© 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?


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6 Responses to “Using car number plates to learn a language”

  1. Learning numbers in a foreign language : All Paths to Victory on November 29th, 2008 2:54 pm

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