Practicing counting in chinese

When i was in china and surrounded by people speaking all sorts of different languages, i started a cruel experiment whenever anyone started counting in english, by saying unrelated numbers at the same time. The point of this experiment was to confirm that people will always fall back to counting in their native language. It was very unscientific but happened every time.

My friend recently said that they might consider maths a sort of language of its own. In some ways i agree, but i think at least that something about the way that we develop mathematical or counting ability ties itself more firmly to our native language than other things.

And it's harder to break this habit, because numbers come up in different contexts in everyday life. While i could quite easily associate 狗 with dogs, because i will always say that, we can cheat and perform calculations in our head natively and only translate the number at the end.

Furthermore, we rarely need to use "big" numbers with a degree of accuracy. That is, in most everyday contexts, correctly parsing 1,499,208,120 isn't important beyond hearing "one billion..." because at that size the point is that it's large. You've comprehended it.

Furthermore, different languages split big numbers differently, into two, three, or four places. Chinese would have fourteen hundred-millions instead of one billion, four hundred millions: 14,9920,8120. Hindi splits at a thousand and then into pairs: 1,49,92,08,120. This makes a surprising amount of difference to being able to quickly parse numbers.

So the first thing to do is to start practising big numbers more. There are two ways to do that, in english, and in chinese. Small calculations are fine in chinese. Bigger numbers, when referring to them in english i've started using the word myriad, which comes from the greek for ten thousand, to mean ten thousand. That is, if something says a two hundred and sixteen thousand pounds for example, i will try and parse that as twenty one myriad, six thousand pounds. A baby step in becoming used to working in sets of four, not three. I don't know if it'd also be better just to switch to chinese straight away. We'll see.

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