Language and mathematics: A meta-analysis to explore the medium and thinking functions of language in mathematics

Language and mathematics: A meta-analysis to explore the medium and thinking functions of language in mathematics

First Author: Peng Peng -- The University of Texas at Austin
Keywords: Language, Mathematics, Cognitive skills, Meta-analysis, Development
Abstract / Summary: 

The current study investigated the relation between language and mathematics. A meta-analysis of 344 studies with 393 independent samples and over 360,000 participants found a moderate relation between language and mathematics, r = .42, 95CI [.40, .44]. Moderation and partial correlation analyses revealed: 1) more complicated language and mathematics skills are associated with stronger relations between language and mathematics. After partialling out working memory and intelligence, comprehensive language showed the strongest relation to mathematics performance in general, while rapid automatized naming showed the strongest relation to numerical knowledge; 2) the relation between language and mathematics was stronger among native language speakers than among second language learners, but this difference was not found after partialling out working memory and intelligence; 3) working memory and intelligence together explained over 50% of the variance in the relation between language and mathematics and explained more variance in the relations involving complex mathematics skills; 4) language and mathematics predicted the development of each other even after controlling for initial performance. These findings suggest we may use language as a medium to communicate, represent, and retrieve mathematics knowledge and also as a thinking tool to facilitate working memory and reasoning processes during mathematics performance and learning. The use of language to retrieve mathematics knowledge may become more important for foundamental mathematics skills with development, which in turn further strengthens the thinking process of language in performing more advanced mathematics tasks. Such use of language may boost the mutual effects between cognition and mathematics with development.