How does math help in building phonics skills?

When you first look at it, it might seem unusual. Phonics is associated with language skills, and now we are exploring how maths can impact that. Many of you might wonder how mathematics and language can be related to one another. But the fact is, researchers are coming up with results showing how effective maths can be in developing and improving phonics skills. They have found that young children skilled at counting, number recognition, and calculation spend more time learning letters and their sounds. So, how does that happen? We have everything you would like to know in the following.

What is phonics?

Before exploring the positive relationship between maths and phonics skills, let’s first check what phonics is. In simple terms, it is a teaching method to enable children to read and write. A child might get confused when they find ‘cat,’ ‘key,’ and ‘back’ have c, k, and ck, yet they all sound like ‘k.’ Phonics helps them identify how the words are different in spelling and pronunciation. This way, they can also understand the relationship between spoken language, its sound, and written language and its syllables.

Maths and Phonics

For children in their growing years, their mathematical skills can impact how they learn to pronounce and recognize words. In other words, number identification and letter recognition become integrally associated with a child’s overall development. Here we have a few things pointed out to help you realize how that happens.

1. Systemic and structured approach

Systemic and structured approach

When a child learns 3+2= 5, they remember it by the numbers, how the numbers are said, which is the bigger number, etc. So, the concept of adding two numbers already instills in them what to think of when you hear a number. Now, when in a language class, the child learns long and short vowels and places them in a word, then uses their knowledge of numbers. In the place of ‘3’ and ‘2,’ they place vowels like ‘o’ and ‘e.’ In math, they learn to put the bigger number first and count. That very knowledge applies to phonics also when they use long and short vowels for pronouncing a word.

So, you can find how both reading and calculation are structured regularly. The calculation works with children in the early stages as they learn it in small units. So, they learn to pay attention to each of these small units. While developing phonics skills, they are again subjected to syllables and their sounds in small sets. This technique makes the whole approach structured and systemic, ensuring wholesome learning for the children. Fluency in the number fact builds expertise in language development. Thus, math skills contribute to phonics skills improvement[1].

2. Short sessions leave a more significant impact

Short sessions leave a more significant impact

When teachers teach children numerical lessons, they do not go on with these lessons for hours. One of the reasons for that is the short attention span of the little learners. But, it is equally important how short daily sessions grab students’ attention more.  These small sessions include teaching, practice, application, and review. These small sessions include teaching, practice, application, and review. In learning phonics, the children are given a small group of words with similar sounds. They tend to associate the two more when they again hear that in the next session or learn new words.

3. Use of language in mathematics

Use of language in mathematics

While exploring how maths can help improve phonic skills, we have also found a relationship between the two that we can call ‘bidirectional.’ When a child is given a problem to solve, they have to recognize what it is about, which data they will use to solve it, etc. This can only happen if they have proper knowledge of the language. Again, if a child has improved mathematical skills, they can identify how the subject uses language and then apply it in reading comprehension or writing.

Often, a mathematical problem starts with “Emma had four kittens…” The problem ends with “How many kittens will Emma have?” So, there is a shift from the past to the future. Knowledge of this would enable the student to understand whether they have to add, multiply or divide, etc. If the problem goes like this, “Emma has four kittens now. Yesterday her cousin took one kitten with him. How many kittens did Emma have before yesterday?” the student has to interpret the tenses, verbs, etc. to solve this correctly. So, what the learner learns in phonics, applies in maths. In other words, math puts phonic skills into practice. As a result of the increased practice, they improve overall.

4. Improved phonological awareness and memory

Improved phonological awareness and memory

Phonological awareness means how we can use the sound structures of languages and modify them according to the requirement. Mathematical skills and abilities shape how a person associates language and phonics. Two main reasons are there that contribute to this particular trait. Mathematics is a subject that involves learning both numbers and words. So, when learners read a mathematical problem, they develop phonological awareness. Secondly, both math and language involve the use of memory. Language develops phonological memory, and math develops numerical memory. Together, a number-word learning process is initiated. Also, the problem-solving abilities acquired from mathematics require control of memory. The learners execute the controlled approach and the memory implementation in recognizing and identifying words. Thus, math skills help improve phonic skills by improving phonological awareness[2].

Research works by scholars have shown that phonological memory span and mathematical skills are interrelated to a great extent. Verbal representation of mathematical problems sharpens the phonics of a student. For example, if a problem is written ‘3+6,’ the student can write 9. But verbally, they have to say it is “three plus six.” Relating the image of ‘3’ with its name ‘three’ is the basis of phonics. So, when students practice math to sharpen numerical math skills, they also care for their phonics. The verbal representation of arithmetic problems thus develops the phonological memory of children.

5. Use of skills in the real world

A teacher explains all the mathematical concepts to students using academic language. On the other hand, mathematical reasoning also demands students to explain the outcomes and procedures in clear language. When a student applies mathematical knowledge in developing hypotheses or testing those, they need proper use of language. However, students indeed find these in the advanced stages of education, but the well-developed base of phonics helps them avail this. Students can be good at math only when they practice problems and write them repeatedly. This comes from their phonics learning. Again, math uses reading, writing, speaking, and listening skills. So, math makes learners exercise phonic skills.

Wrapping up

It is pretty evident from the above list that math skills highly influence phonics. If children are exposed to proper phonic development, it helps them improve their math skills and vice versa. Mathematical fluency ensures phonic fluency in learners. Now that you know this, we hope you start polishing your math and phonic skills. If you do so, your success in all aspects is ensured.


  1. University at Buffalo. “Read to succeed — in math; study shows how reading skill shapes more than just reading.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 11 March 2021.
  2. Zhang J, Fan X, Cheung SK, Meng Y, Cai Z, Hu BY (2017) The role of early language abilities on math skills among Chinese children. PLoS ONE 12(7): e0181074.

Leave a Comment