As a math teacher in Asia, I face the same problem day by day. My students cannot solve math problems. They just don't understand them. And I'm not talking about those 2, 3 students who would even correct their teacher, no, I'm talking about most of my students.

Word problems are at the heart of my topic; they give meaning to numbers and relate to our daily life practices. 2 times 2 doesn't mean anything, but 2 apples for $ 2 each! Mathematics and conceptualization go hand in hand.

Most of the teachers at my school seem jealous of me because teaching math is supposed to be very easy to teach in our ESL environment. Math is easy because it's about numbers, and those are universal. True, but this answer ignores the representation or perception of numbers. Math is about problem solving and requires academic reading skills.

Our school is a humble school in Thailand and, like many schools in this beautiful country, the importance of English as a global language is recognized. Physical education schools, or English programs, are proliferating in all provinces. For considerable tuition fees, young Thai people learn all subjects except Thai, of course, in English. This sounds great in terms of development and global thinking, but it carries risks.

Thai students do not speak English fluently. They actually have little English skills. International assessment studies demonstrate weak English skills, which is not really a surprise. The Thai language does not resemble English or school, and only Thai is spoken at home.

So how can students in Thailand learn school subjects like social studies, science and mathematics in English without missing the point? This is the one million question. How can teachers, school administrators, and parents expect these children to learn concepts when information delivery is not understood?

Word problems are perceived as difficult by students. It requires students to read and analyze problems in order to develop the necessary methodology. A fantastic example of such a problem is a question from my fourth grade math book:

"The entrance fee for a commercial exhibition is $ 12.40. On Monday 250 people visited the exhibition and on Tuesday 200 more people than on Monday visited the commercial exhibition. How much money was raised from entrance fees on both days?"

As is understandable, most students will have trouble with this problem. Mathematically, there are 3 steps involved: addition, again addition, and multiplication. It is not easy for a fourth grader, but the biggest challenge is not math, no, it is the language used. How can a young student relate to trade shows? And how many native English learners can correctly spell the word exposure? Now imagine the Thai students and the difficulty for teachers to explain this problem. You will spend a lot of time explaining words like trade, display, and visitors.

Author's Bio: 

As a math teacher in Asia, I face the same problem day by day.