Math’s & Anxiety
Developmental Dyscalculia
Language and Numerosity
Diffuse cognitive profiles in Dyscalculia


The rudimentary number skills that your child displays when he starts the schooling process from class I onwards, are one of the best predictors of subsequent academic achievement.

Developing number skills depends on complex cognitive, linguistic and interpersonal abilities. Linguistically supported processes, which encompass articulation ability, labeling etc, are crucial to comprehending and understanding basic number skills. In this process, language forms the foundation on which the conceptual knowledge of the numbers skill domain is organised, shared and stored in the child's memory.

Although ontogenetic and phylogenetic factors do play a role, increasingly the language domain is playing a significant role in the development of competence in number skills in children.

Some important number related skills emerge before language acquisition is complete for a majority of children, but subsequent developments are interwoven with linguistic and language development. Number concept acquisition is directly correlated to a developing child's general expressive and receptive language ability. If a child is able to comprehend verbal instructions from his teacher, knows how to identify a noun, has a wide vocabulary with basic knowledge of syntax, he will be able to keep pace with mathematical concepts as they are explained to the child in the class. If the teacher says “The Hen laid three eggs, for the child who can correlate the ‘noun’ Hen and how one creates plural forms, the sentence will be much easier to assimilate.

The ability to retrieve linguistic information from long-term memory may affect early verbal numeracy skills, with poor performance on linguistic retrieval being visible on numerical tasks requiring higher verbal processing.

In fact Language is implicated in the learning of mathematics in many ways. An aspect of particular importance is the use of word problems and highly contextualized tasks that involve high levels of language use. If a child’s language skills are not developed, the child will make errors as he tries to solve worded mathematics problems. There are seven categories of errors, which are related to the sequencing associated with problem solution: reading, comprehension, transformation, process skills, encoding, carelessness, and lack of motivation.

The level of complexity that is related to the semantic structure of the problems that child will face is very high - and an effective and well developed vocabulary is a necessity and has to be utilized in mathematics class in order for the child to be able to understand and use of specific mathematics terms, and ambiguous, multiple meaning words used in specific ways.

Deep processing of word meanings where the child has to encounter words and then decipher them and master technical vocabulary words’, such as number sentence, rectangle, fraction; words that have a precise mathematical meaning and which must be taught explicitly; and sub technical vocabulary words that have a common meaning, but also have a mathematical denotation that must be easily graspable by the child all derive from a good grounding in early and correct language acquisition. The word true is one example of a sub technical vocabulary word, that in everyday language means accurate, the opposite of false, but has a technical definition in mathematics problems of a number sentence where the value to the left of the equal sign is the same as the value to the right.

There is evidence that although middle school students find mathematics problems very challenging, good word problems embed within themselves a number of different mathematical ideas, and therefore can serve as a powerful way to explore mathematics concepts and form connections among them if the child knows how to decipher the meaning and decode the word problem accurately.

However, word problems can present comprehension difficulties for children who find that the most linguistically complex items they stumble upon are those that contain complicated grammatical structures that are central to comprehending the item, along with mostly low-frequency, nonmathematical vocabulary terms whose meanings is central for comprehending the item and could not be derived from the context by them as they read the problem.

If the child has not mastered the language then characteristics that hinder reading comprehension can be those that relate to syntax and vocabulary. Characteristics of syntax may include -multiple clauses. Item sentences have multiclausal complex structures with embedded adverbial and relative clauses, which are more difficult to understand than other types of clauses. Long noun phrases -Long phrases with embedded noun and prepositional phrases lead to comprehension difficulties, as does limited syntactic transparency in the text, such as a lack of clear relationship between the syntactic units comprising the mathematical problem.

Zero order correlations reveal consistently stronger association between number task performance and language comprehension. Tasks that involve counting, ability on how to make addition combinations, story problems, transcoding and relative magnitude judgments rely heavily on language development from the initial stages. Good grammatical ability in grade 1 contributes significantly towards the prediction of numbers skill development in Grade II. When a child learns to read and decode properly, his ability to handle the medium of communication will come to bear on his progress in the crucial area of learning the number skills set needed for eventual mathematical competence.

The more delayed the language development, the more difficult the task of learning numerical skills.

Language development is important as children track linguistically relevant events in the environment as speech unfolds over time, often directing their attention to the teacher as she labels numbers and number features in her discourse.

For this linguistically mediated visual attention, the child must know the meaning of labels. If the child has an idea of syntax and knowledge or what ‘nouns’ or semantics of common nouns are, then when the teacher says “Three Blue balls”, the child will not get confused with the prenominal construction, and whereas the child with the language and delay will not understand as he would be waiting to hear and edit the postnominal construction of language where the teacher would be expected to say “Three Balls of Blue colour”. We expect the language conversant child to comprehend both the constructions and grasp the numerical significance.

Our position is that parents need to be aware of the level of their child's language acquisition, as an initial gap will undermine the effort of the child with poor language abilities in mastering number skills. Researchers now claim, that the role of language is to refine approximate representations through bootstrapping and regular association of the counting word with a particular approximate numerosity. Thus, simple numerical tasks such as numerosity compassion and set enumeration are eventually affected if language is an impediment for the child in question.

If a child cannot undertake the symbolization of numerosities, then he may show a deficit when he has to think about numbers and has to communicate facts about them. Symbolization supports syntax which in turn supports the reasoning about large and small numbers, which a child is still learning and this is important in understanding fractions, decimals and division. Thus development of arithmetical skills could be effected by low language competence.

Research conducted by the Dyslexia Association of India™, indicates that in India, pupils tend to achieve higher scores in numeracy and mathematics when their language proficiency in English is higher – and the same children are more likely to attain low scores in mathematics when their scores on assessed English tests are low.

Children who are encouraged by their parents to learn language properly and systematically tend to achieve higher scores in subjects where mathematical concepts are used.

Mathematics is not a natural or informal human language, but a formal process, that is, it may be thought of as an artificially constructed language. When we use our everyday language to teach the formal language of mathematics we are bound to encounter issues where the technical words we use, as formal parts of mathematics, conflict with an everyday understanding or use of the same word, or related words.

Coming to school with good language ability becomes very important as words can be ambiguous when they move from the normal everyday domain to the mathematics-learning domain and if children are not equipped, mathematical learning disabilities will surface.

For more information to check and assess if your child has a mathematics learning disability or if you suspect that improper use of language or a language delay may be the cause of your child’s learning disabilities, you can either call us on 88260-22886 or e mail us on info@dyslexiaindia.org.in for detailed information on how to help your struggling child.

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