Numbers are supposed to be easy. They are the building blocks of most language and are used in every facet of life regardless of who you are or what you do. You learn them right from the start, and get near unlimited practice. So why, with such a commonly used part of the language, do you have trouble coming up with a number or understanding a number you hear.
100 objects, 100 different endings you have to add to the numbers depending on what you are counting. There is a top 10 list of most common counters, there are the “generic counters” for 1-10, and many counters are reused with “related” objects. But there is a lot to remember.
4. Counters have pronunciation variation based on number
Counters are annoying enough, but then for each counter you will have multiple pronunciations depending on which number it ends in.
3. 1-9999 underprepares you
Counting itself sounds fairly simple. They are just numbers after all, and when you start, it works exactly as you expect. Then you get to 10,000 and everything changes. This becomes a standard unit, as opposed to the way that English counts in units of 1,000.
That said, the 10,000 unit by itself doesn’t present that much madness when it’s between 10,000 and 99,999. It’s when you start counting the higher numbers in units of 10,000.
It starts looking like this:
Number: English expression vs. Japanese expression
100,000: 100 units of 1,000 vs. 10 units of 10,000
1,000,000: 1,000 units of 1,000 vs. 100 units of 10,000
10,000,000: 10,000 units of 1,000 vs. 1,000 units of 10,000
This pattern of count continues all the way up in every set of 3.
2. Money will throw you off
Getting a natural feel for money in Japanese yen, without converting it internally to your own currency, takes time. Before that, you are shifting numbers in your head. Once you finally figure out that something costs 100 units of 10,000, you then internalize the exchange rate depending on your country, and how much it costs in a way that has meaning to you. The reverse happens when you want to say how much something costs but you only know its cost in your home country’s currency.
1. Americans suffer the most
Everyone has to convert money for a while. But Americans have to deal with a bigger issue: the metric system. Now you can blame this being all America’s fault (which it completely is), but a system of measurement is ingrained in your head and the only way to get used to a new system is by using it a lot.
The culprits that will hit you hardest are:
The rest of the world can laugh at this problem.
Relax, you’ll get it.
Numbers will irritate you, but the more you hear them and the more you use them, the quicker your brain can deal with them. What takes a few to several seconds of thinking now will eventually be reduced to the same time as your own language. Some of these require more effort than others, but you will get it.
You can count (ouch) on it….
Founder of Jalup. iOS Software Engineer. Former attorney, translator, and interpreter. Still watching 月曜から夜ふかし weekly since 2013.