Teachers from UK shocked by Chinese multiplication table

From Sina:


The teachers from UK asking questions

January 17th, An English delegation of more than 50 teachers and deans from top 25 middle schools and primary school in UK came to Ningbo city in Zhejiang Province to attend math classes for learning and sharing.

They went to two schools: Ningbo Wanli International School and Ningbo Gaoxin Foreign Language School.

One UK headmasters said that Chinese kids’ are well known for their math abilities in the world. Teachers in UK always puzzled about why always the Chinese kids got the first prize in international math competitions? They came all the way here to China, aiming to bring some insights back about the math teaching.

Until the afternoon yesterday, they had listened four math classes. The result is that, they were totally shocked by the multiplication table and Chinese kids’ math skills.

Standing all the time through listening

During the math classes yesterday, the chairs for the UK teachers were all left unseated. They walked into the students, checking their textbooks, notebooks, and took photos with their cellphones. The Chinese kids did not let them down.


On student went to the stage and quickly wrote the correct answer of 24. This student said the answer can be quickly concluded through the use of multiplication table. The 12 teachers at the scene were surprised by the method.

One English teacher said they don’t have such multiplication table in UK. If they want to solve the problem above, the process will be like this:

10×3=30,10×3=30,4×3=12,then add them up and get 24.

For this kind of problem, students in UK will have to learn through several lessons to solve them successfully.

But for kids, is it too hard to apply the Chinese way of education? One English teacher did not think so. He thought the standard of English education is too low.

Fail to learn the multiplication table, because of the pronunciation

After the math classes, UK teachers showed their interests in learning the multiplication table. But the dean of primary school, Zheng said that the multiplication table was a traditional method in China which cannot be easily learned by English teachers because of the pronunciation.

The multiplication table has five Chinese characters maximum, and is very clear at a glance. But when translated into English, the sentences will be too long. For example, “九九八十一” is translated as “nine nine eighty one”.

Although they failed to learn that, the experience was valuable. The teachers said that they were going to document this investigation into files and report them to the Department of Education of UK, which they hoped would be helpful to the primary math education in UK.

  1. Chinese kids are good at higher order multiplication and division only because they are forced to learn it by heart. And I do not agree that it is necessarily a good idea to learn it that way, I believe forcing kids to learn stuff this way destroys creativity and limits actual conceptual intuition.

    And the idea that it can not be learned by English speakers because of pronunciation is absurd. I agree that “九九八十一” is easier than “nine thousand nine hundred and eighty one” and that is why it is never written that way, it is obviously always written as 9981 in multiplication tables…

    1. Agree.
      To try to infer that English speakers can’t use their super secret table because our words are too long is ridiculous; we have number symbols too! 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 and 0.

    2. “the idea that it can not be learned by English speakers” or whiteys.

      Imaging how hard this would be for blacks and French speaking people?

      But Indians are good at miming english so they can learn “九九八十一” faster.

    3. 九九八十一 doesn’t mean 9981, it means 9×9=81. Because kids know they are learning multiplication tables they don’t need bother to list/read/state out the “times” and “equals”. Equivalent in English would be something like “nine nines eighty one.” I don’t see why this is so mysterious. It is just memorizing basic multiplication. The question is how high does it go? When I was in elementary school in the US, we also had to memorize the multiplcation tables, but only up to 12×12. My daughter is in second grade in an international school in Beijing that also teaches the local math curriuculum, and as far as I can tell they have only gone up to 10×10. And yes, she can recite the entire multiplication table in Chinese but again, it isn’t anything terrible advanced or mysterious.

    4. You can’t say it is “forced” simply because of it needs to be remembered by heart.
      Basic calculation is an essential tool for further reasoning and logical test at later stagein math.
      It is a basic skill to have, just like spelling.

      Can you remember how you learnt to spell? did you remember them?
      Or do you think of the original Latin letters and evolving stories when everytime you spell?

    5. it’s the language, we have mono syllabus words for each one digit number, unlike the word “seven” which is clumsy, and our double digit numbers make sense and consistent, ten-one instead of eleven, or fuenfundzwanzig of german, where you switch the side of first and second digit to make it complex.
      it’s not memorization, but the language itself.

