Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Numbering Something Familiar

I'm gonna need a tutor.  This trying to teach myself Burmese out of a book is iffy stuff.  Some of my flash cards:

Spent some time today working on my numbers. I'd been practicing one through ten, saying them in Burmese over and over to myself and then trying to use them when out in the world. I'm getting there. Heck, I'm sure I'll forget 4 or 7 or something like that on occasion, but I'll say after today, I'm pretty much there. I changed some money today, so I even got to practice using really big numbers like ko-thaun-chaun-thon (96,000).

Now, the written numbers, that I had just glanced at, until today when I decided I was going to really learn them. Important things, numbers. I made out flash cards, randomized them, and drilled myself. Staring at this chart, at first it looks really hard.

All those squiggly lines and strange shapes! You'll notice 'zero' is the same. I learned the symbol for '2' already too. See, the 200 Kyat note has JOO in each of it's corners, so whenever I looked in my wallet, JOO was looking back at me.

As I started to really look and think about it, the similarities really struck me! None of the Burmese letters are the same as our Latin alphabet, but their numbers sure are. Look there at the number '3'. The top part is the same as our 3. They just don't use a second semicircle. Take their symbol for the '4' turn it about 60 degrees counterclockwise and it looks a bit like a 4. Look at 6 and 9. They're the same as each other just flipped horizontally, just like our 6 and 9! (Okay, the 9 is backwards, but that 6 looks like a 6) Seven is easy; it's just a curvy 7. The 5 has the save curvy bottom as our 5.

What's going on here?

A Roman walks into a bar holds up two fingers and says “I'll have five beers please!”

See, our numbers aren't Latin like our letters. They're what we call 'Arabic' numerals, but from what I've read recently, they're central Asian. Burmese derives from Tibetan, a Central Asian language. The numbers don't just happen to look alike. They have common roots!

If you're learning Spanish or German or some European language other than Finnish or Basque, there's bits you already know. Bits that are the same as in your language. Not just bits actually, but whole chunks of it. Learning Burmese is tough because there are no common roots with English. Even the consonants and vowels are way different. You wouldn't believe how I excited I was to really see how something about this language connects with something I already know in English... err Arabic... what have you.

Aha! A thread of commonality! Something familiar! Yay! Oh I love Joo.. err... You, Burmese numbers!


  1. I bet this gives you more insite into what your students feel when trying to learn english. Is there any way you could trade time with someone who wants to learn english while helping youwith Burmese?

  2. Always good to read blog and watch your videos. Nice to read something that does not have a neg-pat theme


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