Since elementary school, we learned basic mathematics skills as little children. As we grew older, our math improved as we learned new concepts. Yet have people ever wondered why Americans lag behind Eastern Asian countries, such as China, in math?
The answer lies not only in the practice that Asian students receive but also, surprisingly, in the language we speak.
The reason is not due to intelligence, but actually the phonetics of our languages.
According to The Number Sense, at the age of 4 years old, a child living in the United States who speaks English on average has the ability to count to 15. The same age child living in China has the ability to count to 40, based purely on their efficiency of memorization. To count to 40, a child living in the United States on average would be 5 years old. This means that already, at the age of 5, American children are already a year behind their Asian counterparts in basic arithmetic fundamentals
Furthermore, the complex language in which we pronounce our numbers hinders our ability to do the very easiest of mathematical tasks, such as addition and subtraction.
In the Chinese language, 20 is pronounced two-tens, 30 is pronounced three-tens, 50 becomes five-tens, etc. This is a much simpler, straight-forward, and easier way to deal with numbers.
In order to add 23 + 45, an American child would have to convert 23 to twenty-three, and 45 to forty-five, then add those two together. A Chinese child would just add two-tens-three and four-tens-five together, equaling six-tens-eight. The answer is in the way the language is phrased – much easier for children to learn.
The ease at which these Asian counterparts learn basic mathematics allows these kids to learn math at a much more rapid pace, which over the countless years of school, compounds into more knowledge and better math skills for these Chinese children.
[Why Asians are Better than Americans at Math sur Blog.StudentRND.org]