The Role of Mathematical Language Skills in Arithmetic Fluency and Word-Problem Solving for First- and Second-Language Learners

Chang Xu, Anne Lafay, Heather Douglas, Sabrina Di Lonardo Burr, Jo-Anne Lefevre, Helena Osana, Sheri-Lynn Skwarchuk, Judith Wylie, Victoria Simms, Erin Maloney

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Language skills play an important role in mathematics development. Students (7 to 10 years of age) learning school mathematics either in the same language used at home (first-language learners; n = 103) or in a different language (second-language learners; n = 57) participated in the study. Relations among cognitive skills (i.e., receptive vocabulary, working memory, quantitative skills), domain-specific language skills (i.e., mathematical vocabulary, mathematical orthography), word-problem solving, arithmetic fluency, and word reading were investigated. Second-language learners had lower scores on measures with strong language components (i.e., receptive vocabulary, subitizing, and word-problem solving) than first-language learners, whereas they performed equally well on other tasks. Mathematical vocabulary and receptive vocabulary contributed to word-problem solving success for first-language learners, whereas only receptive vocabulary in the language of instruction related to mathematical outcomes for second-language learners. Mathematical vocabulary was related to arithmetic fluency for both groups, but mathematical orthography was not. For both groups, students’ word reading was predicted by receptive vocabulary, but not by quantitative skills, highlighting the domain-specific nature of these skills. These findings have implications for supporting mathematical learning in second-language students.
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Educational Psychology
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 6 Feb 2021

Keywords

  • Language and mathematics
  • second-language learners
  • first-language learners
  • mathematical vocabulary
  • mathematical orthography

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