How Counting In French Helped Me Remember Les Nombres Posted by on Apr 12, 2017 in Vocabulary

Les nombres (numbers) are difficult for me to remember in French. If I’m not forgetting the words for chaque nombre (each number), I’m trying to figure out if we’re talking about four twenties or eighty!

Numbers” by morebyless on Flickr. Licensed under CC BY 2.0.

I have a hard time remembering les nombres in any language other than ma langue maternelle (my native language). I think it is related to how les nombres lack any context that makes it easier to remember them. It feels like nothing but a list of random vocabulary to memorize!

It is also frustrating when most of the time numbers are not written out so you can see how they are pronounced. You are much more likely to see 80 than you are eighty or quatre-vingts.

This only gets worse if you’re dealing with des grands nombres (large numbers):

1 577 289 393,31

Un milliard cinq cent soixante-dix-sept millions deux cent quatre-vingt-neuf mille trois cent quatre-vingt-treize virgule trente et un
One billion five hundred seventy-seven million two hundred eighty-nine thousand three hundred ninety-three point thirty-one

Being able to understand a large string of numbers that sometimes use words milliard and billiard is un casse-tête (a headache). On top of that une virgule is used instead of un point for the decimal point!

C’est tellement difficile à retenir !
It’s so hard to remember!

The solution for me was to find a way to make les nombres so embedded in my brain that I knew them par cœur (by heart). I wanted to not have to remember les nombres, but instead just know them.

In order to have les nombres solidly in my memory I began counting anything I could en français. Les pages d’un livre, mes crayons, mes pas, etc (the pages of a book, my pencils, my steps, etc).

Where I made the most progress was during mon entraînement matinal (my morning excercise). Compter (counting) would keep my mind distracted and help me practice les nombres en français!

Un, deux, trois…
One, two, three…

It wasn’t easy and I would often get lost, repeat numbers, or skip numbers, especially with the 70s and the 90s:

Soixante-huit, soixante-neuf…. Euh… sept… soixante-dix, soixante-onze…
Sixty-eight, sixty-nine… uh… seven… seventy, seventy-one…

However, the daily practice eventually made it easier to remember les nombres en français. I could remember les numéros de téléphone and follow mes cours de comptabilité (my accounting classes) without any problem!

I wasn’t doing un milliard de pompes (a billion push-ups), but the practice made it easier to remember all French numbers!

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About the Author: John Bauer

John Bauer is an enthusiast for all things language and travel. He currently lives in France where he's doing his Master's. John came to France four years ago knowing nothing about the language or the country, but through all the mistakes over the years, he's started figuring things out.