I don’t know what it is–numbers in foreign languages always stump me. I’ve been studying Spanish for eight years now and I still slip up on numbers. In Mandarin especially, I have to ask the speaker (usually a teacher) to repeat the number multiple times before I can piece it all together. Maybe that’s because I’m not naturally good with numbers. Maybe I just have a resistance to learning to count. (Although I don’t recall ever having any sort of number disability in elementary school…) In any case, in (trying to) overcome this obstacle, I learned long ago that repeating the numbers endlessly is possibly the worst way I could learn them, so in the spirit of sharing, I’m giving you some alternate ways to do so.
1. Count sheep
Do you have trouble falling asleep at night? Have you ever considered counting sheep? If so, try doing it in a foreign language. This works especially well if you’ve got the basics down (for example, Mandarin numbers between eleven and 99 are formed by saying “ten one” (eleven), “two tens” (twenty), all the way up to “nine ten nine” for 99), because then all you have to do is start at one and count as high as you can. Bonus: this can help cure insomnia, because counting is boring as hell, no matter in what language you do it.
2. Be nosy
Ask people their ages. In Mandarin. (In case you’re wondering, that’s “你今年多大?” (nǐ jīnnián duō dà?) and the answer is “我十九岁” (wǒ shíjiǔ suì.) Or 二十一，or 三十九，or 八十or however old you are.) Or, if you don’t feel like being that rude, just read off telephone numbers in other languages. Uno-ochocientos-cinco-cinco-cinco…
Sudoku is a lifesaver on public transportation. You can usually find small books for cheap at drugstores. It’s also been called a “number crossword,” probably because a sudoku puzzle (for those of you who don’t know) consists of nine squares made up of nine squares. Each box, row, and column can only have the numbers 1-9 in them once. It’s a pretty addictive logic puzzle, and by doing just a couple, you can quickly memorize 1-9 in any given language.
4. Develop OCD.
(Or CDO; that puts the letters back in order.) Start counting your steps. This may not be any more exciting than counting sheep, but it’s another way to learn how to count. I find that visualizing the number (the digits, not the spelling) helps because then I can more easily match it up to the foreign language equivalent.
This is fun during holiday seasons or when a birthday is coming up. Keep track once a day by saying “ten days left until my birthday” (or whatever you’re counting down to). I find that writing this on a calendar makes it easier. (Currently, my calendar has things such as “nove giorni fino al esami di calculo.” Not so fun, but hey, it helps me learn the language!)
Bonus: try practising by telling time in your target language. Not only does that help with numbers, but it helps with time vocabulary too.