Does anyone know of any studies or have personal experience dealing with difficulties (if any) faced by students studying mathematics if they come from countries which use languages written from right-to-left or top-down?

I have been wondering about this recently because I have been working on supplemental study guides. It occured to me that mathematics covering everything from arithmetic to calculus is heavily viewed in terms of a left-to-right perspective (e.g. digits with the highest place value are the leftmost ones in a numeral and are thus read first; the positive x-axis extends to the right; a line with positive slope is seen as one which goes up when viewed from left-to-right)

Then again there are many accomplished mathematicians who come from countries which speak and write these languages so maybe it's not that difficult of a conceptual jump after all. I think I for one would have difficulty though...

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    $\begingroup$ Arabs took the idea of decimal positional system from Indians, should not be any problems here. In fact, decimal system is right to left, from lowest to highest place value. Most software packages right-align numbers. You can direct X axis any way you want, one cannot assume it grows to the right unless either a couple of coordinates or an arrowhead is specified. The positivity or negativity of a slope is determined by the direction of the axis. Oh, and "two and two will be four" is a wrong approach anyway that teaches equality as a process, not as, um, equality. $\endgroup$
    – Rusty Core
    Commented Jun 17, 2020 at 4:00
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    $\begingroup$ @RustyCore, what is the relevance of your statement "two and two will be four" in this discussion? It wasn't mentioned by the OP or the one answer so far. $\endgroup$
    – JRN
    Commented Jun 17, 2020 at 4:54
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    $\begingroup$ @JoelReyesNoche in connection with right-left, I believe the tense makes the statement sound needlessly directional when it is in fact direction-agnostic $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 17, 2020 at 16:57
  • $\begingroup$ Are you moving to such a country in order to teach there? Or are you trying to cater to immigrants in the first world at the expense of the English speaking student? $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 12, 2020 at 22:35
  • $\begingroup$ This last comment seems needlessly combative (not to mention that a huge number of languages are now written left-to-right so the English part isn't clear, see omniglot.com/writing/direction.htm). The question doesn't say anything about changing all notation to "go the other direction". Today, anyone writing a text or supplement may simply wish to reach the widest possible international audience, and so this seems like a reasonable question to ask. $\endgroup$
    – kcrisman
    Commented Jul 13, 2020 at 12:58

2 Answers 2


I have some personal experience.

I taught in a school that has Israeli students whose families had moved to the US. These children had Hebrew as their native language. Hebrew is written right to left. I never saw these students struggle with math because they learned to write from right to left.

Furthermore all students in my school studied both Hebrew and English, learning to write both right to left and left to right. No one seemed to struggle with direction in math class which was taught in English.


Am Arabian Mathematician. In my country in all school we used to write math from right to left i scored very well in 12th grade 179/200. But in the universities we use English books so we write from left to right it was hard for me to get through that in the first course I scored 65/100 by the time I used to that and now am PhD student in the US. So my opinion it is not that hard by practice 100 or more problems normal student should be fine.

  • $\begingroup$ Welcome to the site! Did you write math from right to left or was just the Arabic language from right to left? For example did you write 29 + 31 = 60 from right to left instead of as shown here from left to right? $\endgroup$
    – Amy B
    Commented Jul 12, 2020 at 18:52
  • $\begingroup$ No I we write the following equation 9x-3=13 as $\endgroup$
    – IrbidMath
    Commented Jul 12, 2020 at 19:04
  • $\begingroup$ المعادلة ٩س-٣=١٣ هكذا $\endgroup$
    – IrbidMath
    Commented Jul 12, 2020 at 19:05
  • $\begingroup$ ٩ = 9 , س=x, ١٣=13 $\endgroup$
    – IrbidMath
    Commented Jul 12, 2020 at 19:06
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    $\begingroup$ Yeah because the signs read is switched also,you know what I mean? negative three written as three negative $\endgroup$
    – IrbidMath
    Commented Jul 12, 2020 at 19:07

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