Skip to main content

Math can be a foreign language:Dr. Long Translates

11/15/2016 09:06PM ● By John Gales


For many learners, math can be a major headache. With all those numbers and letters being thrown together it can look like as much of a foreign language as French or Italian! Luckily, Dr. Long, who has worked as a math professor, instructor, and coordinator in schools throughout Vermont for more than 25 years, is bilingual. Here she demonstrates her fluency in the understanding and teaching of math by providing us with her top 5 tips to help learners actively and positively learn “Mathenese.”


1.       PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE: Languages, in the traditional sense, consist of words that are made up of letters. Math is no different. Math problems are made up of numbers and symbols that also need to be deciphered and understood. It is helpful to explain to students that just like when practicing scales on an instrument or practicing how to dribble a ball in soccer, math also requires practice. No one is perfect when they first start!

2.     ACT EARLY: Expose learners to math early and often because the more exposure they get, the less foreign it becomes. It is vital to talk to children about numbers, shapes, and concept words such as biggersmallerless thanequal too, etc. There is a specific math vocabulary to build up! If they are used to hearing it they will become more comfortable with math and less likely to associate it with anxiety.

3.      TALK POSITIVELY!: Avoid using discouraging or math disparaging language. Huge negative psychological impacts result when children hear parents or other role models say things like, “I can’t help you. I am bad at math too!” or “I have always hated math!” On the other hand, avoid saying things like, “Oh come on, you can do this. It’s not that hard.” This can cause children to feel ashamed or afraid of math.

4.      MAKE IT FUN: There are plenty of great ways to incorporate math into your everyday routine and make it a game! Examples include:

A.     When you’re in the car, play a math version of iSpy! You can say things like, “I spy something that is a triangle!”

B.    Use music to expose children to math. “The Wheels on the Bus” is a great example of a math friendly song!

C.     Regular games can be used to teach math skills, such as games that involve the use of dice or a deck of cards. Board games are an opportunity to prompt learners by saying things like, “Daddy is ahead of you on the board, how many spaces must you go to catch up to him?”

5.      CATER TO THEIR LEARNING STRENGTHS: Every learner is different and not all learners should be taught math in the same exact “cookie cutter” way. If they are a visual learner, have them draw a picture they see in their mind when addressing certain math problems. If they are a learner who prefers words, contextualize the math problem by creating a story and use words to describe the sequence of numerical events. 


Good luck and have fun creating a math-loving environment for you and your children!


Author Bio:

Dr. Anita Long is a Math Specialist, Instructor and Professional Learning Provider at the Stern Center for Language and Learning in Williston, VT. For more than 25 years, she has taught math to students from kindergarten through college. She has a master’s degree in Mathematics from the University of New Hampshire and a doctorate in Educational Leadership and Policy Studies from the University of Vermont. Dr. Long’s research interest is in providing access to math instruction for all students and to improve math confidence among teachers of math. 

Upcoming Events Near You

No Events in the next 21 days.


Image title
Weekly Recipes