This morning, in our last English class of this school year, we were doing a mathematical warm up where I would say a long series of equations and the students would keep a running tally of the total and would say the answer at the end. (Like 3+5-4×2… I know that on paper it would be done differently, but they were just hearing the running equation.) They did a fine job of keeping up with an ever-increasing pace, but what was interesting to me was how the answer always kept coming out in Japanese. I was saying the numbers in English, and they were producing a Japanese answer. So I asked them how they were processing it in their heads.
The reply surprised me. They said that they were doing the calculations in their head with an abacus, a skill that they learned in Japanese, and so the numbers were becoming just numbers, not words. They would visualize the beads on an abacus, and the totals were coming out in Japanese as they would in their abacus classes. Great stuff!