Studies Find Language Is Key to Learning Math
Researchers Looked at Deaf Adults Without Formal Sign Language
New research shows a lack of language skills can hamstring a student’s ability to understand basic concepts in mathematics.
A series of studies led by Susan Goldin-Meadow, a psychology professor at the University of Chicago, found that profoundly deaf adults in Nicaragua who had not learned a formal sign language could not accurately describe or understand numbers greater than three. While hearing adults and those who used formal sign language easily counted and distinguished groups of objects, those who used only self-created “homesigning” gestures could not consistently extend the proper number of fingers to count more than three objects at a time, nor could they match the number of objects in one set to those in another set.
The study, while not conducted on children, offers new insight into the link between language and mathematics development in children, because it focuses on adults who have grown up without language and numeracy, said Laura-Ann Petitto, a professor of cognitive neuroscience and the director of the Genes, Mind and fNIRS [Functional Near Infrared Spectroscopy] Brain Imaging Laboratory for Language, Bilingualism, and Child Development at the University of Toronto, St. George. Such populations are difficult to find in modern society; the study...
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