Reading and writing mathematics

Els De Geest | View as single page | Feedback/Impact

Mathematics seen as a language in its own right

Mathematics is sometimes seen as a language in itself. For example, Wakefield (2000) argues that mathematics is a language as it has the following characteristics:

  • Abstractions (verbal or written symbols representing ideas or images) are used to communicate.
  • Symbols and rules are uniform and consistent.
  • Expressions are linear and serial.
  • Understanding increases with practice.
  • Success requires memorization of symbols and rules.
  • Translations and interpretations are required for novice learners.
  • Meaning is influenced by symbol order.
  • Communication requires encoding and decoding.
  • Intuition, insightfulness, and "speaking without thinking" accompany fluency.
  • Experiences from childhood supply the foundation for future development.
  • The possibilities for expressions are infinite.
  • (Wakefield pp. 272-273, quoted in Adams, 2003)


  • Adams, T. (2003). Reading Mathematics: More than Words Can Say. The Reading Teacher, (8), 786. doi:10.2307/20205297
  • Wakefield, D.V. (2000). Math as a second language. The Educational Forum, 64, 272–279.