Mathematics has its own vocabulary that children have to learn. For example, they need to learn the number names such as zero, one, two ,three in English. In addition, children need to learn what different symbols mean as well as learn about specific concepts (like pi or hexagon). This is also referred to as number talk.
In addition to this, children need to learn wider concepts and words that are important for the mathematical development as they allow children to comprehend and participate in mathematical activities, which is often referred to as mathematical or math language. Mathematical language is important when learning about number, shape, size, capacity, spatial relationships, time, money and many other aspects of maths.
Below is a table with words that are important for children’s maths language.
Area 
Example 
Numbers 
One, three, five, seven, ten, eleven, fifteen… 
Cardinality 
Four more left, two plates for us, how many, one in the fridge… 
Ordinality 
First, second, third, fourth… next, last one,… 
Magnitude + magnitude comparison 
Some, more, a lot of, any, many, a bit of, a little bit, same, less, every, enough, as many
as big as, smaller than, larger than, greater 
Math Operations/Arithmetic 
Minus, add, in addition, moreover, in sum… 
Fractions 
Half, whole, complete, one quarter, two quarters, piece, one half, unequal, 
Spatial Relationship (including Distance/ Location) 
In, out, on, under, above, middle, up, down, front, below, back, far, near… 
Size (including height, weight, length) 
Big, small, long, short, heavy, light, thin, thick 
Shapes 
Square, circle, triangle, rectangle, oval, star
Round, dot, spot, line, circle, rectangle, square, hexagon, pentagon, oval, triangle, diamond, sphere, cylinder, cuboids, pyramid. 
Money 
How many, how much, cost, price, pounds, pence, dollar, pennies, 
Volume/ Capacity 
Full, empty, half, a little, more, the same… 
Classifier 
Sheet, piece, cup, bag, slice, glass 
Time and age 
One year old, four years old…
Two o’clock, twelve o’clock, seven thirty, two thirty… 
Others 

The development of mathematical vocabulary is important for young children as its use is necessary for them to reason and to understand maths. For example, when children learn that the words “more” and “less” can be used to describe number, they have a way to verbally explain the differences between a basket with ten apples and a basket with 5 apples. Studies have shown that there is a positive correlation between preschoolaged children’s number skills and their math vocabulary over and above their general vocabulary (Purpura & Reid, 2016).
So how can you help your child’s mathematical language development?
Try and highlight mathematical concepts in your everyday environment (the Maths@home activities can help you with this) as studies have shown that parents’ use of number talk is significantly associated with children’s early math skills (Elliott et al. (2017) and the more mathematical language children hear at school and at home, the more likely it is that they have higher mathematical skills.
Also reading story books with your child can help develop their mathematical language as well as their mathematics vocabulary. Especially books that explain numbers and how they relate to each other might help children “mathematize” or understand everyday situations in mathematical terms. If you want to know more about how narratives can help develop your child’s mathematical language, read our blog on maths and narratives here.
References:
Elliott, L., Braham, E. J., & Libertus, M. E. (2017). Understanding Sources of Individual Variability in Parent’s Number Talk with Young Children. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 115.
Purpura, D. J., & Reid, E. E. (2016). Mathematics and Language: Individual and Group Differences in Mathematical Language Skills in Young Children. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 259268.
If you want to read more about this topic:
Purpura, D. J., Napoli, A. R., & King, Y. (2019). Development of mathematical language in preschool and its role in learning numeracy skills. In D. C. Geary, D. B. Berch, & K. M. Koepke (Eds.), Cognitive foundations for improving mathematical learning (pp. 175–193). Elsevier Academic Press. https://doi.org/10.1016/B9780128159521.000074
Turan, E. & De Smedt, B. (2022) – Mathematical language and mathematical abilities
in preschool: A systematic literature review. Educational Research Review 36, 100457
.