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I have always been fascinated by this concept, as there is said also to be a link between language and music, but language and mathematics is an interesting one.
There has been a number of research studies done on this topic with interesting results. The research has definitely been conclusive. I want to highlight the findings here (and you can read the whole report yourself in the links if you want!)
- The concept of a number can only be learned through language
This may sound very strange, but in fact when children learn numbers at the age of 2-3 years old, they in fact have no idea what the amount a number is until much later. However they can recite the numbers 1-10 for example. This recitation is extremely important even though they have no idea what they mean. However later when they start school and their teacher gives them some examples, they draw upon the language they have learned to identify the word with the concept. Without the language, they would have problems distinguishing one concept from another
- Mathematics works in a logical pattern
Many people would disagree with me that English grammar is in anyway logical, however the truth is that on the whole it actually is. If you learn the verbs to be, you can then learn the greater tenses like present simple, continuous and perfect. The reason why ESL curriculums are set out in a certain way is solely to do with grammatical logic in language.
- Mathematics is a language within itself
This may come as a shock to some, but a known truth to those university mathematicians out there, but even at the lowest levels of mathematical equations, the simple concept of 1 + 1 = 2, is actually called a ‘mathematical sentence’, and does in fact tell a simple story of a concept. For mathematicians at the university PhD level, one simple equation does explore a very deep intellectual concept that may in fact have no ‘English language’ to explain it.
- Mathematics is everywhere in life and works together with language
For a lot of what is seen and done in life, there is some kind of math involved. Anything from ‘how many minutes do I have to complete this test’ to ‘how much is that pen?’ In fact many scientists have stated that language is in almost every way the words of mathematics. Without language there would be no mathematics, and the world would be a dumber place all round.
- Children learn mathematics through language
Most language theorists know the language in infants is acquired through a number of environmental factors. The accent, the vocabulary used and the etiquette in which language is used all comes down to the home and world around the child. But in fact what the children are really doing is understanding the mathematical world around them through the language they have acquired.
The interesting question with all of this is, how come some people end up being really good at English but terrible at math? I would like to propose that this all comes down to how they were taught. Unfortunately many teachers are unaware of the correlation between language and mathematics and merely teach what is required rather than getting children to see the mathematics in an everyday context.
The other question to ask is – if someone is good at mathematics, does that mean they will be good at languages too?
Tell me what you think! Are you someone who is strong in one discipline but weak in another?