Web Application — German Number Drills

[Dieser Artikel wurde ausnahmsweise in Englisch geschrieben, weil er hauptsächlich von Interesse für Deutschlernende ist.]

Achieving fluency with numbers in a foreign language is hard. Achieving fluency with numbers in German is especially hard, because of the way two-digit numbers are handled when speaking (and when they are written as words). The number 24 for example is vierundzwanzig („four and twenty“) — the rightmost digit is pronounced first! In everyday conversations it is easy to get confused and end up misinterpreting this as 42.

As a solution, learners are sometimes advised to write the number down in reverse order. So, for example, when someone is reciting a telephone number, and you hear vierundzwanzig, you move the pen one space to the right, write down the 4, then move the pen one space to the left, and write down the 2. Personally I think this advice is silly. It is only useful in the very specific situation that you are writing the number down on a sheet of paper. It is useless if you need to enter the number into a keypad, for example, or if you are simply having a conversation in which numbers play a role.

Personally, I believe the key is to get away from the concept of having to transpose the two digits, and instead simply learn to associate the whole word vierundzwanzig with the numerals 24. But how does one accomplish this? In my experience, traditional language courses and language learning materials are not much use here. Two-digit numbers simply do not occur often enough in these contexts to get the repetition necessary to establish the association in one’s memory. Spaced-repetition systems such as Memrise can help a bit, but they do tend to focus on forming an association between two written words (or between a written word and a picture). What is really needed is a tool that helps associate the sound of the word „vierundzwanzig“ with the concept of 24.

So I decided to create one. I have written a simple web application which reads out a random number every three seconds (or at some other interval as specified by the user). The user types in the number, and the application shows whether the answer was right or wrong. This is an application I have used myself (you can see an earlier version of it in this video), and I find that with regular use it does help improve one’s ability to recognise numbers in spoken German.

I hope that other learners will also find this application useful.

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Über Tim

Ein Tasmanier versucht, Deutsch zu schreiben
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10 Antworten zu Web Application — German Number Drills

  1. languagewanderer schreibt:

    Your application sounds cool!:) honeslty, I hate learning numbers in foreign languages, maybe it stems from the fact that I hate math :p

    • etvdzs schreibt:

      Thanks for the comment! It just occurred to me, Norwegian is also quite interesting in this respect. The number 24 can (if I understand correctly) be represented as „tjuefire“ or „fire og tjue“. It would be interesting to know which of these two versions is more common in everyday life.

      • languagewanderer schreibt:

        That’s right! Hm maybe it’s a good idea to ask about it Norwegians!:)

  2. franhunne4u schreibt:

    You think german numbers are confusing? Well, at least we are consistent, In English you CHANGE that from FOURTEEN in the tenners to TWENTYFOUR when the ten-digit is larger than one. We stay with the small digits first – well up to 100.
    Still nothing compared to the „four times twenty“ with which our western neighbours confuse students of their language! Any number between 79 and 100 is a sum in French: 80 is the aforementioned 4 * 20. „quatre vingt“ – 96 is „quatre vingt seize“ – 4 * 20 + 16 … Now – THAT is demanding. That was the point when most of my classmates gave up about French 😉

    • Tim schreibt:

      Yes, that’s a good point about the numbers 13-19 being pronounced „backwards“ in English. Somehow one tends not to think of it that way 😉

      That’s very interesting that the French have yet another system of counting — a bit like the old-fashioned phrase „three score and ten“ in English 🙂

  3. Pingback: Zahlen im Norwegischen | Ein Tasmanier versucht, Deutsch zu schreiben!

  4. Die reis schreibt:

    Two-digit numbers are handled the same way in Afrikaans (my home language). Thanks for stopping by my blog!

  5. Rachel schreibt:

    It’s funny, it never occurred to me when I was learning German numbers that it was in any way strange… It’s not a common practice to say it this way in English, but it does happen. (More in some English dialects than others). I suppose if you grow up singing about the four-and-twenty blackbirds baked in a pie, it doesn’t seem to strange to say it in German!

    I find numbers most interesting in Gaelic, where you still very often count in scores. (There’s a decimal system, but it’s highly debated and fiercely opposed by many people, and to be honest, I find the scores system a lot easier to remember – fewer words to learn!). So if it’s 24 past three, you’d say „It’s four minutes and score after three“.

    Franhunne4u hat recht… Auf Französisch ist es viel schwieriger. „Neunundneunzig“ ist auf Französisch „quatre-vingt-dix-neuf“ – „vier-zwanzing-zehn-neun“.

    • Tim schreibt:

      Thanks for the feedback 🙂 Interesting that German numbers apparently seemed so natural to you. Counting in scores in Gaelic and French sounds even more intimidating!

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