Number games

Perhaps you can think of a game that you would like to play in your target language.

After 35 years of studying foreign languages, I’ve become tired of memorizing. Usually, I select courses and methods that include repetition and review, making memorizing unnecessary. (These will become apparent in future posts.) I do make exceptions, though: I sometimes spend a few days or weeks memorizing material when it suits me–for example, corrections given to me by tutors during conversation practice, or the alphabet of a new language I’m learning. When I memorize, I prefer to make games on paper and play them (even by myself–but if I had a study partner, I would play the games with them). Today, I’ll tell you how to use games for learning the numbers of any language.

Let’s say you’ve just started learning a language. In this article, I’ll use Indonesian as an example.

Start by writing down the first six numbers: 1. satu, 2. dua, 3. tiga, 4. empat, 5. lima, 6. enam. Make sure you know how to pronounce them. (This is not a problem with Indonesian. With some languages, you might want to take a little time reading, listening to, and repeating them. The website Book2 is useful for this purpose.)

Then grab a die from a board game or role-playing game, or buy some at a toy store, or find an app that imitates dice. (Die is singular, dice is plural–like mouse and mice.) Roll the die for a few minutes and say the Indonesian word, looking at what you wrote down (your “cheat sheet”) as much as you need to. I find that most inexpensive dice tend to favor some numbers over others, but that every die is unique. So, I switch dice from time to time.

Now you’re ready to play a real game which only uses the numbers from one to six. Examples are backgammon and the Korean game Yunnori (or Yut). You can do this with a physical board game or an app. If you’re not in a hurry, stop here and play it or another game tomorrow to review these numbers.

Ready to move on? Write seven through nine: 7. tujuh, 8. delapan, 9. sembilan. A great game to play at this point (if you can find or afford it) is nine-dot dominoes. Add 0. nol, and you can start reading (aloud) the digits you encounter on signs, in phone numbers, on house numbers, in numbers like pi, or anywhere else that suits your fancy. Add 10. sepuluh, and you can play Uno or other card games.

As you gradually add more numbers, you can add more games. You can play bingo, Snakes and Ladders, Yahtzee, Mille Bornes, and eventually Monopoly. Along the way, you can practice arithmetic, play with 8, 10, 12, and 20-sided dice from role-playing games, or even count the money in your wallet. Perhaps you can think of a game that you would like to play in your target language. Wouldn’t that be a good motivator for you to learn its numbers through games?