The Problem with Math Is English

October 30, 2012
Austin, Texas

Laura Shankland
Communications Associate
Phone: 512-391-6556

Concepción Molina remembers the first time his elementary school teacher gave the class a column of numbers and asked them to “add them up.” He followed the directions and wrote the answer at the top.

“When I was done, my teacher told me that I was supposed to write the answer at the bottom of the column, not the top,” he says. “I still remember wondering why I was asked to add the numbers up if I was supposed to write my answer at the bottom. Shouldn’t that be adding down?” Since Spanish was the primary language spoken at his home, Molina learned math and English at the same time and often noticed these linguistic inconsistencies as his education continued.

Molina went on to become a high school math teacher and then pursue an Ed.D. in educational leadership. His experience and work encouraged him to focus on the role of language and symbolism in learning and understanding mathematics. The result is his book, The Problem With Math Is English: A Language-Focused Approach to Helping All Students Develop a Deeper Understanding of Mathematics.

The book explores math concepts through the lenses of language and symbolism and aims to give teachers the tools to help students understand mathematical concepts at a deeper level. Molina challenges beginning and veteran educators alike to think about how language like “the bigger half” (in fractions) or “how many times does 2 go into 8” (in division) can confuse students.

At a time when business leaders are calling for better math skills among workers in many industries while many students are still struggling to master simple mathematics concepts, Molina offers a refreshing perspective on effective mathematics instruction: keep it simple yet deep, think about the language you’re using, and make sure students develop a real understanding of the concept rather than memorize an algorithm.

About SEDL

SEDL (formerly Southwest Educational Development Laboratory) is a nonprofit corporation based in Austin, Texas. SEDL is dedicated to solving significant education problems and improving teaching and learning through research, research-based resources, and professional development. For more information about SEDL, visit