>From MIT, here’s an interesting story about a South American tribe that does not have any words for numbers. Their only two quantity-related words are analagous to “some” and “many”. The wikipedia article on the language states that the researchers were not able to teach the concept of “1+1=2”. I think this is interesting in that it states that math can be a learned concept and is not as intuitive as you think.
I think the other thing that’s interesting is that once you’re older and your brain has completed mature development, some functions appear to be locked out for good. At this point, there would be little hope of me learning to speak chinese fluently because while I may have been born with the capacity to learn that skill, my brain developed in a different manner.
However, I have a one-year-old son (15 months), and it’s amazing how fast he can learn a large variety of skills. The brain at that age is so flexible that he learns things much faster than any adult. It only takes him a couple repetitions to learn a new word in a book, only a couple of times with that book before the word becomes permanent, about a couple dozen repetitions over the course of a couple days to a week to learn a new hand sign, The problem is, he can’t read, write or directly affect much of what he’s learning, and when you look at a day-old infant, you know they’re starting from square one. I mean, a newborn doesn’t even know that those things that occasionally scratch his face are his own hands.
That’s where parents and caregivers come in, to make sure he experiences the ideas, concepts, and skills crucial to modern life.
I’m going to do some math related experiments and see how it goes. Any ideas for what you can do with a one year old? He can point to stuff, says ten words, knows 15 american sign language (ASL) signs, can follow simple commands like “can you put your shoes on the steps please?” or “let’s pick up your books and put them on the shelf”.
I’m thinking you could put out different groups of stuff to teach numbers like have on the left “one block” and on the right “two blocks”, show him the piles, ask him which one is “two blocks”, etc. Later, you can line up them in the opposite direction so you make sure he’s not confusing the concept with left/right. He’s going to learn math, because it’s important in our society today.
Which brings us back to the Piraha tribe of South America. As a hunter-gatherer tribe, they possibly had no need for numbers or mathematics. When they were young, their parents spent time teaching them concepts, tools, and knowledge that would help them with their life, and, strange as it may seem to us, math wasn’t part of it.