Researcher finds language does matter when teaching math to bilingual people

Researcher finds language does matter when teaching math to bilingual people

LatinaLista -- Last month on the campus of the University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA), scientists and researchers gathered for the 2011 Neuroscience Symposium: The Bilingual Brain.

[caption id="attachment_13383" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="Volunteer serves as part of a UTSA study to see how a bilingual person's brain reacts to solving simple math problems given in a particular language. (Photo: KENS5)"][/caption]

Among the many issues tackled at the day-long event was one that faces many teachers, students and families on a daily basis: When learning math, does it matter which language is used for bilingual students?

Over the last three years, researchers at the University of Texas at San Antonio have studied how a bilingual person's brain performs simple mathematical problems -- adding, subtracting, multiplying and word problems.

Volunteers wear special caps where 32 electrodes monitor brain waves and how the brain responds in solving a math problem in a given language.

The result is that almost half of the people studied performed mathematical problems quicker and more accurately when they did so in their first language.

"Bilinguals have the ability to perform simple arithmetic in 3 different formats, digits and words in each of their languages," Dr. Nicole Y. Wicha, lead researcher on the project at UTSA, said. "It has been suggested that the language of learning establishes a stronger memory network for simple arithmetic facts that may lead to language-specific access to these concepts."

However, Dr. Wicha's study also found that when a bilingual person memorizes mathematical facts it "enhanced the speed of access in the language of use."

Together these findings suggest that, at least in bilinguals with relatively equal proficiency in their languages, memory for and access to simple arithmetic concepts is more dependent on use than on the original language of learning.

So far, the study has only focused on bilingual adults but Dr. Wicha wants to focus next on bilingual children to see how language influences how their brains process math problems.

Click to add a comment

You must be logged in to post a comment Login

Leave a Reply


More in Education


Even with college acceptance in hand, too many low-income Latinos never make it to campus

Latina ListaAugust 17, 2015

Texas Dreamers celebrate in-state tuition preservation

Latina ListaJune 3, 2015

Latino immigrants most appreciative of their local public libraries

Latina ListaMarch 17, 2015

New data shows Latino students’ work paying off on closing the achievement gap

Latina ListaMarch 16, 2015
Screen Shot 2015-03-02 at 2.13.44 PM

College advisor pens song advocating educational rights for DREAMers

Latina ListaMarch 2, 2015
Screen Shot 2015-01-22 at 3.12.32 PM

New report highlights Latinos show ganas to earn degrees but still falling short

Latina ListaJanuary 22, 2015

New study finds historic high of Latino students achieved bachelor’s degrees in engineering and the physical sciences in 2012

Latina ListaDecember 4, 2014

Too many Latino students battle low expectations from their teachers

Latina ListaOctober 6, 2014

Another example of how education isn’t the great equalizer for many Latinos

Latina ListaSeptember 25, 2014