Mathematics and English, Two Languages: Teachers' Views

By Leshem, Shosh; Markovits, Zvia | Journal of Education and Learning, March 2013 | Go to article overview

Mathematics and English, Two Languages: Teachers' Views


Leshem, Shosh, Markovits, Zvia, Journal of Education and Learning


Abstract

English is an international language used all over the world. Mathematics is the language of sciences but it is also a language used in everyday life. Although both are perceived as languages, mathematics and English are considered as two completely distinct disciplines. In this paper we first discuss English and mathematics as languages. Then we present interviews conducted with five mathematics and English teachers in order to explore their views regarding issues of language features, ways of teaching and issues of anxiety and collaboration between English and mathematics teachers. The interviews suggest some communalities in the way English and mathematics teachers relate to the two languages. The connection between the two disciplines seems to challenge teachers' thinking about their teaching.

Keywords: teacher education, mathematics and English, universal languages, teachers' beliefs

1. Introduction

English is an international language used all over the world allowing people from different countries to communicate for different needs. Mathematics is the language of sciences but it is also a language which is used for communication and for describing different situations in everyday life. Although both English and mathematics are perceived as languages, they are considered by schools and colleges as two completely distinct disciplines.

We are both teacher educators in an academic college of education. Author 1 is an expert in teaching English as a foreign language (TEFL) and Author 2 is an expert in mathematics education. We both have experience as teachers in schools and at present we are head of departments in the faculty of education in our college. Our collaboration commenced when we were invited to make a contribution to a book on teacher education in our country. We then realized that, in fact, our two "distinct disciplines" have communal features. This realization made us aware of various interesting incidents that emerged in our classes and sparked some thoughts concerning the connection between our two areas of expertise.

In the course of one of Author's 1 academic writing courses at the college, we discussed the different processes that writing entails, in order to achieve an elegant coherent piece of text. Students were invited to share how they perceive the art of writing. "This is just like problem solving", said one of the students. "There are so many linguistic elements that we have to think of and knit together into a colorful tapestry of words so that everybody can read and understand. This is not easy when you have to write in a language different from your mother tongue. You have to draw the right words from your command of vocabulary, be familiar with the right lexicon, know the grammar and convey meaning in an unambiguous manner. This is high order problem solving. " This description brought home some thoughts about the possible similarity to mathematical problem solving.

The following took place in one of Author's 2 mathematics classes when discussing a research study which investigated the understanding of 7th grade students of the relationships between fractions and decimals. We realized that although most of the students know that 0.5 and 1/2 are equal, this might be difficult to grasp for some of them, since the two numbers do not look alike. One of the students commented that this is just like in languages. "TTze word 'cat'" he said, "is pronounced differently in Hebrew and in English. When written down, this word does not look alike in the two languages. Still the words have the same meaning. Thus, we can use the examples from language in order to explain and make sense of the problem in mathematics. "

Colleagues from both disciplines showed kin interest in the topic and encouraged us to further investigate it. This made us ponder on the nature of mathematics and English as languages. As a result, the following questions emerged: Are there commonalities in the teaching strategies of English and mathematics? …

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