Math Words and Phrases: Math Is Easier If You Speak the Language

Learning Math Words and Phrases

A few examples of math language in preK and primary
Fluency with common words and phrases is essential for early learners.

We’re not talking about vocabulary and definitions. We’re talking about common speech − about using math words and phrases in everyday situations. Research  and classroom evidence shows that understanding and speaking math language in natural sentences makes it easier to learn math. Students who practice paying attention to words in context are less likely to fall into the common difficulties with word problems. And they are more likely to make sense of the demands of new curriculum standards.

We’ve Heard It All Before

What can we do with students who are not yet fluent?
More than half of U.S. students entering 2-year colleges need at least one developmental course.

Two out of three U.S. eighth-graders are not proficient in math. Even in developed countries that outscore us on international exams,  the proficiency rate is below 50%. In the United States alone, well over 30 million K-12 students fall into this category. Internationally, that number is several hundred million. More than half of U.S. students entering 2-year colleges need to take at least one developmental course because they are not ready for college-level algebra.


We Know the Problem Begins Early

An early start means kids won't fall behind in Kindergarten.
Too many children enter school without the verbal fluency they need to learn math.

These staggering numbers stem in part from a lack of math language fluency, a failing that begins before children reach school age. As is the case with language in general, not all children are raised with adequate exposure to natural math vocabulary and usage. Too many enter school lacking the verbal understanding they need to learn math.


…And Continues Past High School

Symbols should make sense.
Once you understand a concept, a symbol is a way to make it easier to work with the idea.

Schools tend to exacerbate rather than remedy the problem. Students are expected to learn how to use symbols for terms like one-half of and one less than without the prerequisite understanding of those phrases. Those who don’t catch on right away are considered – by teachers, classmates, and themselves – to be not good in math. And they fall further behind.


We Can Break the Cycle

A lot can be learned by clicking on pictures.
Math language apps like Zip and Abby use the same methods we use to teach second languages.

To disrupt this negative cycle, we need to help all students attain an early verbal foundation in math. Preschool children should learn the friendly language of math so they can understand the ideas behind the symbols and procedures. We need to help older students catch up by learning the terms and phrases of an increasingly quantitative world: 40 percent more risk; two-thirds of the voters; at a cost of $40 billion; buy 1 get second at half-off.


By Teaching Math Language in a Natural Way

Speaking and hearing math language in context helps students with concepts.
Students will more likely understand concepts if they speak and hear math words and phrases in context.

Our brains are built to learn language. Like programs that teach second languages, Words2Math takes advantage of this natural ability of ours, teaching through experience, not rules. In this way, Words2Math helps children and adults become fluent in what could be considered the most important language in the world today.




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