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Why Chinese Kids are Faster at Math

JINNA WANG

In movies, commercials, and prime-time television shows, we’ve all seen the stereotype of the Chinese math genius. This stereotype might just be true, since researchers found that Chinese is a more efficient language for learning math than English.

In Chinese, numbers are much simpler. Every number from 0 to 10 only has one syllable, making them easier to say and remember than numbers like the the multi-syllabic “zero,” or “seven.”

Additionally, English contains words specially created for certain numbers such as “eleven” or “twelve,” whereas the Chinese words for numbers follow a logical pattern. For example “十一 (shí yī)十二(shí èr), literally mean “ten one” and “ten two.”

But there is one more secret weapon Chinese students have when it comes to doing impressively quick math - one that you can learn, too!
That secret weapon is the Chinese Multiplication Rhyme, or 小九九 (xiǎo jiǔ jiǔ) .

What is the Chinese Multiplication Rhyme?

The full name of the Chinese Multiplication Rhyme is “九九乘法口诀 (jiǔ jiǔ chéng fǎ kǒu jué) ”, but is most commonly called “ 小九九 (xiǎo jiǔ jiǔ) ” which literally means “little nine nine”. The content consists of the multiplication table starting from 1 times 1, all the way to 9 times 9, set to a rhythmic chant.


Hear it for yourself here.


小九九 (xiǎo jiǔ jiǔ)  is one of the first things Chinese children are taught to memorize as soon as they start learning their numbers. Students are usually expected to be fluent in it by second or third grade, when it is commonly tested in class.

In China,  小九九 (xiǎo jiǔ jiǔ)  is the way everyone does quick math. At supermarkets, restaurants, or ticket booths , you’ll often hear people recite pieces of the rhyme to help them calculate the price of things.

But why should you bother? For people who are learning Chinese, there are two major benefits to learning the Chinese Multiplication Rhyme.

First, it is a fantastic way to learn (or relearn!) numbers in Chinese, since it covers a multitude of numbers, all the way up to ninety-nine.

And second, it will only take a millisecond to answer questions such as “What is 7 times 8?” after mastering the rhyme. You will be so speedy at single-digit multiplication, that it will constantly impress your non- 小九九 (xiǎo jiǔ jiǔ)  fluent friends!

How does it work?

First, you need to be familiar with the text of the  小九九 (xiǎo jiǔ jiǔ) . The series begins with 1 times 1 equals 1, and ends with 9 times 9 equals 81.

The Chinese Multiplication Rhyme

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JINNA WANG is a freelance writer and translator living in New York. She grew up in the snowy city of Harbin, and now spends many weekends recreating the northeast Chinese cuisine of her childhood. You can usually find her traveling, eating, and writing about both.

Tue, 20 Dec 2016 22:30:00 GMT

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