© Gaye Wilson 2008
When I started this blog, I installed Akismet, a spam catcher. I’m so glad I did! When I logged in today, there were 68 spam messages in the Akismet buffer. They are not the usual spammy messages I get via email – you know, the ones that want you to buy replica watches or enhancement products.

No, these spams are different.

Typically, they are over 20 lines long, with a garbled header, lots of links, and text that makes no sense whatsoever.

It takes time to skim the list and delete them. If I didn’t have Akismet installed, and the comments got posted to my blog, what would people think about me and the value of my blog?

Are these spam messages generated electronically, or do people actually sit down and write this garbage and send it to unsuspecting blogs? Why would anyone bother? What do they get out of it?

What is their victory?

Beats me.

© Gaye Wilson 2008
Most countries in the world use number plates to register their motor vehicles.

Yesterday, I blogged about how I use number plates to help me learn Russian numbers.

Today, I’d like to talk about other ways to use number plates to help learn a foreign language (actually, come to think of it, you could also use number plates to teach your kids the letters of the alphabet and the numbers in your own language).

Cardinal Numbers

Yesterday’s exercise was to say each numeral out loud in the language I’m currently learning, as individual single-digit numbers. So, ASM 387 became three, eight, seven in the target language.

Once you can do that without thinking, pausing or stumbling over any of the numbers, try saying them as whole numbers. So, ASM 387 would become three hundred and eighty-seven in your target language.

Ordinal Numbers

Now you can say numbers in their cardinal form, use the numbers you see on number plates and street signs, and put them into their ordinal form (a cardinal number, in language learnig contexts, is the counting number, e.g. one two three … forty-four; an ordinal number is the number attached to a word, e.g. the fifth element, the fourth dog etc.).

So, 387 would become the three hundred and eighty-seventh something.

Learn the alphabet

The next thing to do with number plates is to say the letters of the alphabet out loud.

So, using the example above, you would say ay, ess, em, or, in Russian (the language I’m currently learning), ah, ess, em.

Make words

Next, use number plates to make up words in your target language using the letters on the number plate.

So, for POT, if I was learning Russian, I would immediately say ROT, and translate it as MOUTH. For ONO, I would say the word ano (the Russian pronunciation), and the English translation IT. And so on.

There’s a story about a famous Egyptologist who reinforced his ancient Egyptian learning by doing this, and one day he observed to the person who was in the car with him that the number plate of the car ahead was very rude in ancient Egyptian!

Make sentences

Now that you can say numbers confidently, in both single digits and whole numbers, and can say the alphabet, and recognise short words in your target language, see if you can make the number plates into sentences in your target language.

Remember, if you are driving, make sure you do this safely!

Take the number plate we used above: ASM 387. You could create the sentence “Andrew sang Monster Mash three hundred and eighty-seven times”. Huh? That doesn’t make sense, I hear you say! Well, it doesn’t have to make sense, as long as the grammar and vocabulary are correct. For this example, I couldn’t think of a sentence in English that made sense using ASM, but I could think of a sentence that used one of the letters twice. That’s okay. We’re not looking for sentences of only three words, we’re looking for sentences that we can form with the vocabulary and grammar we already know.

[By the way, creating sentences using this technique is a recognised way of starting to write a story. It gets the creative juices flowing, and it can be as silly as you like, as long as you can create a story from it. Pick three words, and either use them to start the story, or make sure you use all three words somewhere in the story.]

You could also take the numbers first and add words from the letters: “387 alligators swimming …” I can’t think of a word starting with “m”, so I’ll substitute one starting with another letter: “strongly”.

Now, how do I say that in Russian?


© Gaye Wilson 2008
I drove to the shops yesterday to do the grocery shopping. Yesterday’s Russian lesson was about numbers – we were introduced to how to say the numbers zero to ten in Russian. I know those numbers in Polish, and can rattle them off without thinking about them in that language. I discovered that this was helpful to learning the Russian numbers, because there are similarities.

Anyway, as I was driving along, I started trying to translate the number plates into Russian. Since I’m currently learning numbers, I didn’t look at the letters on the number plates, but I did concentrate on the numbers. Every time I saw a new number plate, I said the individual numbers in Russian.

For instance, for the number plate ASM 372, I would say tre, sem, dva.

Every time I saw a phone number, I would say the numbers in Russian. So 024367985 became noll dva chetery tre shest sem devyat vosem pryat  (that’s not a real phone number, by the way).

Then, as I was driving or shopping, whenever I saw a written sign, I would rack my memory for the Russian word. Since I’ve only been learning the language for a couple of months, I don’t have a huge vocabulary yet, so there were only a few words that I actually had been introduced to. However, this technique did a couple of things:

  1. It kept Russian firmly in my brain – if I’m thinking about Russian and words in Russian, I’m actively reinforcing my learning.
  2. It told me which words I have been introduced to but have not yet mastered. When I saw a word in English that I knew had been on a vocabulary list, but I couldn’t remember the Russian word, I wrote it down in a notebook to look up and memorise when I got home.

Of course, there are a couple of potential problems with doing this while you’re driving, not the least of which is that your attention can be diverted from the traffic. Please, if you use this technique, do it safely.

In a future post, I will talk about how else to use car number plates to help with your language learning.