English maths tests 'confusing' Irish-speaking pupils

English maths tests 'confusing' Irish-speaking pupils

Native Irish-speaking maths students may not be displaying their true numerical knowhow when tested in English, new research revealed today.

A study found pupils moving from Gaelic-only primary schools to English-medium secondary education scored almost 9% higher when quizzed in their mother tongue.

But despite the language gap, number-crunching Irish-speakers still outperformed their classmates by 5% when tested in English.

Researcher Dr Maire Ni Riordain said a specially devised 12-question maths paper pinpointed specific translation problems encountered by the 37 participating Gaeilgeoiri.

“They may, for example, have been confused by the words ’multiple’ and ’multiply’ in one question and may have been unsure of the difference in meaning,” she said.

Dr Ni Riordain suggested tests of Gaeilgeoiri in second-level schools could be initially conducted in Irish to ensure they reflected true mathematical ability.

The University of Limerick study involved two parallel English and Irish-language word problem tests devised using standard maths textbooks for 12-year-olds.

The results revealed that Irish-speaking pupils answered four questions equally well in both languages, while one question appeared to be easier in English.

In nine questions, however, they performed 10 per cent better in their mother tongue.

A smaller survey of students in the first year of third-level education found some mathematics terms such as ’numerator’ and ’denominator’ proved tricky for Gaeilgeoiri.

“I believe this is because they would have acquired these words through the medium of Gaeilge at a young age and would not have encountered the English versions of these words,” Dr Ni Riordain said.

The findings, presented at a British Educational Research Association conference in Manchester, echoed a 2005 New Zealand study which found students with English as a second language experienced a 10 to 15% disadvantage because of language problems.

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