Learning Math as a Second Language

A lot has been written about the importance of getting girl’s into math and science.  I have spent a lot of time in the recent years writing about and advocating for STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) education, especially for girls who are under-represented in these fields and careers.

I recently heard Hannah Fry’s TED talk on “The Mathematics of Love” which was funny and informative. Galileo Galilei, the Italian astronomer and physicist, said, “Mathemetics is the language in which God has written the universe.”  Hannah was applying this language to the study of dating practices, which made for interesting insights.

But if math is a language, those of us who primarily think and speak in English, German, or Chinese have a second language to learn to understand the mysteries of the universe or the mysteries of our own social calendars.

What if we taught math as if it were a second language?  We acknowledged that it required its own vocabulary and grammatic rules.  We acknowledged that with practice anyone could learn it, not just the privileged few that were “good at math” (whatever that means).

I wonder if this reframing would help discouraged 4th graders to pursue math even if it was difficult at first and 7th grade girls who were good at math to feel proud that they were mastering the language of the universe, not labeled as “geeks” or “nerds” among their peers.