Investigating the hypothetical causes of the relationship between language and arithmetic skills

Investigating the hypothetical causes of the relationship between language and arithmetic skills

First Author: Monica Melby-Lervag -- University of Oslo, Dep. of special needs education
Additional authors/chairs: 
Tonje Amland; Arne Lervåg; Numlit team
Keywords: Arithmetic fluency, Phonological processing, Language Development, Longitudinal, Decoding
Abstract / Summary: 

Purpose: Performance on phonological processing tasks has high correlations not only with decoding but also with arithmetic. It is suggested that the quality of the phonological representations can be important for arithmetic in at least two ways: first, because the child must use phonological information to entail a specific task-solving strategy since the number names in counting are based on phonological codes. Secondly, because phonological representations is used to retrieve the answer to a simple arithmetic problem (4+3=) directly from phonological information in long-term memory. Thus, phonological processing hypothetically may yield causal influence on arithmetic.

Method: Here 278 unselected children were traced annually from age 5-6, and were measured on phonological processing (phoneme blending and isolation), number knowledge (digit knowledge and judgement of quantity) and word decoding. All measures had acceptable distributions and reliability.

Results: Using latent autoregressive cross-lagged panel models, results showed that phonological processing at the first time point was strongly related to both word decoding skills and early arithmetic beyond the autoregressor (number knowledge). Still, it is noteworthy that stability over time for phonological processing is moderate, probably due to that the rank order change rapidly when the children receives instruction. Importantly, data are collected on broader language skills to examine whether the relationship between phonological processing and arithmetic holds also after broader language is taken into account.

Conclusions: There seems to be a reliable relationship between phonological processing and early arithmetic skills. However it remains to be seen whether this relationship might be confounded by more general language skills.