Why do so many learners fail to learn Mathematics, and experience severe anxiety and confusion in their Mathematics classes? It seems that the answer is that these learners have not cracked the code of Mathematics - in other words they have not mastered the Language of Mathematics. Many of these learners are capable, succeeding in other aspects of their education, but they experience the Language of Mathematics as if it was a foreign language, without meaning or relevance. However, not being able to understand nor communicate Mathematically is a major disadvantage for many learners, not only at school, but also in their future careers.
The rationale of this qualitative research was to explore how learners, particularly in Grade 3, acquire the Language of Mathematics through facilitation. The primary research question was: How is the Language of Mathematics facilitated in Grade 3 classes? This research sought to integrate the facilitation process, the teacher s pedagogy and the learners acquisition of the Language of Mathematics.
What is the Language of Mathematics? It was the premise of this research that Mathematics is indeed a language in which combinations of Mathematical symbols and Mathematical terminology are placed in a specific order to form Mathematical expressions (equivalent to sentences) that communicate meaning. In school, Mathematical symbols seem to be carefully defined and taught. The problem arises with English Mathematical terminology, particularly as so many South African learners use English as their second or third language. Many of the words used in this subject have totally different meanings in colloquial English, which can lead to confusion in the mind of the learner. Examples of this terminology are bigger , smaller , equal , multiply , field , greater , and lesser . The learner often has no conceptual framework within which to place Mathematical terms. The role of the teacher becomes pivotal in facilitating the acquisition of the correct meanings of both Mathematical symbols and terminology so that the learner acquires the Language of Mathematics.