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This is a cultural/language problem...

This is a cultural/language problem about improving math proficiency discussions with Chinese ESL students. I teach a graduate level course on introductory computer programming in a graphic design department in the United States. As usual, half of the

students are visiting from China, and have English fluency from 2 months up to 6 years with a median of 4 years. I passed out a survey asking each student to specify what his/her level of math education was. I provided a scale of math levels as I remembered

from my own American education: Arithmetic, Pre-Algebra, Algebra 1, Geometry, Algebra 2 , Trig, Precalc, Differential Calculus, Integral Calculus, Multivariable Calculus, Linear Algeba, Beyond. Most of the students reported themselves to be geometry and above,

which I can believe. However, within the group of least fluent English speakers, I saw two people choosing Arithmetic, which I'm pretty sure was the wrong answer. My goal is to somehow find the right answer, or confirm that they truly stopped at arithmetic.

One of the students who chose arithmetic asked me in person what all those math categories were, and I tried describing them to him/her the best I could, describing small examples of problems, like "geometry can be about finding the area of the intersection

of some shapes," and "algebra is like solving for X, symbolically reducing equalities". The student still chose Arithmetic, along with a student with 4 years of fluency. I looked up "chinese math levels" but did not find very much. Is there a definitive Chinese

math education system consisting of a categorical continuum? My goal is to measure how much math they know so I can better help them learn programming. I wonder if it's simply a language issue (rather than a culture clash) and I should just consult the department

ESL director and ask him to teach them what "algebra" and "geometry" mean before they come to class.

students are visiting from China, and have English fluency from 2 months up to 6 years with a median of 4 years. I passed out a survey asking each student to specify what his/her level of math education was. I provided a scale of math levels as I remembered

from my own American education: Arithmetic, Pre-Algebra, Algebra 1, Geometry, Algebra 2 , Trig, Precalc, Differential Calculus, Integral Calculus, Multivariable Calculus, Linear Algeba, Beyond. Most of the students reported themselves to be geometry and above,

which I can believe. However, within the group of least fluent English speakers, I saw two people choosing Arithmetic, which I'm pretty sure was the wrong answer. My goal is to somehow find the right answer, or confirm that they truly stopped at arithmetic.

One of the students who chose arithmetic asked me in person what all those math categories were, and I tried describing them to him/her the best I could, describing small examples of problems, like "geometry can be about finding the area of the intersection

of some shapes," and "algebra is like solving for X, symbolically reducing equalities". The student still chose Arithmetic, along with a student with 4 years of fluency. I looked up "chinese math levels" but did not find very much. Is there a definitive Chinese

math education system consisting of a categorical continuum? My goal is to measure how much math they know so I can better help them learn programming. I wonder if it's simply a language issue (rather than a culture clash) and I should just consult the department

ESL director and ask him to teach them what "algebra" and "geometry" mean before they come to class.

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