  2. I am an american of a certain age. Old enough to remember that we learned multiplication tables in elementary schoolback in the 1960s. I did very well in arithmetic and can estimate discounted cash flows in my head to a fair degree of accuracy.

    I have a PhD in Engineering and that skill amazes the youngsters.

  3. English students are taught to question, challenge and think for themselves — not learn things by repetition.

    1. That’s why in the west most students get a passing mark for doing nothing but dreaming in class.

      And many times they don’t need to show up for classes to get a passing grade.

      1. this comment is based on your deep knowledge of every other country’s education system gained from extensive practical experience?

    2. That is a myth. I am teaching college classes in the US. Today’s American students are just horrible in everything. We cannot find the so called creativity there.

  4. So they have to go to China to find out that they don’t learn the multiplication tables ? They could simply go to france instead, as we learn them in primary school too. And it doesnt make us better in math.

  5. In the UK, these days, students are taught something called ‘chunking’, that apparently raises numeracy rates as it is makes a variety of mathematical problems easier to tackle. It is of limited use at higher levels of mathematics, but it suits primary needs well enough. So the UK has moved away from the rote learning of multiplication tables that I learnt as a kid. I remember being something like six or seven years old, endlessly reciting my tables, week after week. The format was very much like the Chinese; we’d say “once two is two, two twos are four, three twos are six…” and so on. We didn’t bother with ‘ones’ for obvious reasons, and we went up to twelves (so, “twelve twelves are a hundred and forty four”, being the highest we’d go). It still serves me well, today.

    I have seen British kids, today, plough through long multiplication and long division in seconds using the ‘chunking’ method (and I can’t find any good argument against that, as it seems to be fit for purpose), but when I see them fail at what ought to be simple mental arithmatic I can’t help but worry about their grasp of the fundamentals.

    Seperately, it seems fairly common in China to dismiss foreigners’ interest in Chinese ways by simply saying that it is too difficult for foreigners. Well, I’m sorry, but if it’s easy enough for a primary school student in China, then guess what? it’s not too difficult for me. Whenever I came up against this in the years that I spent living there, I found, ultimately, that what the teachers really meant was that they found it difficult to explain to foreigners. They teach children in a very direct style – it is written on the board and students must recite it, copy it and remember it – they seldom have to explain it. Get over that barrier and you can actually have some very productive sharing and learning going on.

  6. I learned the Chinese method for multiplication tables and I have to say, it is darned useful. For some reason, it is easy to memorize and it has stuck with me all this time.

    I also want to learn the Japanese method for multiplying numbers where you cross numbers on a line to get the answer.

    Honestly, don’t get why UK teachers are shocked. It’s been taught for so long. But I don’t think this style would translate well to english

  7. so the English education system sucks? I have never heard of anyone intentionally teaching a student

    “10×3=30,10×3=30,4×3=12,then add them up and get 24.”

    1. They are teaching that to my kids right now (elementary), when I saw that I was like what the heck is this mess. What happened to knowing something? I’m all for breaking something down for smaller kids but what happens when they just need to know it? There will be times they won’t be able to over think it. It’s a bit scary. I’m teaching them myself the basic memorization, because I think it’s needed. I just don’t get the way America seems to think our kids are too dumb to do any better than they are. No body pushes for the best anymore. And if we don’t encourage them to give their best, they’ll never try. Just my opinion.

  8. The ability to memorize the multiplication table does not make someone good at math. This is only part of being good at mathematics. Another component of mathematics is the ability to reason and to solve properly using logic and analysis.

    However, memorizing the table well can allow someone to solve problems quicker as all the calculations can be done swiftly.

    Concluding that someone’s mathematics skills is advanced based mainly on the fact that they can memorize tables is like concluding that someone is intelligent based on their ability to speak.

  9. Bring some languages or humanities teachers from UK to a Chinese school and see them shocked for totally different reasons…

    1. yes,.i agree, i would be shocked by how the brits killed many indians in amritsar massacre.

    1. 70% of students in the US aren’t testing up to standards. It’s not that they’re coddled – it’s also because the US invests in their childrens’ education. It’s too easy to be a teacher in the States and many people had teaching as a backup career – they care jack squat about teaching. And a lot of the kids are from low income areas.

