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Language effects in early development of number writing and reading

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Publication details

JournalJournal of Numerical Cognition
DateAccepted/In press - 17 Feb 2021
Original languageEnglish


Reading and writing multi-digit numbers requires accurate switching between Arabic numbers and spoken number words. This is particularly challenging in languages with number word inversion such as German (24 is pronounced as four-and-twenty) as reported by Zuber, Pixner, Moeller, and Nuerk (2009). The current study aimed to replicate the qualitative error analysis by Zuber et al. and further extended their study in a number of critical ways: (1) A cross-linguistic (German, English) analysis enabled us to differentiate between language-dependent and more general challenges of transcoding. (2) We investigated whether specific number structures influence accuracy rates. (3) To consider both transcoding directions (from Arabic numbers to number words and vice versa), we assessed performance for number reading in addition to number writing. (4) Our longitudinal design allowed us to investigate the development of transcoding between Grades 1 and 2. We assessed 170 German- and 264 English-speaking children. Children wrote and read the same set of 44 one-, two- and three- digit numbers including the same number structures as Zuber et al. For German, we confirmed that a high amount of errors in number writing was inversion-related. For English, the percentage of inversion-related errors was very low. Accuracy rates were strongly related to number syntax. The impact of number structures was independent of transcoding direction or grade level and revealed cross-linguistic challenges of reading and writing multi-digit numbers. For instance, transcoding of three-digit numbers containing a syntactic zero (e.g., 109) was significantly more accurate than transcoding of items with a lexical zero (e.g., 190). Based on our findings we suggest adaptations of current transcoding models.

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