# Chapter 3 Numbers

CHAPTER 3

NUMBERS

It is very easy to take our numbering system for granted and to assume that once you have taught it learners will know it, but there are so many variations from practice in other countries and idiosyncrasies in our treatment of numbers that it be worthwhile spending longer than you might think on this work, and revisit it regularly. For instance, why has the ‘u’, present in four and fourteen been dropped from forty? Students will need to learn this.

Other numbers to be wary of include:

• one, it can sound the same as won but is spelt differently;

• two, which sounds like to or too, but has an odd ‘w’ in it;

• three, tricky to pronounce owing to the lack of a ‘th’ sound in other languages;

• four, which sounds like for but has an added ‘u’;

• five, which has a ‘v’ in it, and this is pronounced as ‘w’ in many other European languages and is not a sound that occurs in many Asian languages;

• six seems ok;

• seven has a ‘v’ in it again;

• eight sounds like ate but is spelt in an unusual way;

• nine and ten are fine;

• eleven has the ‘v’ again and an ‘l’ which Chinese learners can find almost impossible having not learnt the sound in their first language, so a bit of a tongue twister there; also it is a special name- we do not say 'oneteen'.

• twelve, same again for the v and tw is not a common diphthong; again, a special word- we do not say 'twoteen'.

• You might think that once we were in the teens things would calm down a bit, but we say thirteen, not threeteen; I am sure we had our reasons, but would not like to speculate on what they were;

• Fourteen seems fine;

• but where has fiveteen gone? Ah, it is fifteen, so the ‘ve’ changes to an ‘f’ when it is followed by other letters, got it.

• Sixteen, seventeen and eighteen seem fine, although how many learners with up to Entry 1 ESOL are ever going to remember the spelling for eight is a point worth making;

• but nineteen, has that got an e, or do we drop it? In fact we leave it in for nineteen and ninety, but drop the e for ninth. That will be logical then.

Not all languages have a specific name for the teens; in Chinese they have ten three for thirteen (Resource: Writing Numbers 1).

In English we say and use twenty, not twoty, thirty, not threety, forty not fourty, and fifty not fivety. We always insert an ‘and’ after the use of hundred, or if the hundred number is missing, for instance we say one hundred and one, and one thousand and one. Most languages do not use the ‘and’ here. We also say one hundred and one thousand (101,000). This is not the practice in other languages. Some languages have a discrete word for 100,000, such as 1 lehk in Hindi (Resource: Writing Numbers 2).

Separating numbers

Did you notice at the end of the last paragraph we used a comma to separate thousands off, such as 6,000 or 101,000? If these numbers are typed on a computer sometimes a gap is left instead, such as 6 000 (Resource: Writing Large Numbers). This is very confusing for ESOL learners; in many countries a full stop is used where the comma would be, but this looks like a decimal point to us. Conversely, when writing money abroad a comma is often placed between the small and large parts of currency, so whereas we write £3.65 and a decimal point separates the pounds from the pence, across Europe a comma separates the euros from the cents: E3,65 (Resource: Writing Money).

Odd and Even

It is important that learners know which numbers are odd and which are even, and you might think that this would be straight forward. I put it up on an online translation facility on the interactive white board in my classroom and guess what? In Spanish they do not say ‘odd and even’, they say ‘even and odd’, so the Spanish speaking learners were doing the task incorrectly and had to relearn the definitions (Resource: Odd and Even).

Fractions

Once we enter the zone of the ‘f’ word of mathematics, fractions, we are in even deeper water, as we have special names for a half (not one twoth then?), a third (not one threeth), and a quarter, although we do allow the use of one fourth, as this is what the Americans call it. After that the rule is to add a ‘th’ at end of the number to make it a fraction, and I have already mentioned how few other languages have a ‘th’ sound. One fifth follows the spelling of fifteen, and then we can make fairly fast progress until we get to one twelfth. Thankfully there is no speaking and listening part for any maths exam in the UK, so it perfectly possible to pass a Level 2 Functional Skills exam and go onto a GCSE in Maths without ever having to correctly pronounce 'twelfth' (Resource: Fraction Matching- words and numbers)!

Decimals

Decimals when spoken in English can follow the fraction or be read out as written, so it will be necessary to teach the names of the place values before and after the decimal point to learners. For instance 0.1 can be read out as nought point one, or as one tenth.

Zero

How many ways do you think there are to say 0? Zero, nil, nought, nothing and oh are all commonly used, and it depends on the situation which one will be most appropriate. I hear people give their mobile phone numbers starting zero seven, but if it is a land-line we seem more likely to start ‘Oh one’. Even ‘no’ can be used sometimes; if our bank balance is at zero we would say we have no money in the bank. In tennis 'love' is used for no score.

Some of your learners may not be familiar with the numbers in their 1, 2, 3, 4 form either, but that would be surprising, as it is a worldwide system which came from Arabic and Hindi. The concept of zero is not present in all cultures however.

All of which I hope will help ESOL learners make some sense of our numbering system.

JMS 2013/14