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Mathematics for Second-Language Learners



The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics is committed to the principle that second- language learners should be full participants in all aspects of mathematics education. English proficiency and cultural differences must not be a barrier to full participation. All students should study a comprehensive mathematics curriculum with high-quality instruction and coordinated assessment.


The Principles and Standards for School Mathematics (2000) emphasizes communication "as an essential part of mathematics and mathematics education (p.60)." The Standards elaborate that all students, and second-language learners in particular, need to have opportunities and be given encouragement and support for speaking, writing, reading and listening in mathematics classes. Such efforts have the potential to help second-language learners overcome barriers that will facilitate "communicating to learn mathematics and learning to communicate mathematically (NCTM, p.60)."


  • Schools should provide second-language learners with support in their dominant language and English language while learning mathematics.
  • Teachers, counselors, and other professionals who have expertise should carefully assess the language and mathematics proficiencies of each student in order to make curricular decisions and recommendations.
  • Mathematics teaching, curriculum, and assessment strategies should be based on best practices and build on the prior knowledge and experiences of students and on their cultural heritage.
  • The importance of mathematics and the nature of the mathematics program should be communicated, with appropriate language support, to both students and parents.
  • To verify that barriers have been removed, educators should monitor enrollment and achievement data to determine whether second-language learners have gained access to, and are succeeding in, mathematics courses. Reviews should be conducted at school, district, state or provincial, and national levels.

(July 1998; reformatted December 2002)

NCTM position statements define a particular problem, issue, or need and describe its relevance to mathematics education. Each statement defines the Council's position or answers a question central to the issue. The NCTM Board of Directors approves position statements.

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