Languages Magazine

Clarification of Language in the Field of Mathematics

By Tlb
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We all know that English is applied to almost all aspects of life: Music, Medicine, Communication, and Business– name it all. And of course, mathematics is included to add up the list. Today, our textbooks are translated in English and it is also taught using the English language as well. No wonder, even in Mathematics, English reigns for quality teaching because it allows mathematical terms to be expounded and expressed in a more understandable manner.

Yet regardless of how English is being used to explain Mathematics, there are some, or even most students who find Mathematics too difficult to understand. The dilemma is brought up particularly when school pupils encounter numbers that cannot be conceptualized as quantities in an obvious way. Therefore, “clarity is required in terms of the language used by both teachers and textbooks. One significant risk is that the explanatory models and metaphors used by teachers are over generalised by pupils or create contradictions.”

This concern is actually taken heed by a thesis studied by Cecilia Kilhamn. To be specific, she details on a risk that the explanatory models and metaphors used by teachers are over generalized by pupils that results to create contradictions. For example: The learner’s insights such as zero in the context of Mathematics is visualized to be nothing when in fact, it is still a numerical figure with numerical value. What’s worse is that with this mentality, young learners tend to have difficulties in understanding “how subtraction works and being able to deal with the number line are important prerequisites for negative numbers.”

If learners have this kind of mentality, they will really have a hard time understanding Math. On second thought, students who excel more in English actually have a hard time coping up with Math; but it doesn’t really justify the issue. If you were the teacher who sees this concern among your students, how are you going to work this out?

According to Kilhamn, it is important that the deficiencies and limitations of these metaphors are also made clear in teaching, and that logical mathematical reasoning is used in parallel with concretized models.

That’s why it is important to learn language in the context. Allow learners to conceptualize the nature of Mathematics different from that of the native language. If teachers are able to convey this thought comprehensively, her students will know the difference. Besides, our English languages have enough words to be used to make Mathematics easier to understand. The ones who are tasked to convey this just have to convey it accurately.

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