This paper discusses a teaching dilemma faced by mathematics teachers in the Malaysian Chinese primary schools in coping with the latest changes in language policy. In 2003, Malaysia launched a new language policy of teaching mathematics using English as the language of instruction in all schools. However, due to the complex sociocultural demands of the Malaysian Chinese community, mathematics is taught in both Mandarin and English in the Malaysian Chinese primary schools. Teachers faced the dilemma of code-switching between English and Mandarin particularly in low-performing classes. A substantial amount of class time was spent in translating, especially the mathematical terminologies. Findings of this study imply that further research studies are needed to examine the effectiveness of teaching mathematics bilingually versus monolingually in a Malaysian context.

Key words

bilingual issues code-switching language and mathematics language of instruction Malaysian Chinese primary school teaching dilemma 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Adler, J. (1998). A language of teaching dilemma: Unlocking the complex multilingual secondary mathematics classroom. For the Learning of Mathematics, 18(1), 24–33.Google Scholar
  2. Adler, J. (1999). The dilemma of transparency: Seeing and seeing through talk in the mathematics classroom. Journal for Research in Mathematics Education, 30(1), 47–64.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Adler, J. (2001). Teaching mathematics in multilingual classrooms. Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic.Google Scholar
  4. Baker, C. (1993). Foundations of bilingual education and bilingualism. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters.Google Scholar
  5. Baroody, A. J. (1993). Problem solving, reasoning and communicating, K-8: Helping children think mathematically. New York: Macmillan.Google Scholar
  6. Chapman, K. (2009). It is Bahasa again. The Star, 9 July, p. 2.Google Scholar
  7. Choong, K. F. (2004). English for the teaching of mathematics and science (ETeMS): From concept to implementation. Retrieved January 1, 2009, from http://eltcm.org/eltc/resource_pabank.asp.
  8. Clarkson, P. C. (1991). Bilingualism and mathematics learning. Geelong: Deakin University Press.Google Scholar
  9. Clarkson, P. C. (2006). Australian Vietnamese students learning mathematics: High ability bilinguals and their use of languages. Educational Studies in Mathematics, 64, 191–215.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Clarkson, P. C., & Galbraith, P. (1992). Bilingualism and mathematics learning: Another perspective. Journal for Research in Mathematics Education, 23, 34–44.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Cummins, J. (1979). Linguistic interdependence and the educational development of bilingual children. Review of Educational Research, 49(2), 222–251.Google Scholar
  12. Cummins, J. (1980). The entry and exist fallacy in bilingual education. In C. Baker & N. H. Hornberger (Eds.), [Selections, 2001]. An introductory reader to the writings of Jim Cummins (pp. 110–138). Clevedon: Multilingual Matters. Original source: NABE Journal, vol. 4, pp. 25–60. NABE, Washington.Google Scholar
  13. Cummins, J. (1981). Bilingualism and minority: Language children. Toronto: OISE Press.Google Scholar
  14. Cummins, J. (2000). Language, power and pedagogy: Bilingual children in the crossfire. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters.Google Scholar
  15. Dawe, L. (1983). Bilingualism and mathematics reasoning in English as a second language. Educational Studies in Mathematics, 14, 325–353.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Ellerton, N. F., & Clarkson, P. C. (1996). Language factors in mathematics teaching and learning. In A. J. Bishop, M. A. Clements, C. Keitel, J. Kilpatrick, & C. Laborde (Eds.), International handbook of mathematics education (pp. 987–1033). Dordrecht: Kluwer.Google Scholar
  17. Gerber, A., Engelbrecht, J., Harding, A., & Rogan, J. (2005). The influence of second language teaching on undergraduate mathematics performance. Mathematics Education Research Journal, 17, 3–21.Google Scholar
