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Languages vs mathematics


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There is a stereotype (at least, it definitely exists in my country) that humanities (languages, literature, history) and sciences (maths, physics, chemistry) are mutually exclusive: if a person is good at one, he/she is bad at the other.

What do you think about that?

Of course, it's just a generalization and everyone knows people who are talented in many various areas. What's more, the part of the brain responsible for languages is also responsible for logic and mathematics.

Still, I think there's no smoke without a fire. Unfortunately, I fit into this stereotype perfectly - maths had been my numer 1 school nightmare, and I could never understand physics, however hard I tried.

What about you?

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I just know that in high school i was good in English (and languages in general, i had high votes in Latin too)  but i used to suck in Maths....i don't even know why i have chosen a Scientific high school lol

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I don't think necessarily if someone is good at math they are bad at English.  However, I do think most people have a stronger subject.  I think I am pretty good at math (it is definitely my stronger subject) however, I am very bad at science.  I am a Finance and Economic major, but ask me to take a chemistry class and I will fail miserably. 

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Some exposure to linguistics (in fact, many of the social sciences) is enough to blur the lines between "soft" and "hard" subjects. If you want to understand the structure of languages, mathematics is the perfect tool, since it's all about abstractions and patterns; set theory and logic are particularly useful. If you want to do any sort of linguistic analysis, you'll have to get your hands dirty with tons of data and statistics. Also, as Wanda Kaishin pointed above, mathematics itself is a language, but that's one of its aspects which is often ignored in basic education.

Most people would hate studying languages they only did grammar drills and vocabulary memorization, without any context. No culture to engage with, no people to talk to, no relevance outside the classroom. You're not there to learn "how" to speak, you learn "what" to speak. It sounds like a terrible way to teach a language, but that's how mathematics is taught in most schools (in my country, at least).

Edited by magnum
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This is a false stereotype, as most stereotypes are. I'm good at math, physics, chemistry and languages. Math is often called a language. The stereotype makes no sense, but I've heard it before.

I agree, I think you brought up a very valid point. Maths can be considered a language in it's own right, even though when most people think of maths the first thing that pops into their heads is arithmetic. Maths is much more then that and that old idea that two mathematicians might not understand each others language but are able to communicate with one another through mathematical ideas can be valid.

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I am better in language than math but I am not bad in the latter either. I would say I am average in math but above average in language. I do not believe in that stereotyping because my daughter is really excellent in both fields. Points proving the case are her school performances in those areas. in her IGCSEs, she got A* in all subjects - all sciences, maths and English. In French, she got A but that is certainly not bad at all. Right now, her high-level subjects are maths and physics. English and French are two of her standard subjects, but it is because that's her choice and that's what she needs in the university next year. 

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I really envy all those people who are at ease with both learning a new language and solving mathematical problems :(

For me, those are worlds apart, and it's probably hopeless cases like mine that lead to creation of such stereotypes.

However, as KimmyMarkks mentioned, most people have stronger and weaker areas. I believe that all of us can learn any subject but the amount of time and effort will depend on one's "natural" talents. Something that'll take you two weeks may take me two years. But it's the end result that matters, right? :)

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I can totally relate to what you said @anna3101. Maths was the most hated subject in school for me, and thankfully I only had it until the 10th grade, because I was on a humanities specialization during high school. Chemistry is another topic I will never ever totally understand. Physics is quite OK if you put your mind into learning it properly. But the fact remains that some people are naturally talented to master either humanities or sciences. And I`m definitely not a sciences person. :D

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  • 2 months later...
On 10/11/2015, 12:27:27, Chris_A said:

I can totally relate to what you said @anna3101. Maths was the most hated subject in school for me, and thankfully I only had it until the 10th grade, because I was on a humanities specialization during high school. Chemistry is another topic I will never ever totally understand. Physics is quite OK if you put your mind into learning it properly. But the fact remains that some people are naturally talented to master either humanities or sciences. And I`m definitely not a sciences person. :D

I hate Physics or maybe because I hated my teacher but Chemistry was okay for me. I'm not a science person too and was an average kid in Science and math during my school days. But I love languages. Learning a new language not only help you memorize things, it helps you understand not just a particular branch of knowlege but also people who speak that language, their culture and feelings too. It's fascinating to learn new things through language. If you're good in science, math, physics, learning is limited unless you're a naturally curious person like Einstein. Well. perhaps learning a new language is my strength and science and math is my weakness. I really hate working with numbers. If mathematics is a language, I'll probably be deaf. :lol:

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  • 3 weeks later...

