The ‘invention’ (and continuous evolution) of languages is the most defining characteristic of Homo Sapiens; the use of language indeed catalysed significant expansion of our thinking capabilities, and therefore, our brain. Language expands thinking capability like nothing else.
Broadly, there are two vehicles of thinking – using images and using languages (words) – and the use of words is infinitely more powerful/expandable than use of images (rote memory is an example of using images to think, e.g., when children try to recollect definitions, they actually ‘scan’ through the images of definitions/texts, which are meaningless jumble of words).
Indeed, the bigger piece of the educational challenge, in terms of quality, is the poor language achievement of our children, the overwhelming majority of our children are left intellectually limited by poor command over language.
And in case one is thinking of the 10-15% children who come from good English language background at home and a good majority of them struggling in school and college (notwithstanding the excellent CBSE scores in XII), it may be mentioned that the competence required in the language of academics (i.e., the language of the books, exams) is two high notches above communicative level competence in the language.
All languages are transacted at four levels – basic, communicative/functional, literary, and academic – and the only way to reach academic level competence in a language is to pass through the literary level, i.e., extensively read literature in the language of academics (English, in our country). But we are not a country of readers (e.g., reading literature) and such children – those with apparent command over communicative English – are destined to academic lag behind!
We’ll focus on focus on the language of math, and start with specifically comparing the difference between the natural languages and math.
Math is one of the three languages –
- ‘genetic languages’ – languages one is born with (though human children have very limited dispositional abilities at-birth) – art, music, dance, ‘theatre’, play etc.
- ‘natural and local’ languages we speak to effectively communicate routine matters and imaginations – the mother tongues
‘artificial and universal’ language we use to efficiently and effectively communicate logically connected ideas – mathematics; many things are highly effectively and efficiently communicated mathematically, compared to natural languages and art (just as feeling are best expressed in natural languages)