# Tips for Teaching Math in a Language Foreign to the Teacher

I retired after 25 years of teaching and moved to Israel a year ago. My Hebrew is okay, but before moving here, I had no experience talking about math in Hebrew. I have been learning Hebrew math vocabulary by reading math textbooks and taking an online math course in Hebrew.

I recently started volunteering in an after school program to help Hebrew-speaking students prepare for tests in mathematics. These tests (called bagruyot) are standardized tests taken at the end of high school and used to determine entrance to college. I have no trouble understanding the problems on the practice exams, but I see that it is difficult for me to teach in Hebrew.

Currently my strategies (when I can't explain clearly in Hebrew) include: acting out problems with students, writing out solutions in math symbols, and finding similar problems with solutions in the textbooks This is not how I taught in my native language!

I am interested in any tips to becoming a better teacher in a language that is foreign to me but native to my students.

• You may also want to make it clearer that you want to be a better teacher in a language foreign to you (but not foreign to the students). – Joel Reyes Noche Mar 14 '17 at 12:50
• I had to do this in Russian when I visited Moscow for a semester and gave math lectures to undergrads. The main thing to do is read lots of math in Hebrew (e.g., Wikipedia math pages in Hebrew, although I don't know how much there is) to learn vocabulary starting from the most elementary concepts in arithmetic, algebra, and geometry. You also need to learn how to pronounce notation, variables (Latin and Greek), equations, inequalities, formulas, and so on. Write down lots of mathematical expressions and ask a native how it is read out loud. In my case, I sat with Russian-speaking [contd.] – KCd Mar 21 '17 at 1:00
• colleagues before my trip and went through a lot of formulas I expected to need to say: infinite series, integration formulas, Fourier transforms, quotient groups, isomorphisms, etc. With this starting point I did not have too much trouble, and the students themselves at my lectures would help sometimes if I was unsure. After returning to lecture there over the past few years, I have no more serious problems speaking comfortably about math even though I still make mistakes. You write about acting out problems. Is that an issue of lacking ordinary or mathematical vocabulary? – KCd Mar 21 '17 at 1:04
• Thanks for all your advice. I acted out one problem and it was a profit loss problem. The student I worked with was weak and I'm still not sure where the disconnect was. – Amy B Mar 21 '17 at 13:00
• Hi, this it unfortunately not a general tip but more of an offering of my service as a hebrew speaker. I'm an Israeli math student (in Tel Aviv University) who also works as a private teacher (mainly to mid-high students but also a little bit to the bagruyot). If you're intersted, you are welcome ask for my email adress and I'd be happy to answer any hebrew question you need. Behatzlaha! – 35T41 Apr 18 '17 at 17:11

If your students are willing to take the time, I would say you can add a lot of value to their understanding and skills by aproaching the challenge from a "socratic" point of view.

• Facilitate conceptualization through "concept cards": I have my students make a mindmap with the math concept in the center. On one side, 2-5 examples. On the other hand, the definition(s) needed to handle this math object. Below 2-4 examples of the math in use. Above the center, a few negations: What this math concept is not.

• Within a specific field, glossary lists may help the student (and you!) demarcating -- or at the least characterizing -- the field and starting your students (and you) on the linguistic exploration of the math field (of the week...)

• Certainly, the tacit, read vocabulary recommended by @KCd. But do not underestimate, what Sugatha Mitra dubbed the 'granny method': Stand behind your pupils and adore whatever they are doing. Your mere presence offers to the students your professional skillset, there is a task for them to go grab it, which should be capitalized. Math, after all is a pretty international language, just as is esperanto.

• Let students explain to other Hebrew speaking students. Even if your Hebrew is insufficient, expressing oneself will help to grasp the concept, and the fellow Hebrew-speaker may know stuff that supplements what the speaker does not understand -- or you can contribute at this point.

• Concept cards seem more appropriate to a classroom then my after school center but appreciate your other suggestions. Glossary lists are great! Students feel very good when they teach me a word and I write it in my glossary notebook. They correct my spelling and feel important. The granny method definitely works. I sit with students and some of them figure it all out just because they are explaining their problems to me and I am listening. Right from the beginning I have appreciated the opportunity to learn as students talk with their friends. – Amy B May 28 '17 at 7:26

Well, I was in just such a situation when I had to learn Spanish and learn to teach in Spanish simultaneously. What I did was sitting every evening with the books and dictionaries and translating, and writing down, word for word, what I had to say next day. Timeconsuming, yes, but it worked. It did help to have some students in class which just knew some english and could help.

• This is very good advice for a teacher of a classroom who is planning what to teach. I am in an after-school program and the students come to me with problems ranging from probability, to calculus, to geometry, to trigonometry. It's difficult to prepare for them all. – Amy B May 28 '17 at 7:16