  18. Gonzalez, A. (1996). Using two/three languages in Philippine classrooms: Implication for policies, strategies and practices. Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development, 17(2–4), 210–219.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Lim, C. S. (2000). Cultural Differences and mathematics teaching in Malaysia. Paper presented in the 9th International Congress on Mathematics Education [ICME-9]. Topic Group 22: Mathematics Education in Southeast Asia. Retrieved from http://www.math.admu.edu.ph/tsg22/lim.html.
  20. Lim, C. S., & Chee, K. M. (2005). Teaching mathematics in English: Problems and challenges faced by mathematics teachers. Paper presented at the TED ELTC EteMS Conference 2005: Fostering Schools that Learn, Subang, Selangor, 22–24 November.Google Scholar
  21. Lim, C. S., Kor, L. K., Tan, K. E., & Chew, C. M., (2009). Language used in bilingual primary mathematics classrooms. Paper accepted for presentation at the 5th Asian Mathematical Conference, 22–26 June, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.Google Scholar
  22. Lim, C. S., Saleh, F., & Tang, K. N. (2007). The teaching and learning of mathematics and science in english: The perspectives of primary school administrators, teachers and pupils. Centre for Malaysian Chinese Studies Research Paper Series No. 3, Kuala Lumpur.Google Scholar
  23. Lim, C. S., & Wun, T. Y. (2003). Teaching mathematics in English: Are our mathematics teachers ready? Paper presented at the International Conference on Science and Mathematics Education, University of Malaya, 14–16 October.Google Scholar
  24. Mercer, N. (1995). The guided construction of knowledge: Talk among teachers and learners. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters.Google Scholar
  25. Poon, A. Y. K. (2004). Language policy of Hong Kong: Its impact on language education and language use in post-handover Hong Kong. Journal of Taiwan Normal University: Humanities & Social Sciences, 49(1), 53–74.Google Scholar
  26. Rahman, H. A., Nordin, A., Isa, M., Puteh, F., Muhammad, F., Majid, M. A., et al. (2005). Teachers’ competency in the teaching of mathematics in English in Malaysian secondary schools. In A. Rogerson (Ed.), Proceedings of the 8th International Conference: Reform, revolution and paradigm shifts in mathematics education (pp. 31–36). Johor Bahru: Universiti Teknology Malaysia.Google Scholar
  27. Random House. (2006). Unabridged dictionary. New York: Random House.Google Scholar
  28. Rowe, S. (2004). Discourse in activity and activity as discourse. In R. Rogers (Ed.), An introduction to critical discourse analysis in education. Mahwah, N.J.: Erlbaum Associates.Google Scholar
  29. Rusnani, M. S. (2003, May). Perubahan dan cabaran perlaksanaan pengajaran dan pembelajaran sains dan matematik dalam bahasa Inggeris (PPSMI). [Changes and Challenges in the implementation of teaching and learning science and mathematics in English]. Paper presented at the Forum of Teaching and Learning of Mathematics and Science in English, Universiti Sains Malaysia, Penang, Malaysia.Google Scholar
  30. Setati, M. (1998). Code-switching in a senior primary class of second-language mathematics learners. For the Learning of Mathematics, 18(1), 34–40.Google Scholar
  31. Setati, M. (2005). Teaching mathematics in a primary multilingual classroom. Journal for Research in Mathematics Education, 36(5), 447–466.Google Scholar
  32. Tan, L. E. (2006). Kesediaan guru sekolah rendah dalam perlaksanaan penggunaan bahasa Inggeris untuk mengajar mata pelajaran sains dan matematik. [The readiness of primary school teachers in implementing the use of English language to teach mathematics and science subjects.] Unpublished Master of Education Project Report, Universiti Sains Malaysia.Google Scholar
  33. Vygotsky, L. S. (1978). Mind and society: The development of higher mental processes. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  34. Yip, D. Y., & Tsang, W. K. (2007). Evaluation of the effects of the medium of instruction on science learning of Hong Kong secondary students: Students. International Journal of Science and Mathematics Education, 5, 393–413. National Science Council, Taiwan.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© National Science Council, Taiwan 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Educational StudiesUniversiti Sains MalaysiaMindenMalaysia
  2. 2.Illinois State UniversityNormalUSA

Personalised recommendations