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Media: Re: Welsh Counting System Makes Maths Easier

Submitter: Briony Williams

Submitter Email:
Linguistic Field(s): Applied Linguistics

Media Body: > A report on the Welsh-language BBC Cymru site reports research by Ann
> Dowker and others at Oxford University into maths skills among children,
> which may show that Welsh children find basic mathematical concepts easier
> due to the Welsh counting system. The traditional Welsh counting system is
> vigesimal, but another system, using forms like 'un deg tri' (one ten
> three) for 13, 'dau ddeg tri' (two ten three) for 23, is in widespread use.
> The report (in Welsh) can be read below. I've been unable to find a link
> to an English language version.

Here's my own quick translation of it (below).


Briony Williams


Mathematics: easier in Welsh

The Welsh words for numbers provide more clues to their composition.

Recent research suggests that small children learn to count more easily in
Welsh than in English.

Researchers from the University of Oxford have run experiments with six-
and eight-year-old children in schools with varying languages of
instruction [Welsh or English].

The results show that there is an understanding of basic number concepts
among those who are taught in Welsh.

The reason is that the words conveying the concept of number are clearer in
Welsh than in English.

For example, it is easier for Welsh children to understand that the numbers
10 and three create 13, since 13 [“un deg tri”, literally “one ten three”]
is the numeral in writing and in speech.

The researchers’ argument is that it is harder for English children since
there are not the same clues available in the word ‘thirteen’.

The results of the research are published in the new issue of the bilingual
journal “Trafodion Addysg – Education Transactions” – which is published by
the University of Wales, Bangor.

“From one point of view, these results are not surprising at all”, said
Professor Gareth Roberts, one of the editors of the journal.

“Some of the languages of the Pacific Rim countries, such as Japan, China
and Korea, use a counting pattern similar to Welsh, and everyone knows of
the high standards of maths in these countries”.

The research work was carried out by Ann Dowker, Research Lecturer in the
Department of Experimental Psychology, University of Oxford, and Delyth
Lloyd, postgraduate researcher at the University of Oxford.

The journal also contains an article by Dylan Jones, lecturer in the School
of Education and Lifelong Learning, University of Wales, Aberystwyth,
tracing the history of maths teaching in Welsh.
Issue Number: 16.3667
Date Posted: December 22, 2005