Mastering the language of mathematics is much
like mastering a foreign language. The content is both new and
cumulative, as new learning enhances abilities by complementing
and expanding upon what a student already knows.
As students progress in math, they must grapple
with many complex verbal explanations and a growing vocabulary
of terms that are rarely used outside math situations, e.g., trapezoid
and dividend. For this reason, a student’s language skills
and comfort with new vocabulary can have a great impact on mathematical
The ongoing acquisition and use of math language
is also aided by a student’s ability to read and listen
carefully, to organize terms in memory and recall those terms
as needed, to follow sequences of rules and procedures, and to
use language abilities to enhance understanding of math concepts.
Here are some strategies to help develop and
strengthen students’ use of math language.
- Make reading about math an activity you and
your class do together. Math vocabulary can be reinforced by
reading biographies of mathematicians and inventors, books about
the history of math, fictional stories with characters that
work with math, news and sports stories involving math, etc.
- Have students use their new math vocabulary
words to teach their parents, younger siblings, younger students,
or peers about the concepts they have learned.
- Have students keep a personal math vocabulary
book in which they record new math terms. Have them actively
link the new terms to their existing knowledge by drawing pictures
next to terms to have a visual representation, by showing examples
that match and don’t match the concept, by creating a
flowchart of terms or diagram of pictures to show how a concept
fits in with other math concepts, etc.