Arithmetic in the Bilingual Brain

Nicole Y. Wicha, Danielle S. Dickson, Amanda Martinez-Lincoln

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

8 Scopus citations


In the United States, approximately 1 in 5 children enters school with a first language other than English (U.S. census data). The impact that this has on learning and using simple arithmetic is not well understood. Models of arithmetic learning argue that arithmetic facts are encoded in a verbal memory store specific to the language in which the facts were learned (e.g., Dehaene, S., & Cohen, L. (1995). Toward an anatomical and functional model of number processing. Mathematical Cognition, 1(1), 83-120.) or that bilinguals maintain separate representations of mathematical facts for each language (e.g., Campbell, J. I. D., & Xue, Q. (2001). Cognitive arithmetic across cultures. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 130(2), 299-315.). Authors of other chapters in this book provide evidence that bilingualism impacts symbolic number knowledge in preschool children and that bilingualism may also impact nonsymbolic processing in bilingual adults. In this chapter, we discuss the behavioral and brain evidence for how young adults and children process simple arithmetic, mainly focusing on multiplication, and how monolinguals and bilinguals differ. We present evidence from our own work using scalp-recorded event-related brain potentials showing that both the language of learning math facts and the use of math facts in a language can influence the efficiency and the way in which bilinguals access these facts in each of their languages.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationLanguage and Culture in Mathematical Cognition
Number of pages28
ISBN (Electronic)9780128125748
ISBN (Print)9780128125755
StatePublished - Jan 1 2018


  • Arithmetic
  • Bilingual
  • Children
  • Congruency
  • ERP
  • Event-related potentials
  • Multiplication
  • N400
  • P300

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Psychology


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