Wednesday, October 27, 2010


Studies have shown that mastering Maths is easier using English or Chinese... I'm not a language expert, but that's what "they" found out... It has to do with the vowels involved. Let's give this guy a chance to explain:

Language: Fewer vowels key to mastery of Maths

CHANG KAW CHIN, Johor Baru, Johor

THE first hurdle a pupil has to overcome in learning Mathematics is the multiplication table. A student's love of Mathematics or the fear of it in later life is probably influenced by his or her first encounter with memorising this table. If memorising is akin to singing, then the "song" is much easier if it is a catchy five-vowel musical beat like the cha cha.

In English, 9x9 is "nine nine eighty one" (five vowels). In Chinese, it is "jiu jiu pa shi yi" (five vowels). In Bahasa Malaysia (BM), it is a mouthful "sem-bi-lan sem-bi-lan la-pan puluh satu" (12 vowels).

This is just one window in the multiplication table, which has 80 more.
And it is no coincidence that the table stops at the nine slot, because anything more than nine is also a mouthful in any language, e.g. 11x11 is "eleven eleven one hundred and twenty-one" (13 vowels in English) and "shi yi shi yi yi pai er shi yi" (nine vowels in Chinese).

BM is the national language, period. Going beyond this, the top 10 per cent of the cohorts could be bilingual or more, who are able to learn Maths in any language.

It is the different shades of grey in between, the average, the above average and the below average, that the Education Ministry needs to be kinder to by not making their life more difficult.

Many romantics, including MCA president Datuk Seri Dr Chua Soi Lek, are urging Malaysians to master three languages: BM, English and Chinese. Let us be realistic. If mastering a language is defined as being able to speak, read and write in that language proficiently, then most of us ordinary folk are monolingual or parts thereof, half in one language and half in another, or tiga suku in one and satu suku in another.

When my children were in school, they struggled to work out Maths mentally in English and put the answer down in BM. Now, I see my grandchildren also struggling mentally first, in English or Chinese, and then answering in BM.

It must be emphasised that BM is a very "persuasive language". A couple of months ago, I was in Srinagar, India, enroute to the skiing resort of Gulmarg. When we saw that we had a 40-year-old jalopy to get us up the winding, snow-covered mountain road, most of us were reluctant to go along.

We changed our minds when the driver pleaded with us: "It is old but safe. Come lah." The driver later told me he had been selling carpets in Penang for a number of years.

"Come lah" said in earnest was so much kinder, pleasing, pleasant and "persuasive".

But having said that, empirical knowledge tells us it is easier to learn Maths in English or Chinese.

p/s:  I bet language (BM) fanatics wouldn't agree with this article... That's normal.. Language teachers are never good in Maths, anyway...

1 comment:

Zahidi Ahmad said...

Numerals are in single/at most dbl syllable vs BM. Example : 6 X 9 = 54 (5 syllables) whereas in BM: en-nam kali sem-bi-lan = li-ma pu-luh em-pat (11 syllables). I think in Mandarin also less syllables. This affects when you do mental arithmetic. Yes, I agree with the above statement.

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