People and a fruit cart outside in Paksong, Laos. From the post: "Why Learning Numbers Abroad is a Great Idea"

Why Learning Numbers Abroad is a Great Idea

When drifting in a land not one’s own, it behooves a visitor to take time to think about why learning numbers abroad is a great idea, along with the phrase ‘how much?’.

Many vagabonds might disagree, as I’ve observed that the vast majority seem to assume that everyone, everywhere, speaks English.

While this assumption is mostly true in some countries, in others it’s not the case at all.

A person from the Netherlands, Japan or India had the privilege of absorbing English from a young age. However, the average adult in Latin America or southeast Asia hasn’t.

Not everyone knows the numbers in English; in my opinion, they shouldn’t be expected to.

Learning Numbers Abroad is Doing Yourself a Huge Service

Knowing the numbers in a local tongue can be a game changer, even in a country where English is widely spoken, but not the mother tongue. That said, knowing how to count becomes more important in much of the Americas south of the United States, or in a land like Laos. While many Latinos and Laotians know English numbers, far from all of them do, especially if you drift away from a saturated tourist trail.

Learning numbers empowers a drifter or occasional outlander the ability, aka self power, to understand numbers and negotiate them in another tongue. This can save aggravation and money.

Late day selfie in Matraka, on the outskirts of Hafr al-Batin, Saudi Arabia. In post Why Learning Numbers Abroad is a Great Idea.
Arabia near-dusk selfie: Hoping for a makeshift taxi to drive up.

I have no idea how much I saved by knowing Arabic numbers. They came in handly while living and teaching on the Arabian peninsula where I often utilized shared taxis. Without Arabic numbers ready to dispense and understand, those priceless interior experiences would have been more unfamiliar and challenging.

I had similar experiences with taxi drivers in Alexandria, Egypt, as it’s not touristy there. On the contrary, you’ll find that many people in foreigner-friendly Cairo can easily converse in English.

Last year in the Colombian Andes I took a particular or shared taxi from the side of the highway near Zapaquirá, all the way to San Gil, a mountainous journey of 258 km or 155 miles, which took about six hours.

If I hadn’t known the numbers in Spanish, getting into that car may not have happened. It was semana santa or Easter week. Buses were full. There was another person vying for the spot in the shared taxi. Because I was there first, and was able to swiftly haggle with the driver, I got the front seat and the price down 30% of his original offer. As mentioned in Colombian Travel Tips, long-distance, land transportation is definitely negotiable in Colombia. 30% is typically the discount to target.

In this shared-makeshift-taxi situation, there was no time to write numbers, use a calculator or hand over a phone for the driver to look at. These augmented ways of communication aren’t practical when things are happening quickly in a busy area.

Using an electronic device is a great method of translatating when in a hotel or restaurant, but it’s not as efficient as training the brain to know foreign numbers. Learning and using numbers is fun and can only enhance an experience. And our brains love the mild challenge.

Learning Numbers is Easy in Any Language

If you know Norwegian, you’re going to learn German numbers very quickly without too much study. English is also Germanic, so an English speaker can process German numbers with a small amount of effort.

Through a little bit of consistent analysis, numbers in any tongue can become a part of one’s communication repertoire.

I came across a European in Vientiane. We were talking to a tuk tuk driver about a potential fare to get him to his accommodation. The drifter was asking the driver in English and felt frustrated because the driver didn’t seem to understand.

A local driver might have little to zero formal education. This could be partly why he doesn’t understand a word of English. Cosequently, this can lead a non-Lao/Thai speaker to believe the driver is trying to deceive by overcharging.

EMPATHY ALERT: The driver typically lives a hand-to-mouth existence. There’s too much competition for his unskilled trade to be lucrative. These guys tend to work long hours under constant pressure to make ends meet.

A similar occurance happened while traveling the short distance from Champasak to Pakse a couple of months back. Both times I witnessed the same exact disgruntlement.

Not everyone in Laos received formal education. Far from every child is privileged and learning English. While many people speak English, there are many who only speak a little bit, or none at all.

