Speaking Mathematically: The Role of Language and Communication in Teaching and Learning of Mathematics

Speaking Mathematically: The Role of Language and Communication in Teaching and Learning of Mathematics

Kassim Olusanmi Ajayi (Tai Solarin University of Education, Nigeria) and Abisola O. Lawani (Tai Solarin University of Education, Nigeria)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-8162-0.ch017
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Abstract

In this chapter, we evaluated the role of language and communication in teaching and learning of mathematics. Language of instruction is very crucial to effective education at every level because linguistic difficulties have serious effects on children's ability to think, read and write effectively. Learning mathematics and the language of mathematics is a challenge for all students, but it is more challenging for students who have no opportunity to use academic language outside the school, if better performances of African children are to be expected in tests of intellectual ability the importance of mathematics instruction in a language that is meaningful to the student cannot be over emphasized. Teachers should translate back and forth the ordinary and technical language, embedded in the use of mathematics and also support the development of the multi-semiotic mathematics register through oral language that moves from the everyday to the technical mode. Students should be encouraged to produce extended discourse in mathematics classrooms and engage in discussion about the language through which word problems are constructed and practice with the writing to mathematical concepts in authentic ways.
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Introduction

Language of instruction is very crucial to effective education at every level because it serves as a vital key to it. According to Bandele (1995), language is one of the factors that define culture and it occupies a very important position in the curriculum of any school system. Obemeata (1999) said that the low proficiency of many Nigerian children in English language tends to mask their intelligence, this is because when Nigerian children are confronted with word problems in mathematics, they are usually handicapped by language difficulty. This implies that linguistic difficulties have serious effects on children's ability to think, read and write effectively.

Linguistic difficulties also accounts for the observed slowness in students’ mathematics performance. According to O’Halloran (1999), the child’s creativity is enhanced if he comes to meet an already familiar language at school, on the contrary, the child’s spirit of innovation may be inhibited if he (she) is confronted with an unfamiliar language at school. In support, Halliday (1978) said that once a child does not get the language register for a particular concept; subject; or course, such a child cannot perform well in that subject area. According to him, register is a set of meanings appropriate to a particular function of language, together with the words and structures which expresses these meanings. He therefore concluded that mathematics register is that register that belongs to the language of mathematics. Thus, learning the language of a new discipline is part of learning the new discipline; in fact, language and learning cannot be separated.

In solving mathematical problems, it is not enough to work with language alone because mathematics draws on multiple semiotic (meaning creating) system to construct knowledge. This semiotics includes symbols, oral speech, written words, and visual representations such as graphs and diagrams. In addition, Mathematics uses features such as order, position, relative, size and orientation in meaningful ways (Pimm, 1987). Consequently, Mathematics construct are often difficult to articulate in ordinary language because its symbolism has developed over time to express meanings that go beyond what ordinary language expresses. This assertion was supported by O’Halloran (1999), who said that mathematics symbolism can be used to describe relationships that represent information presented in ways that natural language cannot. While language provides the contextual information about the situation, the mathematics symbolism describes the pattern of relationships between the entities. Thus, the written language and oral language could work together to construct meaning as the teacher and students interact in discussing Mathematical problem.

According to Lemke (2003), Language; mathematical registers; visual diagrams, as well as the gestures and actions of the participants in the classroom are to be used as components of a single semiotic system if better performances of African children are to be expected in tests of intellectual ability. He pointed out that learning mathematics is not just a question of manipulating symbols, but also of understanding how different systems form meaning and interact among themselves. He concluded that opportunity for gaining mathematical understanding is lost if mathematics is not taught, particularly at the introductory level as co-equal partner with language and visual representation in the analysis of natural and social phenomena.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Semiotics: Semiotic means philosophical theory of signs and symbols and the science of the life of signs in society. It includes the study of signs, analogy, how people design and interpret meaning based on social interest and ideologies, and how they adapted as a society changes.

Mathematics Education: Mathematics education is referred to as the practice of teaching and learning of mathematics in a way of solving problems involving learning the algorithms and formulas necessary for computations. It is a platform to learn and teach mathematics with better way.

Science Education: Science education is the field of science that is concerned with sharing of science content, some social science, and the process of teaching science pedagogy in order to provide expectations for the development of understanding part of the scientific community. The subjects includes in the science education are physical, life, earth, and space sciences.

Social semiotics: This is referred to as a branch of the field of semiotics which investigates human signifying practices in specific social and cultural circumstances, and which tries to explain as a social practice.

Visual Semiotics: Visual semiotics is a sub-domain of semiotics that analyses the way visual images communicate a message. It is a philosophical approach that seeks to interpret messages in terms of signs and patterns of symbolism. If the semiotics is the study of signs and symbols, then, visual semiotics is the study of signs and symbols that we see.

Natural Sciences: Natural science is the empirical sciences that explains or predicts natural phenomena. It is a science, such as biology, chemistry, geology, astronomy, or physics that deals with the objects, phenomena, or laws of nature and the physical world. A natural science is something that deals with the study of the Universe in parts.

Semantics: Semantics is the study of the meaning of linguistic expressions. It focuses on the relation between signifiers , like words, phrases, signs, and symbols, what they stand for, and their denotation in mathematics classroom. Semantic is descriptive, not a prescriptive enterprise, and aims to describe the meaning of a words as they are actually used by teachers and not as they should be used.

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