Language and Context in Mathematical Problem Solving: A Threat to Students’ Performance and Assessment

  • Dr. Muhammad Ilyas Mahmood Head, Department of English, Centre for English Language & Learning,University of Okara, Pakistan
  • Mobashra Mobeen Visiting Lecturer, Centre for English Language and Learning, University of Okara, Pakistan
  • Sajid Abbas Punjab Government School Education Department, Punjab, Pakistan
Keywords: Context and Language; Mathematical Problem Solving; Performance Assessment; Word Problems


The study recognizes that word problems are the necessary part and a key component of mathematics education. Knowing that mathematics, language as a means, and the situation context are never separable, the study was designed to identify the effect of language (L1, L2) and the context on problem solving in mathematics for 2nd, 3rd, and 4th grader English as a second language (ESL) learners. For this, four achievement tests with possible variations of language and context were utilized as instrument to investigate three research questions. 867 students from three existing scenarios of school mathematics learning in Pakistan participated in the study. The data were analyzed through SPSS utilizing both descriptive as well as inferential methods. The results revealed that language and context have significant effect on problem solving. The study exposed that mathematical problem-solving assessments cannot be called valid if the factors of language and context are not taken into consideration. Learners’ first language was strongly recommended for teaching mathematics at low levels. This study will uniquely contribute to understanding and determining the due role of language in mathematics learning, performance, and assessments in all educational contexts.