Math is a Language

Childhood workbook

I chose this picture thanks to a friend of mine, who is a math teacher. You see, I’m an English teacher and like most who are inclined towards the humanities I hated math. Then, one day I participated in a PD session on instructional strategies. As part of the workshop we had to get up and present a lesson, and my friend did a math lesson. She opened it by explaining that math is a language and a way to communicate. Here’s what she said (I later asked her to write it down for me).

“Math is a language. A language is something that we use to tell stories, or to solve problems.

In math, numbers are the characters of the story, and operations (+/-/x/divide) tell us what happens to them. *(12 was walking down the street, and wham, it was added to three and became 15…a new man).

*One English sentence often translates directly to one Math equation. Both represent a single idea. And by translating back and forth, our story becomes richer and we can show how the elements of our story fit together in different ways. And sometimes out of that, a solution appears where we couldn’t see one before.

Languages are powerful. In fact, there is much research that says that language is necessary before we can have true thought. So being comfortable in many languages can allow us to share stories with one another, and to solve problems, and sometimes even to create sparkling new ideas. That’s why math is exciting to me.”

Since that day I have seen math, as well as literacy, in a different light. It isn’t abstract numbers, it’s a numerical alphabet. All I need to do is decode it!

I know I have written more than two paragraphs, but I will tell you a little more about myself. I work as an instructional designer and I help other instructors design their online courses. As mentioned above, I taught English Language Arts. I have always has an interest in literacy and it’s role in learning, which is why I am taking this class.

Robynejay (2010). Childhood workbook. Retrieved from

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3 Responses to Math is a Language

  1. Sarah Richer says:

    Hi Christie,

    Great Post! I am inspired by your idea and have been stressing the same thought to my class just this week. I think the connection with language is essential and key to developing better problem solvers and independent thinkers in the days to come. 🙂 Looking forward to reading more of your thoughts.

  2. smyers says:

    Awesome. Thanks for sharing your (and your friend’s) insights!
    Like you (English major) I had a great aversion to math growing up. Then, as irony would have it, working in my first alternate high school I found myself teaching math. It is so true – math is its own language; I realized that if you don’t know the words and what they mean and how they relate to each other you really can’t communicate ideas and solve problems.

  3. mcquaid says:

    What a great way to think about math. I may use this myself & pass it on to my Mrs. (who is a math teacher).

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