How Language Skills Apply to Mathematics

Instructor: Yuanxin (Amy) Yang Alcocer

Amy has a master's degree in secondary education and has taught math at a public charter high school.

Just because you are learning math does not mean that you can totally skimp on your language skills. In this lesson, you'll learn that improving in your language skills can actually help improve your math skills as well.

Language and Math?

Just because mathematics involves the manipulating of numbers does not mean that you can forget your language skills. In fact, improving in your language skills can actually also help improve your math skills. Your language skills are defined as how well you listen, speak, read, and write. And yes, you'll need to use all four of these language skills to succeed in math. This is because you can't learn math unless you first listen and read about it. Then, you can't get good at math unless you write and practice your problems. Also, you'll need to speak with your peers and teachers to show that you fully understand the math problems you have done.

Now, let's look at a few math areas where your language skills are tested along with your numerical math skills.

Word Problems

There is a type of problem where you need your language skills to be good for you to even attempt to complete the problem. And this kind of problem is the word problem. This type of problem is a math problem written out in words. You may have a few numbers, but you'll have mostly words to work from.

Here is an example of a word problem:

Larry and Laura want to meet up in London. Larry is taking the downtown train coming 50 kilometers from the west. His train is traveling 80 kilometers per hour. Laura is taking the country train coming 80 kilometers from the east. Her train is traveling at 60 kilometers per hour. How much earlier does Laura need to board her train for her and Larry to arrive in London at the same time?

As you can see, these word problems can get pretty complicated. In order to solve these problems, you need to carefully read these problems so you understand what is going on and what you need to do solve it. If you misread, you won't be able to solve the problem correctly. Many times, word problems will give you extra information that you don't need. It is your job to read it, understand it, and know what information you need and what information you don't need.

For example, in the above example, as you read the information, you'll see that the only information you need to know is that there are two trains, one needs to travel 50 kilometers going at 80 kilometers per hour, the other train needs to travel 80 kilometers going at 60 kilometers per hour, both trains need to meet at the same location at the same time, and finally, you are looking for how much earlier the slower train needs to leave in order for it to meet the other train at the same time.

Your language skills need to be good enough for you to understand and process the information. If your language skills are not that good, then you wouldn't be able to gather all that information and you would miss some crucial bit of information needed to solve the problem.

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