Sunday, January 30, 2011

How do you say 293?

Everyone time I learned a new language, sometimes I feel like I have to learn a new number system as well. Consider the number 293. In my mother tongue, Chinese, 293 is written as 二百九十三, which literally means "two-hundred-nine-ten-three". Thus the positions of the digits 2 and 9 are denoted by the words for "hundred (百)" and "ten (十)" respectively. Then when I learned Dutch, 293 is written as "twee honderd drieënnegentig" which literally means "two-hundred-three-and-ninety". Instead of reading the number from left to right, I have to mentally insert the unit digit (3) before the decade digit (9). This took me a while to master. Then when I learned French, 293 is written as "deux cents et quatre-vingt-treize", which literally means "two-hundreds-and-four-twenty-thirteen". I mainly use English these days, which luckily write the number similar to Chinese syntactically.