To the Editor:
As a linguist and teacher for more than 25 years, I am concerned by the policies being applied to improve reading and math education in the United States (“White House Suggests Model Used in Reading to Elevate Math Skills,” Feb. 15, 2006).
It is true that phonics instruction, which stresses the relationships between sounds and letters, is the appropriate strategy to teach reading. But phonics is not just a mechanical tool to be learned by kids. There is much more than simply decoding to be considered under this strategy.
The development of linguistic skills is a highly delicate task, since the development of the brain’s left hemisphere—an area that controls analytic thought, logic, segmentation, symbolism, and so on—depends on how well our first language was learned.
All of the skills necessary for the development of facility with language—analysis, logic, symbolism, and so on—are also needed for understanding math. As a result, a poor linguistic development will inevitably lead to a poor math development. Linguists and bilingual experts have long considered math another language; in learning a second language, we need our first language firmly in place.
A version of this article appeared in the March 01, 2006 edition of Education Week as Language Skills Are the Precursors of Math Skills