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The Secret Language of Numbers

The Secret Language of Numbers – week 3

Part 1
Discuss how language impacts number processing for children in the United States.
Part 2
� If you teach pre-K through 8, (I teach 8th grade) how do you address this (or plan to address this) in
your classroom?
o Provide your own strategies for helping children see, for example, that factors are �number friends�
or that numbers love to play.
? Use Rapid Math Tricks and Tips (Julius, 1992).
? Utilize Table 4.2 (p. 88) from the Sousa (2015) text in your discussion. How could the information in this
table be used to help your students?


The Secret Language of Numbers – week 3

How language influences number processing for children in the United States.
Tests conducted on children about their performance in mathematics usually rank US
children dismally. While several factors determine the overall performance in mathematics,
language plays a key role in the efficiency of most of the inherent operations within
mathematics. A case example is counting, where the English language ranks among the slowest
in terms of speaking out the numbers. This, in comparison to languages native in China, is quite
slow and leads to a slower pace of reading. In addition to the reading speed, the differences in
language also affect memory capacity, where the ability of the learner to store the numbers is
affected by the language. The naming system in the language is also a determining factor in the
number processing ability for children in the US. A comparison between Chinese and American
children proved that the more logical naming convention of numbers in China helps the Chinese
students learn faster and are therefore able to count much farther and therefore process numbers
better than their American age-mates (Sousa, 2015)

Helping children with identification and counting

Introduction to the numeral system and counting would be efficient for the learners when
children see relationships. For example, I could introduce the concept of “number friends”, or
“numbers playing’ to imply addition. The use of a table such as that introduced by David Sousa
should help with counting using a multi-sensory approach (Sousa, 2015, pp. 87 – 88) . Here, the
children identify the numbers through sight and enforce the understanding through touch and
vocalization of the numeral. In addition, the table presents a logical way of identification of
relationships that is simpler than the English conventions.


Sousa, D. A. (2015). How the brain learns mathematics. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin

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