Bilingual math skills for language learners

Bilingual math skills usually might indicate learning of numbers. Of course, your students will learn numbers in a math class.

However, learning bilingual math is beyond teaching them to count. Especially for bilingual learners, the way your students acquire language is just as important as learning math.

While there are many instructional methods to teach bilingual math, your students grasp math concepts in one language more than another. So, implementing a teaching strategy might require multiple ways to use bilingual math skills. 

Bilingual Math Skills in Learning Math

Obviously, a bilingual brain is not the same as a monolingual brain. The way your bilingual learners understand math is most likely not the same as a student that knows one language.

However, studies find that bilingual minds solve math problems at a different rate than monolingual students. Brain studies suggest that bilingual learners use critical visual skills when learning math more than language skills.

Most likely, young bilinguals learn basic mathematical concepts before becoming proficient in a second language. As students become comfortable with a new language, previous math concepts remain in a brain’s prior knowledge database.

Even though students use visual representation often in solving math problems, language skills are still relevant. In some cases, students translate word problems to make sense of the wording.

This type of answering math word problems might create a delay in responses. That is, thinking in a native language leads to students to solve math problems in that language.

Furthermore, studies indicate that the way your students learned math originally contributes to solving math problems. For instance, bilingual learners’ cognitive abilities might use different areas of the brain to solve math problems.

While bilingual learners operate math skills differently, they can tackle and grasp various math concepts. 

Common Misconceptions

As bilingual learners use visual models to comprehend math, many instructional methods consider number-based teaching. Of course, learning number sense and shapes are essential parts of math.

Regardless, teaching bilingual learners requires a different point of view. Most students learn basic math concepts in one language, which becomes an integral part of learning math.

Logically, young children, as they learn more fundamental math, use their native language to solve more challenging math problems. As they become bilinguals, they retain that initial learning in basic math.

However, when they encounter math in a bilingual setting, these students will use their acquired language. A common misconception is that bilingual learners will use their native language at any point in their lives.

However, Dr. Wicha explored the brain activities of young adults that learned Spanish at an early age as their native language. Then, they learned English as a second language.

She performed an experiment to recall multiplication facts learned in elementary school. They could recall those basic math facts using their native language – the language they learned those multiplication facts.

However, there were many differences when solving word problems. Many individuals used their acquired language to solve the problem, not necessarily their native language.

The studies indicate that bilingual learners can develop a new language in math and use that language to learn and solve new math concepts. Evidently, instructional approaches to teach math to bilingual learners are more complex.

What type of teaching strategies are useful to generate success?

Quick Steps to Turn Math into Fun Learning

Usually, creating various learning activities can increase the opportunities for all students to learn in different ways. But, for bilingual learners, gathering math skills is different.

Bilingual learners need support in math and language.

  • For instance, using visual representations around the classroom can create support for reminders on starting a step.
  • Another way to add fun learning to math is to use technology.
  • Whereas most schools have ample devices for students, consider that most might not have access at home.
  • So, develop lessons that you can do in the classroom as much as possible.
  • Some interactive games online have different levels of learning.
  • These games and other activities are practical ways to explore since they can provide scaffolding instruction.
  • Perhaps, using a scaffolding method can support bilingual students with multiple math skills as with differentiating instruction.
  • For example, understanding place value or grouping might require several models for learning.
  • In that case, using a word wall with specific vocabulary or a step-by-step system can motivate them to learn.

More importantly, scaffolding might lead to less frustration and more engagement. 

Bilingual math skills are essential parts of learning. Beyond numbers, learning math skills for bilingual requires various instructional strategies.

Many of these techniques rely on using scaffolding, technology, and language to engage them into building math skills. 

bilingual math skills