Educational Studies in Mathematics

, Volume 14, Issue 4, pp 325–353 | Cite as

Bilingualism and mathematical reasoning in English as a second language

  • Lloyd Dawe


This paper examines the ability of bilingual children to reason deductively in mathematics. In particular, the findings of a recent study of bilingual Punjabi, Mirpuri, Italian and Jamaican 11–13 year old children growing up in England are reported. It is found that first language competence is an important factor in the child's ability to reason in mathematics in English as a second language. This gives considerable support to theories which assert that a cognitively and academically beneficial form of bilingualism can only be achieved on the basis of adequately developed first language skills. However for both English monolingual and bilingual children knowledge of logical connectives in English is a crucial factor. It is suggested that published weaknesses in mathematics found among certain Asian and West Indian pupils may well be due to language factors. Furthermore there are strong cultural forces which predispose differential performance among boys and girls. The implications of the findings for a relevant mathematical education for bilingual children are discussed.


Differential Performance Mathematical Education Language Skill Mathematical Reasoning Logical Connective 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Albert, M. L. and Obler, L. K.: 1978. The Bilingual Brain: Neuropsychological and Neurolinguistic Aspects of Bilingualism, Academic Press, New York.Google Scholar
  2. Austin, J. L. and Howson, A. G.: 1979, ‘Language and mathematical education’, Educational Studies in Mathematics 10, 161–197.Google Scholar
  3. Bagley, C.: 1977, A Comparative Perspective on the Education of Black Children in Britain, Centre for Information and Advice on Educational Disadvantage, Manchester.Google Scholar
  4. Bailey, Beryl L.: 1966, Jamaican Creole Syntax, C.U.P. at Cambridge.Google Scholar
  5. Bishop, A. J.: 1979, ‘Visualising and mathematics in a pre-technological culture’, Educational Studies in Mathematics 10, 136–146.Google Scholar
  6. Bruner, J. S.: 1975, ‘Language as an instrument of thought’, in Problems of Language and Learning, Alan Davies (ed.), Social Science Research Council, Heinemann, London.Google Scholar
  7. Collis, K. F.: 1975, A Study of Concrete and Formal Operations in School Mathematics: A Piagetian Viewpoint, ACER, Hawthorn, Victoria.Google Scholar
  8. Cornish, G. and Wines, R.: 1977, Teachers Handbook, Operations Test, ACER Mathematics Profile Series, The Australian Council for Educational Research, Hawthorn, Victoria.Google Scholar
  9. C.R.E.: 1978, Ethnic Minorities in Britain: Statistical Background, The Commission for Racial Equality, London.Google Scholar
  10. Cummins, James: 1978, ‘Educational implications of mother tongue maintenance in minority-language groups’, Canadian Modern Language Review 34, 395–416.Google Scholar
  11. Cummins, James: 1979, ‘Linguistic interdependence and the educational development of bilingual children’, Review of Educ. Research 49, 2, 222–251.Google Scholar
  12. Dawe, L. C. S.: 1982, The Influence of a Bilingual Child's First Language Competence on Reasoning in Mathematics, Unpublished Ph.D Dissertation, University of Cambridge.Google Scholar
  13. Delahunty, C.: 1973, An Investigation into the Development of Mathematical Ability of Deprived Children Through the Mediation of Linguistic Operators, Unpublished Ph.D Thesis, University of Dublin.Google Scholar
  14. Driver, G.: 1980, ‘How West Indians do better at school (especially the girls)’, New Society, 17th January, pp. 111–113.Google Scholar
  15. Edwards, V. K.: 1976, West Indian Language and Comprehension, Unpublished Ph.D Thesis, University of Reading.Google Scholar
  16. Edwards, V. K.: 1978, Dialect interference in West Indian children’, Language and Speech, 21, Part 1, 76–86.Google Scholar
  17. Edwards, V. K.: 1979, The West Indian Language Issue in British Schools, Routledge & Kegan Paul, London.Google Scholar
  18. Essen, J. and Ghodsian, M.: 1979, ‘The children of immigrants: school performance’, New Community 7, 3, 422–429.Google Scholar
  19. Gardner, P. L.: 1977, Logical Connectives in Science, a report to the Education Research and Development Committee, Dept. of Education, Commonwealth Government, Australia. Faculty of Education, Monash University, Victoria, Australia.Google Scholar
  20. Halliday, M. A. K.: 1974, ‘Aspects of Sociolinguistic Research’, a preparatory paper for Internactions between Linguistics and Mathematical Education the symposium held at Nairobi, Kenya, Sept. 1–11, 1974, UNESCO, Paris.Google Scholar
