Tips From an Online Math Tutor: Learn Your Fractions by Saying Numbers Out Loud

Understanding fractions is a problem that seems to plague a huge population in America.  Ask any adult if they’re good at fractions, and you are likely to get a “no.”  And the ones who say they do, just see if they can do a few simple operations like converting a fraction to a percentage or adding two fractions together.  You may be surprised by how few high school graduates can do these operations – especially considering that we start learning fractions in elementary school and they are some of the most useful and prevalent math concepts in day-to-day life - our experienced online math tutors are only a click away.

So, if you are terrible at your fractions, you are not alone.  And it likely isn’t your fault.  This many people don’t graduate after 12 years of mathematics classes and don’t understand fractions because they are dumb or bad at math.  Fractions are a systemic problem in American public math education that is not prioritized or followed up with effectively.  Don’t feel bad if you have no comprehension of fractions.

There are many tips on helping to learn and understand fractions for teenagers or adults, but one of the ones I’ve found most effective is to start thinking about saying your decimals out loud.

This may sound silly, but you probably have learned the proper way to pronounce numbers with decimal places.  For example, don’t say 5.3 as “five-point three” and instead read it as “five and three tenths.”  See the number 1342.567809 below:


Of course, there are many more places than this both to the left or to the right.  These are just the “names” of each number position and how they should be pronounced.  For decimals, we usually use the place of the smallest decimal number (the place furthest to the right) when pronouncing the number. 

 This is helpful because we usually do have a pretty good idea of how to write a fraction when it is said out loud.  For example, when you hear “one-tenth,” you probably think of   which is the correct fraction of “one-tenth.”  Similarly, when we say “two fifths,” we are referencing the fraction.

Now, if you just say the numbers with decimals out loud – naming them using the place furthest to the right – we can see how we can write any decimal as a fraction.

Here are some examples:


Notice how we can turn any number into a fraction now with relative ease.  It just might take a bit of counting to make sure we use the right name for the decimal place.  Also notice how all of the denominators (bottoms) of our fractions are simple powers of ten: 10, 100, 1,000, 10,000, etc.  The regular number (like the 101 in the last row of the table above) we just leave as normal, and we add on the decimal (the nine millionths in the last row of the table above).  You may remember learning this as a “mixed number.” 

This is a good, simple way to start understanding fractions.  Think of “fraction” as “part” or “piece” of a whole.  This is the same as a decimal.  It is not a whole number; it is too small and is only a part – or a fraction – of a number.

Now we know to write the first example number as a fraction: 1342.567809.  We could pronounce this as one thousand three hundred and forty-two and five hundred and sixty-seven thousand eight hundred and nine millionths.  A very daunting number that might have looked impossible to convert into a fraction a few minutes ago.  But now:


This is admittedly a very simple view of fractions and decimals, but it is a start.  It is also an intuitive way to think about them and to see the connection.  We can now make any number into a fraction, even ridiculously long and complicated decimals.  Of course, we also might need to simplify those fractions or combine the mixed numbers into just one fraction – especially if we’re in math class.  But for now, keep this tip in mind to help you begin to understand fractions and decimals if you’ve been struggling with them.  Just like practicing grammar in English class, saying it out loud can sometimes help.

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Michael C. is currently a private math, science, and standardized test online tutor with TutorNerd in Irvine and Anaheim.