Review Article

Complexities of translating mathematics tasks from English to learners’ home languages

Nkosinathi Mpalami
Pythagoras | Vol 43, No 1 | a560 | DOI: | © 2022 Nkosinathi Mpalami | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 25 May 2020 | Published: 18 January 2022

About the author(s)

Nkosinathi Mpalami, Department of Mathematics, Natural Sciences, and Technology Education, Faculty of Education, University of the Free State, Phuthaditjhaba, South Africa


Mathematics education remains problematic in South Africa’s schools. However, some mathematics educators are deliberately using learners’ home languages in tasks to assist learners to understand mathematics. Research-based evidence shows that learners’ home languages when used as a resource have a potential to enhance learners’ understanding of mathematics. This article addresses the issue of translating mathematics tasks from English to learners’ home languages, a field that is less common in mathematics education studies. The study shows that there are complexities associated with such translation which all stakeholders in education should bear in mind. The article does so by referring to a study where a Grade 11 mathematics educator in a multilingual class tried to use learners’ home languages in tasks with an aim to enhance learners’ understanding of linear programming concepts. The study was conducted in township school in Gauteng province. Ethical clearance was given by the Gauteng Department of Education. Data were collected through observations and were analysed qualitatively. The situated sociocultural perspectives guided the study. The findings show that during the translation process, the educator went as far as translating mathematics technical terms. Such translation distorted the meaning of the original task and therefore made it hard for learners to comprehend concepts as envisioned. The recommendation is that the translation should not be left to individual mathematics educators but rather there should be a broader approach of having mathematics tasks translated from English into other official languages and such tasks be distributed to all schools throughout the country. Professional translators must also be contracted to do such a job.


Multilingual classrooms; linear programming; home languages; mother tongue; mathematics tasks; translated tasks


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