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Open Access Publications from the University of California

The Roles of Language and Executive Function on Early Mathematics Among Emergent Bilinguals

  • Author(s): Lin, Grace C.
  • Advisor(s): Jaeggi, Susanne M
  • et al.

There is growing recognition that language and executive function may independently affect numerical cognition, but few studies have examined all three constructs simultaneously. In two studies, I examined the relationship between language and math while considering executive function in emergent bilingual kindergartners in mainstream English classes and Mandarin immersion classes.

The 11 measures—three for language, four for executive function, and four for mathematics—used in this dissertation were adequately reliable and valid for children attending typical English instruction classes. However, the measures showed a distinct structural pattern for children in the Mandarin immersion classes. Adjustments were therefore made for the studies in this dissertation. Implications of such differences were also discussed.

In Study 1, I investigated the relationship between linguistic, executive function, and mathematical skills in predominantly low-SES emergent bilingual kindergartners. Using structural equation modeling, I showed that language has a direct effect on executive function, and that executive function, in turn, has a direct effect on overall mathematics such that the effect of language proficiency on mathematics appeared to be mediated through its effect on executive function.

In Study 2, I examined how learning a language with a base-10 transparent number system may or may not influence kindergartners’ different mathematics performance. Using multiple regressions supplemented by Bayesian analyses, I demonstrated that being exposed to the base-10 transparent Chinese number system in Mandarin immersion classes is associated with higher performance in counting, comparing magnitude, and estimating the position of a number on a number line even after accounting for children’s executive function skills.

Findings from this dissertation underscore the importance of considering interrelated constructs in cognitive research, as the story that emerged may broaden our understanding of the mechanism of human cognition. Furthermore, they tentatively show that monolingual children may be able to benefit from dual-language immersion programs beyond learning a second language.

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