Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Soroban v. Barbie

My older daughter's in second grade, and takes soroban lessons twice a week after school. That's right, abacus. People (well, Americans, anyway) look at me like I'm insane when I tell them that. "Do they teach her how to chip flint, too?" seems to be the thought running through their heads.

A toy she has mostly outgrown is her Barbie laptop computer (she's not really into pink and flowery, but the computer has some cool games, and talks). But lately she's been playing an addition game and some of the other math games. One of them is timed -- the faster you are, the more points you get. Recently, she was playing and getting frustrated with her ability to keep up -- so she grabbed her abacus! She's faster and more accurate at two- and three-digit addition with the abacus than in her head, and seemed to do better at the computer game with her abacus by her side!

She's also learning to multiply using the soroban, ahead of learning it in her actual second-grade class. (She can also ride a unicycle, a common hobby for grade-school girls here, and read and write several hundred kanji (characters Japan borrowed from China) already. But her English is almost non-existent at this point.)

The company that I worked for here in Japan in the early 1990s still kept its books on paper, and much of the arithmetic was done by clerks with abacuses (abaci? okay, sorobans). We also had rotary-dial telephones. And we built some fantastic technology that way.

I'm sure Japanese see just as many idiosyncracies when they move to the U.S...


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