Page d'accueil // Recherche // FHSE // Cognitive Ne... // Research // How does num... // The impact of language background on basic math competence

The impact of language background on basic math competence

(2015-2018), AFR-FNR PhD Grant for Alexandre Poncin (Supervised by Christine Schiltz)

Language is thought to play a critical role during numerical and mathematical skill acquisition. Especially exact mathematical concepts, such as simple multiplications, seem to be represented in a language-specific format.

Consequently the specific language profile and context in which children learn math might facilitate or hamper the numerical and mathematical learning process. Thus children’s language profile and context are expected to play critical roles in math acquisition. However, studies on this topic are still sparse. Luxembourg and Belgium provide an excellent setting to scientifically investigate the effects of language on numeracy acquisition, as both countries are decidedly multilingual (i.e. German, French and Luxembourgish/Flemish) and multicultural (e.g. 44.5% of the Luxembourg population is composed of foreigners).
In the present project we propose to systematically investigate how language impacts on math abilities at the beginning of primary school by taking advantage of the specific language characteristics of the Luxembourgish and Belgian school systems.
We will (1) assess numerical and mathematical proficiency of German- vs. French-speaking Belgian children attending first and forth primary school grades in order to evaluate how the opposed 2-digit number word formats in the two languages (i.e. unit-ten vs. ten-unit) affect basic number and math competence.
Then (2) the multilingual and multicultural nature of the Luxembourgish school system will be exploited to determine how children’s language profiles (i.e. monolingual Luxembourgish, monolingual German, monolingual French, bilingual Luxembourgish-German, bilingual Luxembourgish-French) influence the early math learning process given that the official school language at this age is German. To this aim we will use both behavioral and electro-encephalography approaches. As numerical and mathematical skills can have considerable financial impacts on the GDP per capita (OECD, 2012), better understanding the interactions between language and math acquisition should bring direct benefits for the national school system in particular and the Luxembourgish economy in general.