Learn to count!

Learning to count in Chinese really is as easy as 1, 2, 3 (at the start anyway!)

一 (yī,) 二 (èr,) 三 (sān)

One stroke means one. Duh. Two strokes means two. Ridiculously easy, right? Just make sure the stroke on the bottom (the second stroke) is slightly wider than the stroke above. And yep, it’s not brain surgery, three strokes means three. So what do you think four is like? Sorry, but here is where things get more complicated:

四 (sì,) 五 (wǔ,) 六 (liù)

All previous rules go out the window. 四 (sì) means four, that’s sort of cool, it looks like a square box, and those have four sides. 五 (wǔ) sort of follows the first three, in that it takes five strokes to make the number five, but the extra two strokes are in funny spots. And six? Well, if you wanted something to remember it by, I guess 六 (liù) looks like a bunch of sticks, and sticks rhymes with .. six.

七 (qī,) 八 (bā,) 九 (jiǔ,) 十 (shí)

七 (qī) is cool in that it looks like an upside-down 7, when you write it like “ze French.” Here’s where things get unfortunate: 八 (bā) really has no resemblance to the number eight, just like 九 (jiǔ) doesn’t look much like anything to do with nine, and 十 (shí) just looks like a + sign, also nothing to do with ten. Which begs the question, how do Chinese people do maths? (The answer is with 加, but that’s a lesson for another time …)

I know what you’re thinking: that’s not cool. Well, no, maybe not. But did you know that there are hand signals for these numbers?

1 to 10 in Chinese hand signals If the importance of this hasn’t hit you yet, I’ll tell you now: imagine you just entered a crowded restaurant, waitstaff are briskly powerwalking all around you, restaurant-goers are laughing, chatting, drinking … and you’re trying to say you want a table for six people. Well, nobody can hear you over all that noise! But a hand signal? Perfect.

Note: there are a few variations on 十 (shí, ten) where sometimes people use their forefingers on both hands to make a 十 sign, or cross their forefinger and middle finger like when they᾿re going to double-cross you.

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