Linguistic influences on mathematical development: How important is the transparency of the counting system?

Philosophical Psychology 21 (4):523 – 538 (2008)
Abstract
Wales uses languages with both regular (Welsh) and irregular (English) counting systems. Three groups of 6- and 8-year-old Welsh children with varying degrees of exposure to the Welsh language—those who spoke Welsh at both home and school; those who spoke Welsh only at home; and those who spoke only English—were given standardized tests of arithmetic and a test of understanding representations of two-digit numbers. Groups did not differ on the arithmetic tests, but both groups of Welsh speakers read and compared 2-digit numbers more accurately than monolingual English children. A similar study was carried out with Tamil/English bilingual children in England. The Tamil counting system is more transparent than English but less so than Welsh or Chinese. Tamil-speaking children performed better than monolingual English-speaking children on one of the standardized arithmetic tests but did not differ in their comparison of two-digit numbers. Reasons for the findings are discussed.
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