stage 2 years old
Stage 4 Complex-sentences stage 2 years old and onwards
According to studies, a three-word stage seemed to be non-existent. Once a child move pass the two-word stage, they will start speaking longer, more complex phrases and eventually sentences.
Now, let us go to programming languages. Behind the seeming complexity and otherworldliness, they are just that, another language with its own set of grammar, semantics and syntax. If a child is exposed to these components of programming languages, he/she can easily pick up and learn the new "language." 
In fact, based on various researches, the younger a child learns a second, or third or more languages, the better. The ballpark age will be on or before 7 years old. As Lewin Thomas, the author of the Fragile Species, aptly described, "Childhood is the time for language, no doubt about it. Young children, the younger the better, are good at it; it is child's play. It is a onetime gift to the species." 

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