In my opinion it is just about ´exceptions´.   I am a very math-type person and was up to like calculus in college.   But when it comes to learning languages, the fact that there are so many exceptions to every rule that it annoys me.  I like to see patterns, then be able to predict the future because of what I have seen.  For instance, verb endings in spanish.. are all over the place and there are more exceptions then there are cases where stuff follows the rules.   I think that is the real issue.. some people just like to learn by learning others like to learn by developing patterns to be predictive.  It is funny because I had latin in college, and it was one of the easiest languages for me to learn because the grammar is very strict and almost ´math-like´    There was no ´ I before E except after C´ stuff.   I mean crack open a spanish book and see how many ´irregular verbs´ there are compared to regular verbs.  For usage, it is probably 50-50

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I think they are somewhat similar. The way you learn mathematics is the same way you learn new languages, through lots of practice and memorization.

That being said, I still hated learning most sciences such as chemistry, physics and biology, while I've always enjoyed learning maths and new languages in high school. I think that these two work your brain in the same manner. You need to both be able to reproduce information (formulas in mathematics, words in languages), and to be able to use them in a certain manner, to solve problems or to create sentences.

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In my country, primary schools generally put children into 2 categories: "the language kid" and "the mathematics kid".
Bad idea in my opinion, this could possibly motivate a 'language kid' to become better at mathematics, but it could also prevent them from doing so.
Same with the 'mathematics kid'.

Of course you may be more interested in language than in maths (or vice versa), but I think you should let the kids decide for themselves.
In the end, 'language kids' and 'mathematics kids' don't exist, it's just a matter of their passion to either of the 2 subjects, and both can still get better in the other subject, making these categories entirely meaningless.

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Great topic, Ania!     Personally speaking I've noticed one thing, I am very good with algebra, but not good at all with trigonometry.  That subject was always the most difficult one for me, same goes with geometry.  I've a hard time grasping strange characters and symbols, no idea if it's because of my neurological issue or what.  Languages have always been easier for me :)   I was a bit afraid of math before because of that evil teacher who humiliated me in front of the entire class.  

 

Thankfully another teacher I met much later made me lose my fear to math,  and I started to like algebra :)  Until then I thought I was so bad at math, but it was just fear!  So who knows, maybe those who are good at languages are good at math too, but they don't know it yet ;)  After all most people think of math as a difficult subject. 

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I'm never good with languages! I even failed my Communication I class, haha! But cruel destiny put me in a line of work that deal mostly with writing, grammar, coherence, etc.. However, I'm pretty decent with Math. I love Algebra, Trigonometry and Calculus. Not so with Geometry, Physics, and Chemistry though.

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On 05/02/2016, 19:57:05, Blaveloper said:

In my country, primary schools generally put children into 2 categories: "the language kid" and "the mathematics kid".
Bad idea in my opinion, this could possibly motivate a 'language kid' to become better at mathematics, but it could also prevent them from doing so.
Same with the 'mathematics kid'.

Of course you may be more interested in language than in maths (or vice versa), but I think you should let the kids decide for themselves.
In the end, 'language kids' and 'mathematics kids' don't exist, it's just a matter of their passion to either of the 2 subjects, and both can still get better in the other subject, making these categories entirely meaningless.

That is a terrible idea, how can you create two groups like this. What if someone is good at the two areas do they cut them in half and put half in each group?

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I'm guessing that the stereotype came from the fact that the two sides of the brain are used for processing different parts of math and language. It is definitely possible to be good in both with sufficient practice. Usually, right handed people work their left-side brain more often and are better at those tasks. Left handed people are generally more creative. This is not to say that they can't be switched. The same thing goes for language and math as well.

