Written language skills predict competence in science

In accordance with what I suggested earlier—that having a complex writing system makes for smarter citizens—some new longitudinal research has come out of Finland showing that children’s emergent literacy skills correspond to later mastery in science, technology, engineering and math. On the other hand, “children with strong oral language skills were not more likely to show strong math ability later.”

Why is this? Evidence suggests that linguistic, spatial and numerical processes are all encoded in a linear fashion in the mind, along what researchers call an “internal number line.” Thus, all these skills rely on the development of a single mental device.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that if you go to great lengths to teach your child phonics, he’ll understand math easier, but it’s a possibility. Other explanations are that early mastery of reading can lead to faster mastery of other written systems, such as arithmetic, and that a separate system may underlie the learning of both writing and arithmetic, causing those who excel at one to also excel at the other.

In any case, it’s interesting to see such a formidable link between written language skill and competence in the sciences; this is a testament to the analytical, logical—patently human—nature of the act of reading and writing.

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