A safron-clad monk enters the front seat of a vehicle in the highlands of Paksong on the Bolaven Plateau in Laos. In post Why Learning Numbers Abroad is a Great Idea.
A monk claims shotgun on a songtaew in Paksong, southern Laos.

I have no idea how to say: shotgun in Lao, but I understood the price of the fare from Paksong to Pakse:

Ha sip pahn or 50,000 Kip:  Ha (5) + sip (10) + pahn (thousand).   

That’s About $3 for an uncomfortable hour-long journey. Having numbers at your cognitive disposal can be handy when using local transportation.

At the time of writing, I’ve spent several months bouncing back and forth from Thailand to Laos on the day my visas have run out. Thence, I take for granted having the ability to dispense numbers in Thai and Lao, which are identical, except for the number 20.

How to Easily Learn Numbers in a Foreign Tongue

Tao Lai = ‘How much’, in both Thai and Lao. It didn’t take multiple months to learn two syllables. It’s so easy to remember that you don’t even need to tap into memory enhancement through imagination. Rote or memorization learning is easy enough in this two-syllable situation. But let’s use our imagination to enhance learning enjoyment. It’s more effective, so it’s an excellent habit to acquire.

Tao is a belief system that doesn’t Lie.

How much = Tao Lai. A real Taoist won’t lie. If you think a person is lying, then use your newly learned numbers in an extra-calm attempt to haggle down the asking price which could be an exaggeration or a lie.

Once you start using: ‘How much?’, it will quickly become second nature. You’ll be amazed at how fast and easy you’ll have it in your new-language repertoire. This goes for any language. It doesn’t matter if it’s Finnish, Spanish or Thai.

The following example uses Lao / Thai. Take a systematic approach. The first goal is to learn 1 to 10.

1 = nung6 = hok
2 = song7 = jet
3 = sahm8 = pedt
4 = see9 = gahw
5 = ha10 = sip
Numbers from 1 to 10 in Lao and Thai

Have a listen this two-minute video if you’d like to hear native pronunciation of these numbers.

Once you have the first 10, one-syllable numbers, going beyond is easy, since the rest of the numbers are mostly recycled combinations of one through 10.

Since there are around 18,000 Lao kip to one dollar, and about 35 Thai Baht equalling a buck, hundred and thousand are necessary for the language number aresnal.

Hundred = roi  - Imagine 100 ROYal people.

Thousand = pahn - Imagine that you've read Peter PAN a thousand times.  Of course you haven't, but if you imagine something so insane, it will probably embed itself right into your membrane.

One syllable words are the easiest to remember.

Nothing is hard once you know it. Numbers are easy to learn because there’s not a lot of information. You’re not attempting to learn a language overnight, but you could have numbers mostly retained that quickly.

After initial memorization, attempting to use some of these numbers on a daily basis will ensure that they become a part of your other language brain. Emphatic locals will sometimes help with pronunciation.

Perks to Knowing Numbers in Another Tongue

  • This new knowledge enables you to haggle and get prices down. Most of us don’t want to spend more dinero than we need to.
  • It enables more positive interaction with locals. More smiles are received. They appreciate your effort. Every vibration in the air is enhanced.
  • Language knowledge improves an entire travel or living abroad experience. Perhaps the person you’re dealing with can’t read and write in their local tongue. If this is the case, the chances of them knowing English or the numbers, are slimmer.
  • Learning local numbers is practical, useful and enjoyable.
  • Learning in general is a brain booster that can only open the mind.

Even though there are clearly multiple perks to knowing how to say numbers in a foreign tongue, most world explorers don’t seem to consider it.

It never occured to them that by taking a little bit of time to learn numbers, unnecessary distrust can be eliminated, while a dopamine-induced sense of accomplishment will probably be felt.

Create the little time required. Prioritize getting to know the numbers of the foreign land you’re in.

Be patient. The numbers will retain in your brain as you use and hear them. You’ll find that learning the numbers of a foreign land is a win for the nomad and local, alike, and you’ll be a better global citizen for it.

Have you found that learning numbers can be a boon to a travel experience? Feel free to leave a comment below or continue the conversation on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram.

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