  21. Jensen, Arthur R.: 1980, Bias in Mental Testing, Free Press, New York.Google Scholar
  22. Kline, Morris: 1962, Mathematics: A Cultural Approach, Addison-Wesley, Reading, Mass.Google Scholar
  23. Lambert, W.: 1977, ‘The effects of bilingualism on the individual: cognitive and sociocultural consequences’, in Bilingualism: Psychological, Social and Educational Implications, P. A. Hornby (ed.), Academic Press, New York.Google Scholar
  24. Lambert, W. E.: 1978, ‘Cognitive and socio-cultural consequences of bilingualism’, Canadian Modern Language Review 34, 3, 537–547.Google Scholar
  25. Lambert, W. E. and Anisfield, E.: 1969, ‘A note on the relationship of bilingualism and intelligence’, Canadian Journal of Behavioural Science 1, 123–128.Google Scholar
  26. Lean, G. and Clements, M. A.: 1981, ‘Spatial ability, visual imagery and mathematical performance’, Educational Studies in Mathematics 12, 3, 267–299.Google Scholar
  27. Le Page, R. B.: 1968, ‘Problems to be faced in the use of English as the medium of education in four West Indian territories’, in Language Problems in Developing Nations, J. A. Fishman, C. A. Ferguson and J. D. Gupton (eds), Wiley, New York.Google Scholar
  28. Little, A.: 1975, ‘Performance of children from ethnic minority backgrounds in primary schools’, Oxford Review of Education 1, 2, 117–135.Google Scholar
  29. MacFarlane Smith, I.: 1964, Spatial Ability: its Educational and Social Significance, University of London Press, London.Google Scholar
  30. MacNamara, John: 1967, ‘The bilingual's linguistic performance’, Journal of Social Issues 23, 2, 58–77 (special issue).Google Scholar
  31. Nie, N. H., Hadlai Hull, C., Jenkins, J. G., et al.: 1975, Statistical Package for the Social Sciences, Second Edition, McGraw-Hill, New York.Google Scholar
  32. Rosen, H. and Burgess, T.: 1978, Survey-of Linguistic Diversity in ILEA Schools Interim report, University of London Institute of Education.Google Scholar
  33. Rutter, M. and Madge, N.: 1976, Cycles of Disadvantage, Heinemann, London.Google Scholar
  34. Saifullah-Kahn, Verity: 1974, Pakistani Villagers in a British City: the world of the Mirpuri villager in Bradford and in his village of origin, unpublished Ph.D Thesis, University of Bradford.Google Scholar
  35. Shuard, H. B.: 1982, ‘Differences in mathematical performance between girls and boys’, in Mathematics Counts. Report of the Committee of Inquiry into the Teaching of Mathematics in Schools, W. H. Cockcroft, Chairman, HMSO, London, pp. 273–284.Google Scholar
  36. Skutnabb-Kangas, T. and Toukomaa, P.: 1976, Teaching Migrant Children's Mother Tongue and Learning the Language of the Host Country in the Context of the Sociocultural Situation of the Migrant Family, The Finnish National Commission for UNESCO, Helsinki.Google Scholar
  37. Skutnabb-Kangas, T. and Toukomaa, P.: 1977, The Intensive Teaching of the Mother Tongue to Migrant Children of Pre-School Age and Children in the Lower Level of Comprehensive School, The Finnish National Commission for UNESCO, Helsinki.Google Scholar
  38. Strevens, Peter: 1971, ‘The language of instruction and the formation of scientific concepts’, in Science and Education in the Developing States, Proceedings of the 5th Rehovot Conference on Science and Education in Developing Countries, P. & H. Gillon (eds.), Praeger, New York.Google Scholar
  39. Sutcliffe, D.: 1978, The Language of First and Second Generation West Indian Children in Bedfordshire, M.Ed. Thesis, University of Leicester.Google Scholar
  40. Swain, M. and Cummins, J.: 1979, ‘Bilingualism, cognitive and functioning and education’, Language Teaching and Linguistic Abstracts 12, 1, 4–18.Google Scholar
  41. Wilson, Bryan: 1981, Cultural Contexts of Science and Mathematics Education, a bibiographic guide, Centre for Studies in Science Education, University of Leeds.Google Scholar
  42. Witelson, S. F.: 1976, ‘Sex and the single hemisphere: specialization of the right hemisphere for spatial processing’, Science 193, July 30, pp. 425–427.Google Scholar
  43. Young, C. N.: 1973, Belize Creole: A Study of the Creolized English Spoken in the City of Belize in its Cultural and Social Setting, unpublished Ph.D Thesis, University of York.Google Scholar
  44. Zirkel, P. A.: 1976, ‘A method for determining and depicting language dominance” in English as a Second Language in Bilingual Education, selected TESOL papers, James E. Alatis and K. Twaddel (eds.), TESOL, Washington, D.C., pp. 133–142.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© D. Reidel Publishing Company 1983

Authors and Affiliations

  • Lloyd Dawe

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations