Reexamining the language account of cross-national differences in base-10 number representations

Marina Vasilyeva*, Elida V. Laski, Anna Ermakova, Weng Feng Lai, Yoonkyung Jeong, Amy Hachigian

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Citations (Scopus)


East Asian students consistently outperform students from other nations in mathematics. One explanation for this advantage is a language account; East Asian languages, unlike most Western languages, provide cues about the base-10 structure of multi-digit numbers, facilitating the development of base-10 number representations. To test this view, the current study examined how kindergartners represented two-digit numbers using single unit-blocks and ten-blocks. The participants (N = 272) were from four language groups (Korean, Mandarin, English, and Russian) that vary in the extent of "transparency" of the base-10 structure. In contrast to previous findings with older children, kindergartners showed no cross-language variability in the frequency of producing base-10 representations. Furthermore, they showed a pattern of within-language variability that was not consistent with the language account and was likely attributable to experiential factors. These findings suggest that language might not play as critical a role in the development of base-10 representations as suggested in earlier research.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)12-25
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Experimental Child Psychology
Publication statusPublished - 2015 Jan


  • Base-10
  • Cross-national
  • Language
  • Mathematics
  • Numeric
  • Representation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology


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