Monthly Archives: October 2017

Is Maths a Language?

“Is maths a language?”  There are thousands of languages across the world – English, Spanish, German, French… all taught across schools and reinforced as being important to succeed in later life with jobs. So why is this attitude not portrayed with maths?

Math is a language that has been used thousands of years. It is spoken universally, and can be understood by all no matter the age, religion or culture. Sure, different countries may have different symbols or words for aspects of it, but the profound fundamental understanding of maths is the same no matter where you go. Paying for your shopping in a supermarket uses the same knowledge of maths whether you’re paying in pounds, rupees, yen or euros.

Some anthropologists suggest that the global language of maths was needed in order to trade. Many different countries were trading, and were not able to communicate with each other as there was such a wide variety of languages, so a universal language that could be understood by all needed to be implemented. Roman numerals were the most dominant number system used in trade. It was created on the base 10 system but was not directly position and did not include a value for zero (Mastin, 2010). The base 10 system is a system used today in every country, and our understanding of place value is based on this. It is thought that this system was introduced at least as early at 2700 BCE by the Egyptians (Mastin, 2010). This system is used widely and is an understood language across the world, even though it appears to have begun in Egypt.

Europeans were still using Roman numerals in the 13th Century, but found that they were difficult to work with when trying to divide or multiply. This is when Italian mathematician Fibonacci introduced Arabic numerals into Europe. These are the numerals that we know and use today to represent values of numbers. The difficulty of the Roman numerals led to merchants and bankers embracing the simpler Arabic system (Maths Careers, n.d.). This number system eventually spread across the globe, as the inclusion of zero meant that so much more could be done.

Here is a great video from Dr. Randy Palisoc, talking about maths as a language. This video also touches on maths anxiety, and how looking at maths as a language can help to eradicate the anxiety and fear around maths.



Mastin, L. (2010). Egyptian Mathematics. [Online]. Available at: [Accessed 23rd October 2017]

 Mastin, L. (2010). Roman Mathematics. [Online]. Available at: [Accessed 23rd October 2017]

Maths Careers. (No Date). A Universal Language. [Online] Available at: [Accessed 23rd October 2017]

TEDx Talks (2014) Math isn’t hard, it’s a language | Randy Palisoc | TEDxManhattanBeach [Online].  YouTube. Available at: [Accessed 23rd October 2017]

Maths Anxiety

I always enjoyed mathematics all the way through Primary, and never once felt anxious about participating in it. Even during the early years of High School, I still had no worries about maths and liked going to classes. This all began to change around about 3rd/4th year, when the maths became harder and more stressful. Trying to memorise formulas just to pass my exams without fully understanding how or why I was learning this is where my maths anxiety stemmed from. This anxiety is still something that I carry with me now.

I decided to choose ‘Discovering Mathematics’ as my second year elective, as I wanted to try and further my understanding of maths and try to get over my maths anxiety. In one of our first few workshops, maths anxiety was one of the topics that was discussed. Hembree (1990, p.45) describes maths anxiety as “a general fear of contact mathematics, including classes, homework and tests.”  This anxiety of maths can have both physical and psychological effects on students. These include headaches, muscle spasms, shortness of breath, dizziness, confusion, mind blanks, incoherent thinking and many more (Arem, 2010, p.30).This anxiety of maths can cause the pupil to become disengaged in their learning, as they lose some self-esteem, and in turn, the anxiety increases. I found it really interesting that maths anxiety can be considered a diagnosable condition, as I always felt that it was just my own fault for not being great at maths.

For most children, this anxiety continues into adulthood and can affect their confidence in tasks such as paying bills and handling their finances. If as kids they did not learn the basic mathematics as a result of maths anxiety, this could potentially affect them for the rest of their lives. This anxiety can also be transferred into their own children, giving them a negative impression of maths. Many parents will be unwilling or unable to help children with their homework, which will also greatly affect the child.

Maths anxiety in teachers also greatly affects the student’s performance. The teachers on the Maths and Science Survey (TIMSS) it is shown that Scottish P5 pupils are scoring below international average, and S2 pupils are scoring well below the international average. Even the highest achieving pupils in Scotland scoring well below the international average, which is very worrying figures for the country (IEA, 2008). As a teacher, I want to try and get over my maths anxiety, after seeing how greatly it can impact on your class’ performance, and help the children that do suffer it to see maths in a different light.

This video by TED-Ed does a great job of explaining what maths anxiety is and ways in which it can be helped.




Hembree, R. (1990) ‘The nature, effects and relief of mathematics anxiety’, Journal for Research in Mathematics Education, 21.

IEA (2008) Trends in Mathematics and Science Survey 2007. Lynch School of Education, Boston College: International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement.

TED-Ed (2017) Why do people get so anxious about math? [online].  YouTube. Available at: [Accessed 4th October 2017]