Today I was teaching my students how to say numbers. They’re in university and have quite a high level of English, so you might be wondering why I bother… but numbers are challenging for many learners of English – especially those from East Asia.

In East Asia, some languages group numbers by the tens of thousands – ie with four zeroes instead of three. When students think in their native language and translate, it can be difficult for them. As a result, you need to show the rules for stating long numbers.

I do this by starting at zero and building up to 1,000,000,000,000. It seems inconceivably massive, but if you explain the formulas for stating long numbers, demonstrating slowly and building up with lots of examples, it’s actually incredibly easy.

There’s also the tricky subject of pronunciation. Most Asian students struggle with “thousand” because of the /θ/ sound. Then there’s the slight difference between 15 and 50, 16 and 60, etc.

To practice numbers, I use the idea from The Price is Right – a TV show where people guess prices of products. It’s very easy to set up. Just take some pictures and prices from Amazon or any other online store and stick them into a PowerPoint presentation. Put the students in groups and have them guess the prices.

I find the natural competitiveness of people gets even quieter students fired up, and because they might both think the product costs around $250, they’ll get tricky and one will say, “$251” to beat the other. It’s a great way of having them practice their language.