Italian comparison of language teachers’ and mathematics teachers’ views on teaching
mathematics in a foreign language
The questionnaire analysis concerned
24 teacher trainers (17 in mathematics) and 141 teachers (109 in
In this comparison, we comment upon
the answers provided by teachers.
Predictably enough ,
most teachers speak English (and sometimes only that) and, anyway,
mathematics teachers are not able to evaluate their own competence in
the foreign language they know.
The large majority
of the subject teachers never taught maths using a foreign language.
Collaboration between language
teachers and mathematics teachers is widely viewed as rare and
Only very few mathematics teachers
and half language teachers claim to know about
teaching models based on the use of a foreign language.
For different reasons, most teachers
acknowledge the importance and usefulness of knowing a foreign
language, mostly English. In particular, they point out, together
with language teachers, that it is advantageous to
have a higher international mobility and better communication and
analytical skills in intercultural contexts. It is also often
underlined that mathematics, due to its universal nature, to its ways
of organizing discourse and the specific nature of its language,
including the symbolic one, may be taught in a foreign language
better than other subjects. Some mathematics teachers also underline
the fact that the possibility of using the Internet as well as
training and teaching materials from other countries, create better
opportunities for professional development.
Among the difficulties, communication
between teachers and pupils is mostly remarked by both groups of
teachers. For some
teachers, this difficulty might even increase the well-known learning
difficulties pupils experience in the subject: weirdly enough (but
maybe not too much), this risk is more frequently pointed out by
language teachers than mathematics teachers ….
A large majority of language teachers
believes that teaching mathematics in a foreign language may be
useful for pupils because they would get the chance to use the
language in a specific context, drawing on a special language.
Contrasting opinions about the
necessary requisites to
teach mathematics in a foreign language have been expressed by both
groups of teachers. In particular language teachers point out a
mathematics teacher’s need for flexibility and open-mindedness,
whereas mathematics teachers are really worried about their capacity
of communicating mathematics in a foreign language, obviously, but
also about organizing the mathematical discourse in a way that takes
into account the classroom context: in particular they point out the
need to use a lower linguistic register than the one they generally
se when they teach in their mother tongue.