      I’m studying to be a teacher and I HATE when it is the kids, the victims, who are blamed by the adults

      1. The reason education standards are abysmally low in the U.S. is due to cultural Marxism, as originally designed by the Frankfurt school. We don’t want the non-white kids to feel stupid, since that would “raysuss,” so the solution is to make idiots out of everyone.

  10. I still remember learning this when I was in elementary school in China, it has stuck with me for all these years. It is a form of rote learning, in which the Chinese kids are forced to do lots of. Recently, I went back to China and was astonished to see how much my little cousin is required to memorize for his studies. A lot of it is useless stuff especially in the internet age where one could simply look it up in a search engine. Regardless, I find it encouraging to see westerners come to China for exchanges in learning opportunities whether it is in something the Chinese are stereotypically good at like math is besides the point. I know the university I graduated from also first went to China for math students, it helps open up the doors for the Chinese students in other fields.

  11. when i was young my parents made me recite it but now as i am older i realise it is more of a rhyme when reciting the multiplication table using the chinese technique.

    i sometimes forget but when i go through the multiplication table slowly i get it right because the rhyme sounds right.

  12. Americans are good at the Olympics where they strive to be the best even if that includes steroids and taking drugs. But when it comes to academics, they easily give up.

  13. Chinese people are good at math, yes, and they are equally good at walking by dying people on the street and doing nothing to help. Math is math, humanity is something altogether different.

    1. Well, of course they don’t help. If they do, chances are the dying person will magically come to life and blame them for having tried to kill them, then sue them for all they’ve got.

    2. well anything we say about china u can relate to this, we are talking about maths here, you are talking about an issue totally irrelevant which u dont even understand where the root of the problem is.-

  14. Everyone that protects Americans: tell me how your country is awesome. Your soldiers kill for oil, your government is corrupt to the core (to the point you’re almost living in communism, without realizing), your education system is awful. You’re mere puppets. You think U.S.A. ‘s education system allows students to be creative? It’s just another thing that makes them uneducated. In school, they don’t learn anything. At home, they watch T.V. , spend time on the Internet and eat. Please, tell me more how that makes them free and creative.

    You’re nothing more than sheep.

    1. That’s funny, a Chinese robot calling us “sheep.” Meanwhile, in your country, you sell your own children, kill them, treat them like trash, don’t give a flying fuck about anyone but yourselves, you are the most selfish, self-centered, ignorant, unfeeling bunch of numb automatons one has ever seen. And for all the talk of “math,” you’re all stupid as shit, too. Go to any average university, choose a student at random and ask him to find Russia on a map.

      I have no idea where this bullshit stereotype comes from about Chinese being “good at math.” It’s probably because the few that do make it here are the truly soulless automatons who spent their entire lives in the library and had their first girlfriend at twenty-five. The average Chinese university student is about as smart and capable of critical thought as a log of wood.

      1. You have Obamacare. hahaha…

        Can you even make healthcare.gov work after spending billions of dollars?

        Give the DEM another 8 years after 2016, then no one can stop the rise of China. Liberals will take care of everything, including the 17T debts (maybe 25T in 2020).

  15. This reminds me…I totally think in English now, and have for years – but I still count in Chinese!

  16. Both the West and the East have good and bad points when it comes to education. I think children needs play time and room to be creative, but some things, ‘building blocks’, needs to be memorized. Alphabetic letters needs to be memorized, multiplication tables needs to be memorized – only when you have these in your head can do something more complicated with them.

  17. I never feel that learning multiplications need skill to remember it. I often saw various methods from different part of the world. Methods methods methods, why the hell, we need it? It is photographic mind that help it during my childhood years. Having various methods make our kids look stupid.

    1. Photographic memories have been disproven to exist. And for the record, the petty squabbling and racism is nothing short of disgusting here. Can’t we all accept that in any education system, there are many flaws? I am a product of the English education system. I am intelligent. My subject is Maths. I use – this will blow all your minds – NEITHER METHOD. Guess what? Tiny little calculations like that can be done so quickly by me and my peers that we just do them. So from a university perspective: you all look like idiots down there.

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