Learn English with Teacher Joe!

Using English Numbers

Return to
Joe's Home

Return to
Speaking Page

Return to
Conversation Skills

Use English Numbers when Speaking

(Teacher Joe originally wrote these articles for College English Magazine in Beijing.)

Numbers are so easy! There's no need to practice them, is there? Well, the answer is both yes and no. Yes, numbers are fairly easy, but there are a few difficulties students need to overcome. Besides these problems, when numbers come up in conversation, they come up FAST. Students have no time to think, they must understand immediately and respond immediately. It's not as easy as it seems.

Teens or Tens?

One problem that students have is hearing the difference between teens and "tens", for example, the difference between THIRTEEN and THIRTY, or between FOURTEEN and FORTY. The problem arises because students look at the spelling, and expect the difference to come at the end of the word. They listen for either TEEN or TY, but numbers are often spoken so fast that the endings can barely be heard. However, the ending is NOT the main difference in how these words are pronounced. The difference is in the rhythm! Teens are pronounced with two stress points while tens are pronounced with just one.

In my class room, I write them on the blackboard like this:

13 THIR TEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEN (students really need to stretch out the second syllable)
30 THIR ty (only the first syllable is stressed)


Now say all the tens: THIR ty, FOR ty, FIF ty, SIX ty, SEVEN ty, EIGHT ty, NINE ty

Try this little game for learning English numbers to see how well you can do!

A second problem student have is with numbers from 10,000 and above. In Chinese, of course, there is no number called TEN THOUSAND, there is ONE WAN instead. Students need to practice saying large numbers in order to get used to this. Please recite the following numbers:

12,000 / 20,000 / 45,000 / 100,000 (one hundred thousand) / 125,000 (one hundred and twenty five thousand)

500,000 / 1,000,000 (one million) / 1,600,000 (one million six hundred thousand) / 50,000,000 (fifty million)

More Complicated Large Numbers:

A third problem is in quickly saying more complicated numbers. For example, try saying these numbers:

A) 16,999 B) 821,050 C) 75,550,200 D) 999,999,992 E) 7,340,717,601

Could you pronounce these easily? Compare with these readings (be sure to pause at the commas):

A) Sixteen Thousand, Nine Hundred and Ninety Nine
B) Eight Hundred and Twenty One Thousand, (and) Fifty
C) Seventy Five Million, Five Hundred and Fifty Thousand, Two Hundred
D) Nine Hundred and Ninety Nine Million, Nine Hundred and Ninety Nine Thousand, Nine Hundred and Ninety Two
E) Seven Billion, Three Hundred and Forty Million, Seven Hundred and Seventeen Thousand, Six Hundred and One

Odds and Ends:

There are a few other items to be aware of:

A) Students often mispronounce years. We don't say 2003 as "TWO ZERO ZERO THREE Year", we say "The Year TWO THOUSAND AND THREE" or "The Year TWENTY OH THREE".

B) The easiest way to talk about time is to say 10:15 as TEN FIFTEEN and 11:45 as ELEVEN FORTY FIVE. It is possible to say "a quarter past ten" or "a quarter to twelve", and you should understand what those mean, but when speaking, it's easiest to just say the numbers as you see them.

C) Fractions are spoken in the opposite order of Chinese. 1/4 is spoken as "One Fourth" or "One Quarter". 1/8 is "One Eighth".

Learn English Idioms Listen to English Language Exchange
Learn English Grammar Learn English Vocabulary Learn Business English

Copyright 2005, Learn English with Teacher Joe