Sunday, April 15, 2007

一,二, 三

...1, 2, 3 again

After writing the previous post I remembered the difficulty of learning numbers in Mandarin…
In every language I’ve learned so far (and forgotten for that matter!) numbers have always been easy to “master” but the Chinese have a different way of counting (and not only with floors!!) we count in ten, hundred, thousand, ten thousand, hundred thousand, million, billion. And I think in most languages that’s how it works. Well in Mandarin this is how it goes:

  • 10 (Shi 十);
  • 100 (Bai 百);
  • 1,000 (Qian 千);
  • 10,000 (Wan, 万);
  • so far nothing too difficult to handle… Ok now pay attention:
  • 100,000 is Shi Wan (十万) or 10 [times] 10,000;
  • 1,000,000 (or 1 million) is Bai Wan (百万) or 100 [times] 10,000;
  • 10,000,000 (or 10 million) is Qian Wan (千万) or 1,000 [times] 10,000;
  • and they have a specific word for 100,000,000 (100 million) which is Yi (亿)
  • and another for 1,000,000,000,000 (1,000 billion) Zhao

So here’s a little exercise to see if you’ve been following:

  • We going to start with an easy one: the population of France (let’s round it up to 60 millions)…. Well it’s liu qian wan ( 六千万 ) or 6 [times] 1,000 [times] 10,000
  • How many people live in the USA (302 millions last time I checked)… Tick, tack, tick, tack… buzzzzzzzzzzz. And the answer is san yi er bai wan (三亿二百万) or 3 [times] 100,000,000 and 2 [times] 1,000,000. ok I lost you!!
  • How many people there is in China (hint: 1.3 billion)…. And the answer is shi san yi (十三亿) or 13 [times] hundred millions. I doesn't sound as much as 1.3 billion, does it?

In fact we group our zero in threes when they group them in fours.

On a lighter note, Chinese can count to 10 on one hand and they use it a lot. When they tell you a number it will mostly be shown with the hand gesture. (and not just for foreigners because they think they don’t understand!!)

From Lonely Planet Phrasebooks Mandarin