Encyclopedia of Mathematics Education

2014 Edition
| Editors: Stephen Lerman

Language Background in Mathematics Education

  • Richard BarwellEmail author
Reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-94-007-4978-8_86


Language is ubiquitous – it is everywhere a part of human life. Language is also highly diverse and constantly changing. This diversity includes the languages spoken by different peoples around the world. This diversity also includes social variation within languages, for example, in relation to social class, gender, or race. Language also varies in relation to different activities: the languages of mathematics, of science, of sport, of religious practice, and so on. Finally, language varies in relation to different modes of communication, such as in speech, symbols, written prose, or texting. The term language background can be used to refer to the particular set of national, social, and professional language varieties in which any individual or group of people has experience and expertise. In this entry, language background refers more specifically to the different languages that learners and teachers use.

What does language background have to do with mathematics...


Language background Bilingual learners Second language learners Bilingual mathematics classrooms Multilingual mathematics classrooms 
This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.


  1. Adler J (2001) Teaching mathematics in multilingual classrooms. Kluwer, DordrechtGoogle Scholar
  2. Barton B (2008) The language of mathematics: telling mathematical tales. Springer, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  3. Barwell R (2003) Linguistic discrimination: issues for research in mathematics education. Learn Math 23(2):37–43Google Scholar
  4. Barwell R (ed) (2009) Mathematics in multilingual classrooms: global perspectives. Multilingual Matters, Bristol, UKGoogle Scholar
  5. Bournot-Trites M, Reeder K (2001) Interdependence revisited: mathematics achievement in an intensified French immersion program. Can Mod Lang Rev 58:27–43 (La Revue canadienne des langues vivantes)Google Scholar
  6. Chitera N (2009) Code-switching in a college mathematics classroom. Int J Multilingualism 6:426–442Google Scholar
  7. Cocking RR, Mestre J (eds) (2008) Linguistic and cultural influences on learning mathematics. Lawrence Erlbaum, HillsdaleGoogle Scholar
  8. Cummins J (2000) Language, power and pedagogy: bilingual children in the crossfire. Multilingual Matters, ClevedonGoogle Scholar
  9. Howie SJ (2003) Language and other background factors affecting secondary pupils’ performance in mathematics in South Africa. African J Res Math Sci Technol Ed 7:1–20Google Scholar
  10. Moschkovich J (2007) Using two languages when learning mathematics. Educ Stud Math 64:121–144Google Scholar
  11. Secada WG (1992) Race, ethnicity, social class, language and achievement in mathematics. In: Grouws DA (ed) Handbook of research on mathematics teaching and learning. Macmillan, New York, pp 623–660Google Scholar
  12. Setati M (2005) Teaching mathematics in a primary multilingual classroom. J Res Math Educ 36:447–466Google Scholar
  13. Setati M (2008) Access to mathematics versus access to the language of power: the struggle in multilingual mathematics classrooms. South African J Educ 28:103–116Google Scholar
  14. Setati M, Barwell R (eds) (2008) Teaching and learning mathematics in multilingual classrooms. Special Issue of Pythagoras 67:1–64Google Scholar
  15. Téllez K, Moschkovich J, Civil M (eds) (2011) Latinos/as and mathematics education. Information Age Publishers, CharlotteGoogle Scholar
  16. UNESCO (1974) Interactions between linguistics and mathematics education: final report of the symposium sponsored by UNESCO, CEDO and ICMI. UNESCO, Nairobi, Kenya. Available from unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0001/000149/014932eb.pdf Accessed 27 August 2012Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Faculty of EducationUniversity of OttawaOttawaCanada