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Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Cultural Confusion

Consider the following phrases: "4 by 6" and "3 into 12." To which of the four arithmetic operations are these referring? If you said, multiplication and division, respectively, I can conclude one thing. You are not from India.

I recently began tutoring a young woman who immigrated here from India last year. Through a series of unfortunate events, she has experienced a 6 year gap in her education. At 18 years old, she is only eligible to attend public school for one more year. After that, she must pursue a GED. She is actually a very capable young mathematician, although she needs to build confidence.

During our first few lessons, she appeared to be confusing multiplication with division. After speaking with her father, I discovered that I was the one who was confused. Or rather, we were suffering from a miscommunication. Evidently, in India, the word "by" denotes division and "into" refers to multiplication.

Isn't that delightfully fascinating? I think so.

1 comment:

Rebecca said...

I actually experienced confusion about the same thing -- but in my case as the pupil of a Physics TA from India. The class all thought he was dividing when he was actually talking about multiplying. ("v equals v-nought plus a into t" -- this makes for confusion.)