80% of the world -- including the U.S., UK and Australia -- is teaching irregular number words that are scientifically proven to confuse young math learners.
Making it hard for children to learn math is a bad idea, because math education affects later opportunities, including college and career.
How does a student get into college anyway? Before graduating high school, students take standardized tests like the ACT or SAT, which are used to decide college admissions. One of the things being tested is whether a student is ready for college math.
Sadly, test results show that only 41% of U.S. high school graduates are prepared for college math. Meaning they won't get into college, or they will get in but fail to graduate because they weren't ready in the first place.
High school graduates without a college degree have a tough time getting good jobs. Only 15% of retail jobs pay a living wage. A high school graduate working at McDonald's can't afford to live on their own. They need a good job that pays better.
Who gets the good jobs? Studies show that 55% of good jobs go to college graduates and the percentage is on the rise.
Clearly, math education is important to every child's earning potential, ability to support themselves and/or start a family.
Is there any way to help our children get better results in math testing?
In 1995, scientists from the U.S. and China worked with preschool children from the U.S. and China. They discovered Chinese preschool children can count up to 40, while U.S. preschool children can only count up to 15.
Scientists wanted to find out: why are Chinese preschool children outperforming U.S. preschool children?
They discovered that children in China are learning math an easier way. The way counting is taught to young children in China is actually a lot easier than the way we teach counting in the U.S.
How is that possible?
As it turns out, our English language number words are confusing to young children who are learning to count 1-100.
Let's define number words, so we all know what we're talking about. What is a number word? A number word is a word used for a number like "one", "two" or "three".
There are two different types of number words: regular and irregular. Regular are good for math learners, irregular are bad.
Regular number words are a friend to all math learners, because they accurately and consistently communicate place value. In Chinese language, 9 regular number words are used to count from 1 to 100 and that's all you need.
Science shows that young children who learn to count using regular number words gain a significant advantage in math skills.
Unfortunately, the U.S. doesn't do it that way and there's no plan to give it a try. Instead, young children are made to learn irregular number words.
An irregular number word is a jerk who doesn't communicate place value. In English, we have 17 irregular number words and that's why we can't have nice things.
Irregular English language number words include: eleven, twelve, twenty
Imagine you're a teacher helping Kindergarteners learn the difference between "thirteen" and "thirty". One reason irregular number words confuse young children is the order of the ones and tens place gets switched. In thirteen, the ones place is said first. In thirty, the tens place is said first.
In China they use 9 unique number words. That's all you need for a base 10 number system. Why does the English language use an extra 17 irregular number words -- like eleven, twelve and twenty -- that are proven to confuse young children?
Adults use number words when buying things like organic heirloom tomatoes at the farmer's market. "Three fifty a pound." "That'll be eight twenty-five." "Seventy-five cents is your change." As adults, we're used to using our weird, irregular number words.
But young children use number words for something really important: their first math lessons. Like how to count from 1 to 40 and "how many fingers am I holding up?" Young math learners need number words that are easy to learn.
Irregular English language number words like eleven, twelve, and thirteen do not communicate place value. Also, the code-switching required with numbers in the teens and multiples of ten confuses young children.
No matter how you measure it, there is an extremely high cost of teaching young children using irregular English language number words. At the end of Kindergarten, our students are already a year behind students in China, at a cost of $8 billion to U.S. taxpayers. We are harming their future ability to get into college and get a good job. Not to mention the elimination of 1/2 of our potential STEM graduates.
Today the U.S. ranks #40 in world math education. All countries at the top of world math education -- like China, Japan and Korea -- use Chinese number words. Countries below the top, do not.
There is no evidence of any advantage to using irregular English language number words, but there is vast evidence that regular number words will provide better results for early math learners, including 25 years of scientific evidence
, this article from the Wall Street Journal
, and writings from Malcolm Gladwell
As a dad and a math nerd, I believe the most important work I can do is to promote Ten One Math's new English language number words that consistently and accurately represent place value, with the goal of creating a better world for future generations.
Want to interest your child in learning science-based number words? Ten One Math provides free counting lessons for young children age 2-7. Email Michael
with your available times and we will set up a call via Skype or Zoom.