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August 28, 2012

Words and Numbers

Ever wonder how our language defines how we think about the world? Every language is distinct and shows its particular...

...biases and preferences.

There are some who affirm that language even frames how we think. Here's one example; have you thought about how our words for numbers affect our ability with them?

One theory of why Asians tend to do better with math is based on how their languages define numbers. In most Asian languages the words for numbers are divided by categories - ones, tens, hundreds, etc. 25 is spelled out as 'two tens and five" whereas in English it is 'twenty-five'.

What's the difference?

If you are doing math in your head, consider which is easier; 'twenty-seven plus fifty-three' or 'two-tens and seven plus five-tens and three'.

'Two-tens and seven plus five-tens and three' is vastly easier to figure out without writing it down - it is 'two-tens plus five-tens' plus seven plus three - in other words 'seven tens' added to 'seven plus three'.

'Seven plus three' of course, is one ten.

Just adding the tens to each other and the ones to the other ones is simple when your language sets it up this way.

If your language separates ones, tens, hundreds and thousands into different categories, then we don't have to work to do it ourselves. Math is easy when your language keeps it organized for you.

And when basic math is easy, you have an advantage when it comes to more advanced math.

As always with language, familiarity and confidence do wonders when it comes to mastering more complex material.

Be sure to send us any new words or phrases that baffle you and be sure to let us know what it is about English and language learning that you find confounding, infuriating or endlessly intriguing.

Listen, read and speak. Make your new language your own.

My best to you as you make your way through this intriguing , constantly shifting linguistic landscape.


Posted by mmorf at August 28, 2012 09:54 PM


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