Girls' Language Skills Could Help Them Do Math

When they talk about gender and academic skills, most people keep math and language separate. Boys are good at math, girls are good at language, and never the twain shall meet. But a new study shows that may not be accurate.

According to ScienceDaily, researchers had noticed that some previous studies — and teacher reports — showed girls did better at arithmetic than boys. So they tested 1,556 8-11-year-olds in Beijing on a series of basic skills, including arithmetic, mental rotation, counting, and rhyming. The girls scored better on the arithmetic test, but when the researchers controlled for rhyming skills, that difference went away. That is, girls were generally better at matching rhyming words (budding little rappers, I hope) than boys were, but a boy and girl who were equally good rhymers would likely be equally good at arithmetic. Put another way, girls' verbal skills seemed to give them a math advantage. Says study author Xinlin Zhou, "better language skills could lead to more efficient verbal processing in arithmetic." Language skills might help with more advanced math too, since many mathematical operations actually take the form of words in people's minds.

It would be easy to interpret this finding to mean that girls aren't really good at math, they just fake it by being good at talking. But if girls are getting the answers right — and it sounds like many of them are — does it really matter how they're getting there? Moreover, this study calls into question the idea that people have discrete cognitive skills that have nothing to do with one another. In fact, our abilities may be a lot more interconnected than that — something that should give us pause when we start claiming boys can only be good at one thing, boys at another.

Girls' Verbal Skills Make Them Better at Arithmetic [ScienceDaily]
Gender Differences in Children's Arithmetic Performance Are Accounted for by Gender Differences in Language Abilities [SagePub]

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