by Andrew Weiler

June 3, 2014

Learning language can be more like playing a game than most people think. Games are by their nature interesting and engaging so players tend to devote a lot of time to them and get a lot of pleasure from them. So if we could make it more like a game, there would be many advantages. The trouble is that most language learning courses, books and methodology revolve around memorisation and drilling, anything but games! This not only makes the learning much more difficult but is a decided turn off for most people. This, as I have mentioned before, is a key reason why so many people struggle to learn a language. Most people never get beyond the idea that they have to memorise their way to success.

language learning game
See if you can find the patterns in here…. Relax the eyes!

I am going to show you here a way through which you can approach learning a language in a way in which you go about solving a puzzle. I will use learning English here, but this approach can be applied to any language. We have as a species always endeavoured to make things more efficient for ourselves, and language is no different. That is why patterns can be seen in every language we know, in every area of it. Patterns reduce the burden on memory. That is why, for example, every language has a very limited number of sounds to express an unlimited variety of ideas; that is why spelling in languages (with one notable exception, Chinese) has a very limited number of characters; that is why every language has very sophisticated structural patterns, and so on.

Numbers are another area where this applies. We can count to high as we want with a very limited number of words. Why is it then, that most people teach/learn numbers only up to 10 or twenty at the get-go and then after some time, maybe up to 100, and so on. Whereas in fact once you master a few more words, you can keep counting as high as you want.

You may wonder what I mean. Well, in the table below I have written down a bunch of numbers. You will see that I have only written a few but with a bit of application, I am sure you can work out what is missing. 🙂 What is missing can be created from what is known. There is nothing new added in the missing cells, only a different way of organising what is already known.


one eleven twenty one _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ one hundred and one
two twelve _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _  ….
three thirteen _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _  ….
four fourteen _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _  ….
five fif_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _  ….
six _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ one hundred and sixty one
seven _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _  ….
eight _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _  ….
nine _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _  ….
ten twenty thirty  forty  fif_  _ _  _ _  _ _  _ _  one hundred one thousand


I have not provided everything needed. Though, I have at the same time provided more than is really necessary, to make what I am getting at clear. To utter, for example, one hundred and twenty five thousand, two hundred and twelve only requires a bit of re-organisation, as does any other number up to 999,999 and then with the addition of one more word, we can get to 999,999,999. Amazing, isn’t it? And this can all be learned relatively quickly, for someone who can already count in their own language.

One additional thing I will mention here is that it is important that the students are speaking all the time…speaking the numbers, number by number. Otherwise the learning will stay in your head only. This makes it more difficult to learn AND means that you will have much more difficulty using it.

Isn’t this a much more preferable way of learning, working out what is needed and then seeing how far it can take you?  As you work it out, and learn to say it with “good” pronunciation and fluently(!)  you will remember what you need, by providing yourself with sufficient practice to utter different combinations. Try this with a language you are learning or have learned!

Why don’t you have a go and see how many words you need to count to 999,999 in the language you speak or are learning. It would of course be really interesting for readers if you could tell us below the language you have looked at and the number of words you need in it to count to 999,999.

Of course there are quite different issues in learning other patterns in English, but now we are on the hunt, playing a game, rather than stressing ourselves trying to remember it all. I wrote about how this can work in the spelling area some time ago and will be revisiting it in much more depth in the not too distant future.



About the author 

Andrew Weiler

Andrew is passionate about doing what is necessary to enable language learners to not only improve BUT to keep improving.

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mistakes to avoid in learning languages

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