PUBLISHED: 1:15 PM on Wednesday, November 1, 2006
Counting across cultures
Mendenhall River Community School
Counting is one of those fundamental skills taught in every primary classroom across Juneau. In Greg Beck's K-1 multi-age class at Mendenhall River Community School, counting has a new twist. Students are learning other languages while they count. Dakota counts in Chinese.

RJ counts in German. Naavah counts in Tagalog. Kyle counts in Spanish.

Beck, a math specialist, has found many ways to make beginning math engaging.

His students track of the number of days spent in school, count the days left in the week, and even count each other - grouping their friends in sets of twos, threes, fives and tens. And when they've finished counting in English, they switch to languages like Mongolian, French, and Hebrew.

As a reference for cross cultural math lessons, Beck relies on "Can You Count Ten Toes - Count to 10 in 10 Different Languages" a children's book written by Lezlie Evans that is conveniently equipped with pronunciation help.

However, not all of his students choose a language from the book.

Some share counting in a language learned at home or in the community. Gabi likes to count in Tlingit. Sam has added Serbo-Croatian to morning lessons.

According to Beck, counting in a variety of languages not only reinforces number concepts, it broadens children's worlds and stimulates their brains.

Young children acquire language rapidly and enjoy the challenge of pronouncing new and different words.

For students who are already bilingual, it is both exciting and reassuring to share a familiar language at school.

When it is time to practice multilingual counting there is no lack of volunteers. Students stretch wagging arms high in the air, begging to be called upon.

Even at 8:30 on a Monday morning they are eager to participate. Beck asks Erik to step to the front of the classroom.

Erik smiles holding the counting sticks, "ichi, ni, san, shi, go, roku, shichi, hachi" he counts, leading his friends from one to eight in Japanese.