Language and communication in mathematics education: an overview of research in the field

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Springer Verlag


Within the field of mathematics education, the central role language plays in the learning, teaching, and doing of mathematics is increasingly recognised, but there is not agreement about what this role (or these roles) might be or even about what the term ‘language’ itself encompasses. In this issue of ZDM, we have compiled a collection of scholarship on language in mathematics education research, representing a range of approaches to the topic. In this survey paper, we outline a categorisation of ways of conceiving of language and its relevance to mathematics education, the theoretical resources drawn upon to systematise these conceptions, and the methodological approaches employed by researchers. We identify four broad areas of concern in mathematics education that are addressed by language-oriented research: analysis of the development of students’ mathematical knowledge; understanding the shaping of mathematical activity; understanding processes of teaching and learning in relation to other social interactions; and multilingual contexts. A further area of concern that has not yet received substantial attention within mathematics education research is the development of the linguistic competencies and knowledge required for participation in mathematical practices. We also discuss methodological issues raised by the dominance of English within the international research community and suggest some implications for researchers, editors and publishers.