I tutor people in mathematics. I have noticed that many programs put a lot of emphasis on the math, but they fail to deal much with translation. You might know the translation as “word problems”.

As I see it, there are three steps in using mathematics.

The first is translation into mathematical language from the initial statement.

The second is doing the math.

The third is translating the mathematical answer back to the problem area.

Example:

1) “Bob has three cookies, and Tom has four cookies. Together they have how many cookies?” That would be 3 + 4.

2) 3 + 4 = 7.

3) Together, they have seven cookies.

The first step is the most important one. If you can not translate into mathematical language, you will not be able to do math.

The third step is next most important. Your results have to get back to the problem area to be of use.

Last is the math itself. Compared with the other areas, it is trivial. (We have calculators that can easily deal with the second step; they can not handle the first and third steps.)

I expect that this translation ability is important in most technical fields.

A boy I have tutored can handle many types of calculations. Where he runs into trouble is determining which calculations he should be doing. And there are a lot of ways to calculate wrong.

Some of them are given in this article http://robertkaplinsky.com/how-old-is-the-shepherd/. Some might call this a trick question, but part of competence in a field is knowing what one needs to solve a problem and getting it.

Can you do technical translation, or do you mix sheep and dogs?