The English Language in Science and Mathematics Learning

By: Judith B. Sabio
Head Teacher 1
West Coast High School
Calabanga, Camarines Sur

Science, may it be in any form, has a key role to national economic prosperity. It has been a universal reality that no nation can advance without foregoing and utilizing the outcome of scientific researches or their applications in the industries, military, medicine and in the other aspects of human existence, hence, it is applied in one’s practical life situations (Baylon, 2014).

On the other hand, Mathematics is equally important as it has a pervasive influence in our everyday lives. It is used in many forms of employment, science and technology, medicine, the economy, the environment and development, and in public decision-making. It equips us with a uniquely powerful set of tools such as; logical reasoning, problem solving skills, and the ability to think in abstract ways to understand and change the world. Mathematics is said to be a language that we need to be aware of and sensitive to, the way we need and use language to convey meaning (Lerio, 2006).

In another spectrum, the role of language in learning these subjects has been noted with great importance. For instance, communicating mathematical ideas is among the twelve components that are considered by the NCSM (National Council of Supervisors of Mathematics) as ‘essential’ for any successful mathematics teaching and learning (Ellerton and Clarkson, 1996). When students learn Mathematics, they do more than basic skills; they acquire a concise and powerful means of communication. Knowledge of mathematical language, structures, and operations will help students to justify their conclusions, and to express ideas clearly.

The challenges in learning these critical subject areas can be traced to the use of language as a medium of instruction. In the Philippines, these subjects are being taught in English. One of the reasons why language factor needs special attention these days is the fact that many students are currently learning mathematics in their second or third language (Austing&Howson, 1979: Ellerton& Clarkson, 1996). The reason for this is globalization, and the extensive use of the internet or information technology which literally annihilate walls and any boundary; the legacy of colonialism, and the multiplicity of local languages. This in turn narrows down the adaptability or suitability of textbooks and other learning and teaching materials to the actual learning needs of the students.

As cited of Baylon (2014), the Philippines is far beyond in achieving quality education, as shown in the UNESCO report that ranked the Philippines at the bottom of the Education Development Index, and the results of Trends International Mathematicsand Science Study (TIMMS) from 1995 to 2015. Singapore, Hong Kong SAR, Korea, Chinese Taipei, and Japan continue to outperform all participating countries, including the Philippines, in mathematics and science maintaining a 20 year edge according to the results of TIMSS, the longest running, large scale international assessment of mathematics and science education in the world (

Science is taught in Japanese, Chinese, Korean and the native languages of all those who topped the international assessment. Therefore, language has crucial role to play in communicating and developing science and mathematics education. It has formative effect on the learner’s understanding as it serves the students when they speak and reason about physical ideas and phenomena.

In a study conducted by Baylon (2014), entitled: “English and Mathematics: Determinants of Physics Achievement”, published in Asia Pacific Journal for Multidisciplinary Research, it was found that, The obtained overall correlation coefficients (rxy) between English along reading, Literature, Grammar and Speaking, and Physic were higher than the critical values of r at 0.01 and 0.05 levels of significance. These results implied that these areas in English were positively correlated with Physics. If a student is good in English he is also good in Physics. Therefore, the learning competencies in English are needed to facilitate effective understanding of Physics.

These findings were supported by the study of Lerio (2006). He found out that those who were good in English were also good in Mathematics. On the other hand, those who were poor in English were also poor in Mathematics. English is also the medium of instruction in Physics and highly mathematical; hence English was significantly related to Physics. He also stressed that the application of Gardner’s MI theory would provide a deeper understanding of the interconnection of the development of one skill with another, from verbal linguistics to logical-analytical intelligences.

The significant relationship between language and physics achievement was further illustrated by Jay Lemke (2005). He stated that the primary activity that students encounter and participate in, in a physics course, was representation. The use of language is one of the many ways of representation. Therefore, the first ability that the students have to develop is the ability to represent ideas and physical processes in different ways and to move between representations which can only happen if one is equipped with enough communication skills.

As it continues to be a dilemma in Philippine Education on how students perform in science and math, and how their knowledge and skills are utilized in developing newer technologies to fair with neighboring countries and the rest of the world, academic program developers must ascertain that learning competencies along these areas are genuinely developed.

As suggested by Taylor (2007), curriculum may be structured through strengthening the relationship between science and Mathematics and English both in terms of how the formal curriculum is expressed and in terms of day-to-day teaching and learning practices. Language-focused activities could either be incorporated into the science or Mathematics units of work or students may work on parallel language-based units of work. Language-focused activities would be part of the Mathematics and science teachers’ responsibilities. The separate language-based units of work, using science and Mathematics content, would be taught as part of the English language integrated in content teaching curriculum.Teachers must employ varied learning opportunities for the students particularly in the identified less-developed competencies. Although each subject follows a particular set of competencies, educators and managers, at least, in the division and school levels should plan and initiate an integration program of the three (3) key areas to ensure that what must be learned had been learned.