From a recent PNAS article:
"Contrasting to native English speakers, who largely employ a language process that relies on the left perisylvian cortices for mental calculation such as a simple addition task, native Chinese speakers, instead, engage a visuo-premotor association network for the same task. Whereas in both groups the inferior parietal cortex was activated by a task for numerical quantity comparison, functional MRI connectivity analyses revealed a functional distinction between Chinese and English groups among the brain networks involved in the task."
One media spin from The New Scientist is "Mother Tongue May Determine Math Skills," but we don't think it that at all. There are pervasive differences between how the East and West approach mathematics, with conventional Western math teaching being dependent more on verbal explanations of math principles, or rote memory. Look at a sample screenshot from a brief flash movie at Singapore's Hey Math:
Here opposite angles are presented within a practical world context, in the movie, the shears are moving (spatial / movement imagery), and students can interact with the presentation to see how opposite angles can change in relationship to each other.
Now compare this to a discussion of opposite angles from a Western math site:
This is not to knock the verbal approach, but it shouldn't take a brain scanner to tell you that verbal areas of the brain would more involved with this type of math instruction.
The visual/spatial/kinesthetic vs. verbal divide in math is significant in East vs. West education. Without a doubt some students will have an easier time grasping one approach over the other.
For boys (as a group) a verbal-only approach to math might present a problem. Remember, at least in the early elementary areas, boys tend to have stronger and more accurate visual / spatial abilities, whereas girls are strong with words.
Mother Tongue & Math - New Scientist
Arithmetic Shaped by Cultures Abstract only.
ENL Blog: East meets West: Fundamental Differences in Math Teaching
ENL Blog: More Visual Learning or How To Avoid Failure in the First Grade