Did you know that mathematics is a language? Many people have had difficulty with algebra NOT because they 'couldn't do math' but because they never learned the language. Let's talk a bit about the language of algebra.

Why use letters?
As we mentioned before, you are probably used to seeing question marks or blanks when a math answer is needed:

15 + 10 = ?

12 x 7 = ___

But sometimes we already know the answer and have to work backwards to find one of the 'mystery' numbers that started the problem. Here is a problem like this:

Jim spent a total of $25.50 for a restaurant meal that included his $4.00 tip. Now he needs to know: what was the cost of the meal alone?

In this case, we already know the 'answer', the total Jim spent. But we will have to work backwards to find out what the cost of the meal was before the tip. Using a letter like 'x' to represent the cost of the meal makes it easier to calculate.

Here is what this question will look like when written in the language of algebra:

x + $4.00 = $25.50

Last modified: Tuesday, 26 July 2011, 5:04 PM