This evening, I was helping my daughter with some statistics problems in her college course. I had just taken the basic stats course less than two years ago as part of master’s program in Social Work, so I know this. I got an A, really enjoyed the class, and got to see how we can use stats to make sense of data. Of course, we must provide context to our results, but that’s another post. The short of it is: I know this stuff.

The concept at hand had to do with probabilities, calculating things like: given a test of 5 multiple choice questions with 4 options each one, what is the probability that with random guessing, the student gets a 60% or higher.

Okay, what concept is that, so I start googling around, reading stuff on Wikipedia to lock in what concept we’re going after.

Maybe I don’t know this stuff.

None of it looks familiar. The homework seems simple. The terms aren’t complicated.

Why didn’t I study this in my stats class, I wondered, and I started to feel a little bit of anxiety. Maybe my stats class wasn’t as rigorous as this one. Was I shortchanged, not prepared properly?

As I continued to go down the rabbit hole and converse with my daughter, I asked her how they take the tests. Do they use graphing calculators? Do you know how to access the binomial functions on it?

Yes, she said, and they also have a binomial distribution table. I looked it up, and everything came rushing back.

In my stats course, which I took in Spanish, we didn’t call it that. It was the tabla de distribución binomial. It’s not like the words are completely different. They are almost exactly the same, but for some reason the knowledge was filed someplace else, and my English context brain couldn’t access it. Once I saw the actual table, it unlocked the door, and everything made more sense.

But there was panic for a bit, and I imagine I’m not the only one to experience this anxiety. I wish I could communicate just how disorienting the experience was, to know something, but forget you know it when speaking another language. In English, everything looked to foreign to me.

My daughter laughed and said welcome to her world going to university in English.