Bilingualism and Math Problems

In the scholarly article, Cognitive Benefits and Costs of Bilingualism in Elementary School Students: The Case of Mathematical Word Problems by Sebastian Kempert and Henrik Saalbach, it is discussed how language plays a very important role in mathematics and how bilingualism in students can benefit them in math. They looked at skilled reader bilingual students and weak reader bilingual students, as well as skilled reader monolingual students and weak reader monolingual students and how they preformed on math word problems with and without distractors. Distractors are information put in the problem that are irrelevant to what the problem is asking.

The main finding from this article was that skilled bilingual students are better at sorting information and finding what is relevant since they constantly do this with their language. It is stated in the article “For bilinguals, their two linguistic systems function as bivalent representations, offering different, potentially competing response options to the same intention or goal. To manage this conflict, bilinguals must attend to the relevant language system and ignore the unwanted system to assure fluency in speech production” (Martin-Rhee & Bialystok, 2008, p. 85). Therefore, they have an easier time doing word problems that have distractors in them that are irrelevant to the problem. This is something monolingual students struggle with.  Besides this however, monolingual students outperformed or equally preformed compared to the bilingual students with other problems.

This article has given me more insight to looking into bilingual applications in specific topics or problems and what affect it has on those students. It was confusing to me that bilingual students have more trouble solving straightforward problems than they do solving more complex problems. I will need to explore other applications and see if bilingualism helped those students. I also will need to see if the benefits outweigh the costs or if it is just helpful in specific problems such as this.

This article had several scholarly sources in the works cited. Some of the sources may be beneficial to me however many are in German or regarding how to solve problems, rather than the topic of bilingualism.

This is useful to my argument because it helps me understand what cognitive benefits and costs bilingualism has on children in school.  It is helpful to know if the benefits are widespread within academics or if the costs are not worth the few benefits. It also is useful because it gives factual evidence from experimentation which is extremely reliable.

4 thoughts on “Bilingualism and Math Problems

  1. Bailey Wilkinson

    I really enjoyed reading your blog posts. As elementary ed majors, this topic is extremely prevalent for us. As you mentioned, The United States is a melting pot and is only becoming more and more diverse. Schools need to take this into consideration when planning curriculums. Children should not fall behind because English isn’t their first language. All students should have the opportunity to do equally as well in school which is why ESL and ELL programs need to be implemented. Additionally, as you pointed out, children whose first language is English can benefit by learning other languages. I found it very interesting that bilingual students do better on math exams with distractors than monolingual students do. Another important argument to be made for why children should learn a second language. I look forward to reading more of your posts!
    Good luck,

    1. Morgan

      I think your topic is both different and informative. I never really thought of the struggles bilingual kids go through and how things could be changed. I like how you have more of a focus now and centralized your argument. I agree with your belief that all children should have an equal opportunity in school regardless of their language. And with America today being so culturally diverse our school systems should adjust. I liked how you reference the article about how bilingual students test in math and how they actually do better when they have to sort through information that has nothing to do with the question. I think that is a good topic to look further into, and I look forward to reading your next blog if that is what you choose to look into. I really enjoyed your blog, you have an interesting main idea and I think can do a lot with this topic!

      Good luck

  2. Lola

    Hi Rose,
    I find your topic of bilingual education very interesting. I think bilingual education is a very important topic, because it is so prevalent in the U.S. today since there are so many cultures mixing together. I really like that you have used a source that takes a scientific view of how knowing two languages effects the way a student learns and/or processes information. This piece of research is interesting because it shows the psychological aspect of learning, and studies how the brain cognitively sorts information, and how that benefits bilingual students in word problems, but can be more difficult to use in straightforward problems. I think this approach will help you come up with ideas for tactics and concepts to implement into teaching towards bilingual students. Good work!


  3. Stephanie

    Hey Rose,

    I really think you have a great topic. I found the information you presented on bilingualism in students very interesting. You have the chance to present a novel idea to most readers. It also seems you’re doing a great job with your research. Your source seems very credible and to have provided you with much insight into your topic. I think the common thought on the subject is that being an ESL student is a negative towards learning so to turn that idea on its head and show a positive side to it is refreshing and encouraging. I’m interested to see what else you find on the topic and what your final thesis statement becomes.

    Best of luck,


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