Best Language for Learning Math

What’s the best language to learn Math? It’s not English!

The English Language: Confusing, Contradictory and Difficult

English is known as the most difficult language to learn. It is based on an alphabet whose pronunciation is far from phonetic in the written word. With its countless rules of grammar it has become to be known as the most difficult language to master. For every rule, there exists an exception. In addition, the English language, during its evolution, has appropriated an abundance of vocabulary terms from other languages.

It would come as no surprise that when it comes to math, it becomes even more confusing. According to researchers from the Wall Street Journal, this is precisely where the Chinese language has an advantage. The numerous exceptions, in the English language, make it challenging to apply existing knowledge to newly acquired knowledge. Naturally, it’s harder to make quick and concise progress.

Why Chinese is Better for Learning Math

The Chinese language uses simplified words to represent numbers and express math and does so in a way that is much more transparent than when expressed in the English Language. According to research conducted by The Wall Street Journal, this simplification makes it easier for small children to learn math. Researchers have pointed to this simplified vocabulary and the way it translates to math as being the sole reason for the gap between American and Chinese academic achievement in math.

Chinese students continue to academically outrank students from English speaking countries year after year. In recent studies, English names for numbers have been linked to weakened mathematic skills in children.

So how exactly do names for numbers in English differ from Chinese?

Let’s look at the number 13. The English language tells us that 13=thirteen. In Chinese, words for numbers end at 10. All numbers are a variation of the word: ten. This allows it to retain its “tens” value. See the chart below to see how numbers are translated.


-The Wall Street Journal

When working on multi-digit addition and subtraction math problems, children who are using English number names may have a more difficult time keeping in mind that two-digit numbers are made up tens and ones. In the Chinese language, this is transparent.

How these differences affect your child

This may seem like minor differences. But according to Dr. Fuson, author Math Expressions, these additional mental steps could cause more errors and drain a child’s working memory.

According to Dr. Fuson, it is more natural and second nature for a Chinese student to utilize the “make-a-ten” addition and subtraction strategy when compared to English speaking students. When a student adds two numbers, he is taught to break down the numbers into parts and then regroup them into tens and ones. This is different in Chinese.

For example:

7 + 5 becomes 7 +3 (10) + 2

In his book, Math Expressions, Dr. Fuson argues that this “make-a-ten” learning strategy is a powerful skill in mastering advanced mathematics. This appears to be supported by recent studies conducted by The Wall Street Journal.

Students from Chinese speaking countries have continuously surpassed English-speaking students in academic achievement. This gap has now been attributed to the simplified vocabulary of the Chinese language. This seems to be especially true in mathematics. For this reason, Frontiers Academy has chosen to provide math instruction in Chinese. Students are not only immersed in Chinese to acquire the language, they are also provided with that advantage that seems to have advanced students in Chinese speaking countries!

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Frontiers Academy - Advanced Academic Language Immersion School