An article in the Wall Street Journal suggests that Chinese reads two-digit numbers based on their placements while English assigns a specific word for them. For example, 11 reads eleven and 13 reads thirteen in English, but in Chinese, 11 reads 10, 1 and 13 reads 10, 3 in Chinese. In English, 21 is twenty one; in Chinese, it's 2, 10, 1. So the placement values of 10 then 1 for 11, and 2 10's then 1 for 21 are clearly denoted in Chinese. Many English speaking young children get confused when they try to learn placement values. Some researchers have designed special ways for English youngsters to grasp number placements in English.

While this definitely is not the only reason why Chinese or Korean students do better in math achievement tests, the structure of language does create different demands on the learner. Another clear example is dyslexia, where letter reversals (M for W, writing B using its mirror image, etc.) is a major marker for the diagnosis. But since Chinese language is based on characters rather than alphabets, it is harder to write but also harder to reverse most characters. You either learn it or you don't, but you don't reverse it and think it looks the same as the real one. I can only think of a couple of characters that could be easily reversed.

Most teachers teach the multiplication table by visual and written modes. The student 'sees' in his mind or writes to see 3x3=9, 8x9=72, etc. In teaching my son the multiplication table, I made him sing out the equations, in Chinese. It is easier to rhyme the equations since the numbers are expressed in characters, each of which is one single sound. This singing method uses the auditory (hearing) mode, akin to hearing a telephone number versus seeing the number.

I have successfully used the auditory mode, an English singing version of the multiplication equations, to teach other students. Once mastered, their speed in doing multiplications improved.

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