Secret to Excelling in Math
Every four years a group of educators administer a comprehensive mathematics and science test called the TIMSS to elementary and junior high students around the world. Every year the kids from select countries always have higher scores than the rest of the world. The students that take the exam also have to fill out a questionnaire of about 120 questions. The results from the questionnaire vary from country and the number of questions answered on the questionnaire correlates exactly to the results of the math exam. The students from the countries that answer all of the questions on the questionnaire also do very well on the math exam. The children at the top of both of those lists are from Singapore, South Korea, China, Hong Kong, and Japan. Why do Asian students have an advantage over the rest of the world on math tests? It all has to do with their number naming systems, their hard working cultures, and their exacting personalities.
“If you speak English and are asked to read a list of six numbers then look away and memorize them you only have about a fifty percent chance to memorize them perfectly. If you speak Chinese however, you will get it right almost every time” (Gladwell Outliers 227). Human beings have a two second memory loop. That means we can easily remember things we say or read in two seconds. The Chinese have very small names for words, like 4 is “si” and 7 is “qi”. Where as in English names for numbers are a lot longer, like four and seven. The Chinese can say most of their numbers in less than one quarter of a second, but in English it takes about one third of a second. The constructions of Western and Asian number naming systems are very different. The English number naming system is very irregular. We have numbers like fourteen, sixteen, and seventeen. That makes you think we would have oneteen, twoteen, and threeteen instead of eleven, twelve, and thirteen....
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