As the number of English language learners (ELLs) rise in classrooms in the United States, teachers have a growing concern about communicating effectively with their students. The ELLs have little understanding of the language, and it is even harder to teach them mathematics as instructions are issued in the same language whose content they struggle to memorize (Bostad, Cwikla & Kienzle, 2015). This has contributed to poor performance among ELLs, causing the nedd for a solution. 

Section 1: Identifying the local issue

Like any other language spoken across the globe, English literature is dependent on the culture of native speakers. It is the reason ELL or ESL lack background information on the language. Without the knowledge of basic details such as tales, myths, and legends, learning vocabulary may not effectively improve the understanding of mathematical expressions.

Another reason why ESLs score lower is that existing academic curricula only address the needs of native speakers of English. Moreover, ESL may not understand mathematics well because they are still in the process of learning the English language.

Section 2: Literature Review

With respect to the teaching of Mathematics, this literature review considers three studies. The first study was conducted by Haynes (2018) who examined the challenges that ELLs face in content learning. The study points out that different cultures understand numbers differently, especially the application of ‘coma’ and ‘decimal.’ Additionally, mathematics is not taught in some cultures and may lead to a poor understanding of major concepts such as geometry. Haynes also stated that unfamiliarity with manipulation makes students lose focus.

The second study was performed by Heskett (2018) to provide a guide to mathematics teachers. Heskett requires mathematics teachers to shift from the curriculum, which only supports native English speakers, into teaching approaches that accommodate all students. The final study is by Robertson (2017), who studied the general topic of mathematics instruction for ESLs.  Robertson explains that vocabulary instruction is the foundation for mathematical instruction.

Section 3: Analysis of the Literature Review

All three studies agree about the presence of ESL or ELL in mathematics classrooms, the difficulty they face in learning mathematics, and concerns of educators.  Haynes (2018) and Heskett (2018) associate the challenges that ESL face in learning mathematics with the culture and prioritization of native English speakers. 

While Robertson (2017) supports vocabulary instruction in solving problems in mathematics, Haynes (2018) argues that vocabulary is not very useful when students do not have background details of the English culture. Heskett agrees with Haynes that exposure to language, especially the language of mathematics, will help ESL to concentrate more on learning mathematics and arrive at the correct responses.

Section 4: Composing scientific, research-based interventions or recommendations

Hoffman & Zollman (2016) explains that strategies selected to assist ESL should benefit all students. To help ESL understand mathematics, educators should introduce their students to the cultural or background information about native English speakers and the language of mathematics. It should enable the students learn to express themselves when handling classwork related to addition, multiplication, subtraction, and division. 

Robertson also recommends strategies such as: teaching academic vocabulary of mathematics; establishing background knowledge (by interpreting instructions in simpler terms, showing students the keyword in mathematics instruction, and using real-world examples when teaching); and introducing students to mathematics-related technology such as the use of calculators and interactive games.

Section 5: Proposed solution

It is not possible for students to perform mathematical calculations using a language they do not understand. This implies that proficiency in English is a crucial step for an improved understanding of mathematical concepts, and introduction to language used in mathematics is important. 

Additionally, educators should implement strategies that encourage the understanding of mathematical languages. Examples are providing visual representations (graphs, charts, and pictures) and encouraging students to help each other understand challenging areas.