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Language Affects Mathematical Development

Update Date: Dec 16, 2013 11:28 AM EST

The development of language has been the subject of many research studies within the past decades. Researchers have examined the relationship between learning language or languages and cognitive development in other areas. For example, one study reported that being bilingual could reduce one's risk of dementia. In a new, international study, researchers from the University of California at San Diego, UCL (University College London), King Saud University, University of Nova Gorica and Massachusetts Institute of Technology reported that learning grammatical structures in language could greatly influence how children learn and understand math.

For this study, the team focused on how young children from Saudi Arabia, Slovenia and the United States learned math, specifically numbers through their understanding of language. The children were between the ages of two and four. The researchers found a strong connection between languages that use dual markers and understanding numbers.

"Our cross linguistic study found that 2-4 year old children speaking languages which grammatically mark duals such as Saudi Arabic and Slovenian- where 'car' can be pronounced as either 'car, car-dual, or cars' - learn number 'two' earlier than their English speaking peers who lack dual markers in their language," Alhanouf Almoammer, MSc Neuroscience, Language and Communication, first author on the paper from UCL said. "We found that Slovenian children were faster to learn one and two, despite the fact that English children appeared to receive substantially more training on counting and number words in their daily routines."

"The research is striking given the different cultural contexts within which Saudi-Arabic and Slovenian children are learning. The findings emphasize the importance of children's experience of number within natural language, outside the counting routine that we often prioritize," added Dr Chris Donlan a Senior Lecturer in Developmental Science at UCL and supervisor of the study reported by Medical Xpress.

The researchers explained that teaching children how to use numbers in everyday language could help with their mathematical development down the line. The study, "Grammatical morphology as a source of early number word meanings," was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

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