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European Commission - Comenius

European Commission - Education and Culture

Project Details

MAking MAThEmatics TEAchers MObile

129543-CP-1-2006-1 -IT-COMENIUS-C21


Project span

Project Coordinator

CAFRE Centro di Ateneo di Formazione e Ricerca Educativa
Università di Pisa

Contact person


Project Partners

(AT) Universität Wien

(CZ) Univerzita Karlova v Praze

(DK) University College Lillebælt, Skårup Seminarium

(FR) Institut Universitaire de Formation des Maîtres de l'Académie de Créteil

Teaching Maths in a Foreign Language
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Italian Data Analysis of the Questionnaire for Teacher Trainers

Data Analysis of the Questionnaire for Language Teacher Trainers

About you
  1. Seven language teacher trainers have answered the questionnaire.
  2. Six teacher trainers speak English, six French, three Spanish, two German, and one Italian language 2.
  3. Four teacher trainers assess their linguistic competence in English at C2 level, and only one at B2 level; in French one trainer is at B2 level and two trainers are at B1. One teacher trainer has a B1 level in German, another one has a B2 level in Spanish and another one a B1. A trainer assesses at C1 in Italian second language.
  4. The seven language teacher trainers are both lower and upper secondary school teacher trainers.
Professional experiences
  1. [only for Maths]
  2. [only for Maths]
  3. Only two cooperation experiences between a mathematics teacher trainer and a language teacher trainer, within the Faculty of languages, the Departments of Physics and the Department of Mathematics.
  4. Six teacher trainers know about European schools (someone about CLIL methodology).
  1. Five of them think that it is useful and two think it may be useful only in particular moments and contexts.
  2. Among the angles mentioned in the introduction, the most important aspects are: intercultural open-mindedness, and economic and professional advantages.
  3. The greatest difficulty is a communicative one: not only lexical but syntactic (different structures) and semantic (relationship between language and culture). Also teaching methodology is mentioned.
  4. Five trainers think it is possible to teach mathematics in a foreign language, because of the formal and language-independent nature of mathematical language (“It’s a way of showing the students what they ‘can do’ and ‘how they can learn’ in a foreign language”). Two trainers mention the difficulty to manage the class.
  5. Most trainers have not any definite answer about the advantages of teaching maths in a foreign language. Only one is favourable (“it could train the students to understand a micro-language from an early age”) and on the contrary, another one is unfavourable.
  6. Looking at things from a foreign language standpoint, all the trainers think that it would be useful to learn mathematics in a foreign language in order to use language in unusual fields.
  7. [only for Maths]
Professional development
  1. Only one out of the seven trainers has experienced teaching students in cooperation with another subject trainer (English and IT).
  2. Six trainers think that mathematics teachers can profit in their practices from being able to teach in a foreign language. This process can bring cultural openings (“to teach maths from a different cross-cultural perspective”).
  3. All the trainers think that language teachers can also profit from cooperation with maths teachers by interdisciplinary working referring to traditionally distant cultures, i.e. humanistic and scientific ones, (”because of shared methodology, approaches, techniques, learning styles, learning awareness”).
  4. Three trainers do not answer. Four think it would be useful for professional development to teach maths in a foreign language beginning from a general reflection on contents and argumentative procedures (But one of them concludes: “provided that you have the basic knowledge to do such a thing”).
  5. [only for Maths]
  6. Four do not answer, and four answer negatively about their knowledge of teachers who use a foreign language in mathematics teaching.

