Title: The Language of Math

Audience: elementary and secondary


What makes math instruction and word problems challenging for non-native speakers of English?  Participants will learn what language features may make learning about and doing math difficult for elementary and secondary learners.  Sample word problems will be analyzed for possible language difficulties.  Several activities that require students to use the language of math will be demonstrated and an extensive bibliography will be distributed.


The purpose of this presentation is to familiarize ESL elementary and secondary teachers with the linguistic features of English that can make learning and doing math challenging for English language learners (ELLs).  It will also demonstrate strategies and activities that can be taught to and used by ELLs to make math instruction more accessible.

In order to illustrate how discourse features such as pronoun reference, synonyms, ellipses (omission of words or phrases),  and passive voice can challenge the comprehension of word problems, sample items from standardized tests and math textbooks will be presented and discussed.  Ideas that help students learn the language of math will also be demonstrated.  These include strategies that focus on the oral and written processes of solving math problems, such as the Word Problem Procedure (Spanos, 1992), and ideas on the explicit teaching of the language used in math (Murray, 2004).

In addition to the presentation of difficult language features and the demonstration of activities that can be used with ELLs, an extensive bibliography of print and electronic resources will be distributed.