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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Teacher use of language which helps or hinders understanding of mathematics by second language learners Borgen, Katharine L.


The purpose of this study was to determine some of the factors relating to teacher use of English in the mathematics classroom that senior second language learners identified as helping or hindering to their learning of the subject. Variations of Flanagan's (1954) Critical Incident Technique and Ginsburg's (1981) Clinical Interview were employed to elicit information from eighteen students with various linguistic backgrounds to identify aspects of the English language and methods of explanation which they found helpful or hindering in their attempt to understand mathematics in English as second language. The interviews with the students were audio-taped and transcribed verbatim. Excerpts from the transcriptions are used as examples to indicated the helps/hindrances identified by the students. Students identified many language related problems which they, as second language learners, have in trying to understand mathematics. These centered around five themes: 1. Vocabulary, both basic and mathematics specific, 2. Need to translate for understanding, 3. Differences in understanding involved depending upon written vs spoken language, 4. Self-consciousness because of inability to express themselves in a second language, and 5. Motivation and interest in learning. Various aspects of each theme are discussed along with methods that may help students deal with them. The helping methods are discussed under the two themes that emerged: 1. Techniques that the teacher could use, and 2. Coping strategies used by the students themselves. Students indicated that while they felt it was their personal responsibility to learn enough of the English language to cope in the mainstream mathematics classroom, certain strategies used by the teacher or that they employed themselves could help with different problems. Finally, suggestions are given, both for teachers in the classroom to make mathematics more second language learner friendly, and for areas where further research would be beneficial.

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