Numbers and hearing/internalizing them

Years ago, I recall my father telling me that in WW2 (Second World War), a trick used by counter-espionage to flush out spies was to get them to do arithmetic in their non-native language. Something about numbers and how we hear/say them being deeply ingrained. I know I’m mis-remembering the story, but maybe you can see where this is going…

Today, listening to an RTP podcast about COVID-19, a blizzard of dates, statistics, (ie numbers) was thrown out for consumption. I had been marginally following the discussion (emphasis on marginally), but the numbers stopped me cold. I could hear them, but couldn’t internalize them.

Likewise, I’ve been stopped cold with the Estudo em Casa aulas on math(s). I can follow other aulas (geografia, historia, etc), but math stops me cold. And I have a degree in it and have even taught it.

Therefore, I’m wondering if there’s a place for some form of practice unit on hearing numbers (2, 3, 4 digit) and then allowing time to write them, before being presented with the visual answer. Something like the following:

spoken: “Trinta cinco”
(pause) (perhaps configurable… beginners get (say) 10sec, the more experienced can dial it back as they see fit to challenge themselves).
I write “35”
screen displays 35 so I can self-correct

It could be taken a step further - example: do simple arithmetic problems + - * /
spoken: vinte nove mais seis
display: 35

Thoughts? Or are there other resources that can be brought to bear?


That is exactly what I have been thinking too. When I have been in Galiza and Portugal the numbers have been the thing that makes me hesitate and ask for a repeat in stores, ticket windows, etc. Even when people speak slowly enough for me to get the rest the numbers seem to come out too fast.


@stephencanthony, I’d say you’re placing the bar too high if you’re already trying to keep up with COVID-19 statistical reports in Portuguese :smile: But your suggestion is good and has already been added to our list of ideas. Practice Portuguese does have three units dedicated to numbers, which should be a good starting point.

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Links to our current numbers Units:
Numbers 1
Numbers 2
Numbers 3

The first 2 will probably be the most relevant. They do include the “listen and type what you hear” activity, but it’s mixed in with other question types too. You can respond using digits or words. We’re working on adding more numbers to these as well :slight_smile:

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Bar to high? Probably :slight_smile:

But maybe surprisingly, dates (years), I mostly hear fine. Of course, those have a distinct structure that makes them more recognizable.

Random numbers, however… not so much.

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