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Talking About Numbers, Not Just Counting, Builds Kids’ Understanding

Aired 10/28/13 on KPBS News.

New research shows talking to young children about numbers might help them understand what the words one, two and three mean, better than counting.

Using number words in context with young children, instead of just counting with them, might help them understand how numbers apply to the real world, a researcher at UC San Diego reports.

David Barner, a language development researcher at UCSD, led a recent study that shows children in Solvenia and Saudi Arabia recognize when there are two of something at higher rates than their international peers.

The study links that early recognition to the fact that their languages have noun forms not just for the singular and plural, but also for sets of two.

That could give clues to speakers of other languages how to improve number understanding in children, Barner said.

“So if I say ‘This is one button’ or ‘These are two buttons,’ that additional linguistic information really give a strong clue to the child as to what that new word, ‘one’ or ‘two,’ means,” he said.

Learning about numbers early on is tied to better math performance in school, according to Barner. The better kids can recognize whether they have one, two or three buttons, the better prepared they may be for math success.

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