Language challenges in mathematics education for English language learners: A literature review

Laura Jourdain, Sashi Varta Sharma


Traditionally, the difficulties associated with mathematics were largely seen as coming from the cognitive demands of mathematics itself. It is now accepted that language and mathematics are connected in mathematics learning and teaching, and, the potential challenges of language in mathematics have been investigated by a number of researchers. This paper reviews research by applied linguists and mathematics educators to highlight the linguistic challenges of mathematics and suggests pedagogical strategies to help learners in mathematics classrooms. The linguistic challenges include the linguistic features that may make mathematical texts hard to understand, vocabulary in academic mathematics, and reading and writing in facilitating the learning of mathematics. Research on pedagogical practices supports developing mathematics knowledge through attention to the way language is used, suggesting strategies for moving students from informal, everyday ways of talking about mathematics into the registers that construe more technical and precise meanings.


Mathematics education, linguistic challenges, English language learners. everyday language, mathematical register, connecting language and mathematics, implications for practice.

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DOI: 10.15663/wje.v21i2.269


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© Wilf Malcolm Institute of Educational Research, Te Kura Toi Tangata Faculty of Education, 2015