Data Analysis of the Questionnaire for Mathematics Teacher Trainers

About you
  1. All teacher trainers (17) are qualified in mathematics.
  2. Ten speak English, three French, one both languages, three do not speak any foreign language.
  3. Almost no one is able to assess their own foreign language competence.
  4. Three are trainers of lower secondary school mathematics teachers, four of upper secondary school ones and ten of both categories.
Prior experiences
  1. Yes: 8 – No: 9
  2. Yes: 2 – No: 15
  3. Only two teacher trainers co-operate with a Department of Languages, one of whom for a research about mistakes due to mathematical language.
  4. Only four trainers heard about models of bilingual education, with reference to some Central European countries, an African country and a few Northern Italian regions with significant linguistic minorities.
Present opinions
  1. All the trainers acknowledge the importance of knowing a foreign language in order to teach, for a number of different reasons, among which: teaching abroad, favouring teacher and students exchanges, having the possibility to know about up-to-date teaching methodologies, professional development, facing the increasing presence of foreign pupils.
  2. The trainers see several different important advantages, among which: mobility, comparison and sharing of teaching methodologies, better understanding of the subject, possible different understanding of already known concepts, increasing their own intercultural competence, better understanding of the difficulties met by minority pupils, ability to read texts, papers and to use didactic software, developing better communication skills.
  3. The trainers have different thoughts about the possible difficulties arising in contexts where teacher and pupils do not share the same mother tongue. Some of these difficulties are: to understand and to correct possible gaps and mistakes in concepts’ construction, to avoid misunderstanding, to apply mathematics to real contexts, to make correct “translations” of concepts, to preserve the richness of one’s mother tongue, to have good communication skills (e.g. using non-formal language, metaphors or shared contexts), to introduce new concepts preserving the rigour of the subject, to save human relations.
  1. All but two of the trainers think it would be possible to teach mathematics in a foreign language, for different reasons: mathematics does not require a high linguistic competence, mathematical basic dictionary is precise and rather limited, mathematical language registers are mostly well-developed and grounded on grammar. However, one trainer says, teachers need to be well aware of the relationship between concept and language! Two trainers, on the other hand, objected that it is already difficult to teach mathematics in Italian (their mother tongue)…
  2. As for the support that teaching in a foreign language could provide to mathematical learning, six trainers say it helps, nine say it doesn’t and two say they don’t know… Why yes: it could imply greater attention to the central aspects of the topics and more clearness, it allows for different points of view, it makes autonomous investigations by the pupils easier, the teacher has to make an explicit and aware effort to communicate, to learn the language, to give pupils different linguistic references. Why not: only two common motivations “It is already difficult enough to teach maths in Italian!”.
  3. Thirteen ‘yes’ and four ‘no’. Most of the ‘Yes’ answers refer to the opportunity to learn and use the foreign language in a meaningful, concrete and specific context. Some others refer to the positive impact that the nature of mathematical language, precise and essential, can have on the construction of sentences, in a foreign language, with a simple structure. As it is the case for the two previous questions, the ‘No’ answers represent the trainers’ worry to add difficulty to difficulty.
  4. As to the topics to be taught in a foreign language, the great majority answers ‘Any’. Elementary maths, symbolic maths and algebraic calculus were also mentioned.
Professional development
  1. Only four trainers experienced teaching in cooperation with another subject’s teacher, namely for arithmetic, special didactics for disabled pupils and ICT.
  2. Almost all trainers (fifteen out of seventeen) think mathematics teachers can profit from being able to teach in a foreign language. Their most significant comments are reported in the following: it requires punctual preliminary thinking about mathematics as well as about the most effective way of teaching it in a language that is not one’s mother tongue; it requires an explicit and aware effort for communicating; it gives better opportunities to teach abroad; it is helpful with foreign pupils; it allows one to know different curricula (and teaching contexts) as well as to learn about different ways of introducing mathematical topics.
  3. Almost all teacher trainers think language teachers can profit from co-operation with maths teachers. Here are the most interesting motivations: mathematics requires an explicit language grounded on grammar, teachers can share difficulties related to the semantic understanding of the language, communication is easier and knowledge greater, co-operation draws maths and language teachers near to each other with reciprocal benefit and allow them to share transversal objectives.
  4. As to professional development, teaching mathematics in a foreign language is viewed as a positive factor by ten trainers, while four of them say they don’t know. Only very few explanations of the ‘Yes’ answers have been provided, among which: it makes it possible to exchange teaching methodologies and to improve the linguistic competence, it allows one to better understand textbooks used in foreign countries.
  5. More contrasting is the judgment about a possible consequent change in teaching methods. Seven answer ‘Yes’, nine answer ‘No’. Some explanations for ‘Yes’: some stereotypes can be abandoned, a change of perspective might imply a change in paradigms, language is the means by which the way of presenting contents is modified. None of the negative answers were motivated.

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