I’ve always thought language and math skills go hand-in-hand. After all, without strong language skills, solving word problems (and sometimes even understanding directions) is rather difficult.
Plus, language lends itself to logical reasoning. But, I wondered what effect knowing two languages might have on learning mathematics.
Currently, the conclusion as to whether it’s helpful or not is still up in the air, but I did find some interesting ways bilingual students and adults use their skills in math.
Potential Brain Benefits
In such a diverse society, I can’t help but feel that being bilingual gives students an extra edge in life and helps them connect with a wider variety of other students. But, there are also studies that show the brain itself benefits from knowing two languages.
One benefit I zeroed in on was improved attention. When bilingual kids and adults switch between languages, they also enhance their executive function skill set. In layman’s terms, they’re able to stay more focused and switch tasks easier without losing their train of thought. This also means they may be able to better switch between different mathematical concepts too.
Language Does Matter
One in five kids in the United States speak two languages. However, this doesn’t mean they’re as great at math in both languages. Studies show varying results in this area. For instance, I discovered a study that disproved the original theory that students learn math better when it’s taught in the first language they learned.
The study was actually performed with teachers, but it showed that the teachers responded almost equally in both languages. They answered slightly faster, though, when the problems were in the language they taught in, not necessarily their first language.
So, my belief from all this is students learn math equally in both languages. However, they may work through problems faster and potentially grasp concepts better when math is taught in the language they use most.
Overall, there’s little evidence that being bilingual has any real impact on learning mathematics. But, I say if a child is able to learn the intricacies of two languages, they just might be able to better understand a third language – math.
Hi, I'm Ellie! I've been in education for 25 years, teaching all subject areas at both the elementary and middle school levels.