Original Research

Associations between early numeracy and mathematics-specific vocabulary

Hanrie S. Bezuidenhout
South African Journal of Childhood Education | Vol 12, No 1 | a1191 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/sajce.v12i1.1191 | © 2022 Hanrie S. Bezuidenhout | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 14 February 2022 | Published: 19 September 2022

About the author(s)

Hanrie S. Bezuidenhout, Department of Education, Faculty of Education, University of Johannesburg, Johannesburg, South Africa


Background: Early numeracy development is supported by linguistic features such as mathematics-specific vocabulary. Researchers have established a link between the amount and quality of children’s exposure to mathematics-specific vocabulary and their numeracy learning. Studies have also shown that children from low socio-economic status are less exposed to mathematics-specific vocabulary and also tend to underperform on mathematics assessments. South African children consistently perform poorly on local and international mathematics assessments.

Aim: To describe associations between numeracy and mathematics-specific vocabulary of the sample who participated in the study.

Setting: Participants in this study are from Quintile 1 schools and receive social grants from the South African government.

Method: 133 Grade 1 and 2 children completed assessments for (1) early numeracy (MARKO-D SA), (2) mathematics-specific vocabulary (MMLT) and (3) early reading (EGRA). Correlation analyses were conducted to investigate associations between variables and developmental continuity of number concept development and reading skills were described.

Results: An association between numeracy and mathematics-specific vocabulary was found. The data confirm that number concepts and reading skills develop hierarchically. Although English-speaking children performed better on the numeracy assessment, isiZulu and Sesotho speakers performed better on the reading test.

Conclusion: Mathematics-specific vocabulary is a key tool for early number concept development, also in isiZulu and Sesotho. Teachers’ pedagogical content knowledge (PCK) should include how number concept development intersects with mathematics-specific vocabulary. Explicit teaching of mathematics-specific vocabulary should be included in the Foundation Phase curriculum.


early numeracy; mathematics-specific vocabulary; early reading; foundation phase; pedagogical content knowledge; social grants; hierarchical number concept development


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