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14 hours ago, R34Linguist said:

I'm guessing that the stereotype came from the fact that the two sides of the brain are used for processing different parts of math and language. It is definitely possible to be good in both with sufficient practice. Usually, right handed people work their left-side brain more often and are better at those tasks. Left handed people are generally more creative. This is not to say that they can't be switched. The same thing goes for language and math as well.

From what I've heard, language and maths are processed by the same (left) side of the brain, so theoretically speaking, those of us who are good with words should also be fine with formulas and equations. Or has the science found something new on the topic?

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  • 1 month later...
On 07/02/2016 at 9:31 PM, R34Linguist said:

I'm guessing that the stereotype came from the fact that the two sides of the brain are used for processing different parts of math and language. It is definitely possible to be good in both with sufficient practice. Usually, right handed people work their left-side brain more often and are better at those tasks. Left handed people are generally more creative. This is not to say that they can't be switched. The same thing goes for language and math as well.

Yes it is, there was great scientist that won the noble physics prize in 1922. If we have to go according to this notion of stereo types that's all he could do, the thing is he also won a Olympic gold medal. His name was Niels Bohr. I don't think people should put kids into one or other type of group.

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I am good in both English and Math, although I'm better in Math. My siblings are just good in Math, and they find English hard. I think my Math skills are innate, and English skill was just honed through the years of my work experience where we have to talk in English all the time. In my opinion, English and Math are two skills that even if we're not naturally good at it, we can still practice and hone it. Yes, it's possible that we can be good in both.

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A bit of a polymath myself. Not too much though but i am good at both, languages and mathematics. I guess both sides of my brain are equally developed/undeveloped :). Anyway, it is a stereotype and  the thing about mathematics is  that if you do not practice you will forget some things like formulas and stuff and it is much easier to practice language, especially now days with internet. Even if you forget something about maths and you have that kind of brain that understands it in an easy way you will have no problems to start again. I never made a difference between these and I had straight As with no sweat at all. On the other hand, my sister is bad with both. So there is no rule of thumb here.

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On 18/03/2016 at 0:17 PM, djordje87 said:

A bit of a polymath myself. Not too much though but i am good at both, languages and mathematics. I guess both sides of my brain are equally developed/undeveloped :). Anyway, it is a stereotype and  the thing about mathematics is  that if you do not practice you will forget some things like formulas and stuff and it is much easier to practice language, especially now days with internet. Even if you forget something about maths and you have that kind of brain that understands it in an easy way you will have no problems to start again. I never made a difference between these and I had straight As with no sweat at all. On the other hand, my sister is bad with both. So there is no rule of thumb here.

That's what happened to me, I forgot most of my maths. It's just difficult to use it on a daily bases, the only thing that you might do is simple arithmetic, and that is just a corner stone of maths.

It's much easier to keep the languages that you have learned fresh. All you have to do is see some tv shows or a movie from the country the language is form.

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I think its complete bunk. It comes from the whole "multiple intelligences" movement that is being continually debunked by cognitive psychologists to this day. Rather, what cognitive scientists have discovered is that people are either of high or low GENERAL intelligence, and that people who score higher on G tend to be better at everything. So people who are naturally intelligent are better at languages AND science, at art AND mathematics. 

I think the multiple intelligences misconception arises from what I like to call "the price of attentional sacrifice". Mainly, the idea that whenever you focus your attention, you're neglecting to attend all other things other than that which you're focusing on. So basically, you increase your skills at whatever you attend to... but you're neglecting your skills at everything else.

Therefore, for people who are "good at music but terrible at math" - its not that they're innately bad at math, it's just that they've spent more time doing music than math, so of course they're going to be better at it. Same with people who are "good at science but art" - think about all the serious scientists that have been good at art too, I can barely think of any off the top of my head, because their attention was on SCIENCE, not ART.

However, if they were good at both, then that's probably because they're a genius, that they have high G.

But there's very few of those types of people, because those types of people are inherently geniuses.

Edited by kaiiren
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