The Numbers Have It!

It can be difficult for language learners to say big numbers out loud when they read about them in different situations. For example, 1989:

          Dates:  1986 (nineteen eighty six)

          Money, population, etc.:  1986 (one thousand nine hundred and eighty six)

          Mathematics:  1.986 (one point nine eight six)

Zero is an Interesting Case How can we use zero? Let me count the ways . . .

1. Zero


-6º C     e.g. It’s six degrees below zero


3-2-1-0!     e.g. Three two one zero!

2. Nought

Counting, numbering, and after decimal points

0.75     e.g. Nought point seven five

0.7%     e.g. Nought point seven percent Nought point five nought one

0.501     e.g. point five nought one

(“nought” can be interchanged with “zero”)

3. Oh

Time – for the 24-hour clock

08:00 hours     e.g. Oh eight hundred hours

Phone numbers

9804 2172     e.g. Nine eight oh four …

Hotel rooms

Room 604     e.g. Room six oh four


Bus 307 to Tai Po     e.g. Bus three oh seven to Tai Po

4. Nil


The score – 0 : 0 draw     e.g. It was a nilnil draw.

5. Love


The score – 30 : 0     e.g. The score was thirty to love

The following group activity is good for learners who want help saying numbers in English. Write interesting facts and figures about certain countries on slips of paper and place them around the room. On other slips of paper only write the figures (not the facts) relating to these countries.

The learner picks a slip of paper from the pile of numbered pieces and tries to find the matching sheet with fact and figure posted around the room. When the matching sheet has been found, the learner says the number out loud.

Here is another great exercise for learners! The teacher or parent can write “0” in the middle of the board or a piece of paper and then get the learners to brainstorm different ways of saying it in English.

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