Reading and writing mathematics

Els De Geest | View as single page | Feedback/Impact

Cultural influences on mathematics learning which can affect mathematical literacy

Mathematics is not the same all over the world. There are some differences between cultures that affects the reading and writing of mathematics. Some of these differences are:

  • Numerals: for example using commas instead of points; the different order and differnent way in which you verbalize numbers, for example: in English 47 is read as 'fourty seven'. In Dutch (translated in English) 47 is read as 'seven and fourty'.
  • Money: some countries do not have decimals in their money system (eg Japan, the old Italian lire). Confusion also over non-decimal words eg nickel and dime in US
  • Fractions: in some countries, emphasis is on decimals, so fractions are alien.
  • Measurement: metric system, imperial system,....
  • Some cultures no representation of some concepts. Eg in Belgium the concept of ratio does not exist, only proportion (more examples on p60, Kersaint et al, 2013)


  • Adams, T. (2003). Reading Mathematics: More than Words Can Say. The Reading Teacher, (8), 786. doi:10.2307/20205297
  • Kersaint, G., Thompson, D. R., & Petkova, M. (2013). Teaching mathematics to English language learners (2nd Edition). New York: Routledge.