“A, B, C. It’s easy as 1, 2, 3. As simple as do, re, mi!”
Sure, it’s a groovy tune.
But if you’re a French student, you might feel like The Jackson 5 is mocking you.
As it turns out, learning one, two, three and beyond in French isn’t all that simple.
Learning French numbers can be a real chore. Even once you’ve read, reviewed and studied a list of French numbers from one to one million, you haven’t really learned French numbers until you’ve practiced a lot.
You need to hear these numbers used in real-world contexts, use them yourself in full sentences and actually put pen to paper (or at least finger to touchscreen).
All of this requires a lot of time, patience and practice.
We’ve already prepared a guide to counting in French for you, and now we’ll show you how to practice until you’ve achieved mastery over the French numbers.
Our Slick 6-step Plan to Learn French Numbers Once and for All
1. Start Slow: Review French Numbers
First, before you begin doing any real practice, start off with a nice and easy review of the French numbers, even if you already think you know them fairly well.
You might be surprised what’s missing from your brain.
It’s not just about not knowing how to spell a certain number.
There are certain French numbers like deux (two) and douze (twelve) that sound very similar to non-native speakers.
Throw in the further complication of formations like la deuxième (the second) and la douzième (the twelfth) and French newbies are sure to be scratching their heads!
Once you feel that you’ve mastered everything from one to one million (or whatever range of numbers you’re looking to master today) move on to the next steps, where you’ll get more hands-on.
2. Be a Copycat: Do Dictation with French Circles
Once you’ve familiarized yourself with the pronunciation of French numbers, it’s time to put your ears to the test.
Choose an audio clip or video like this one from French Circles, a francophone club featuring online classes. Write the numbers down as you hear them.
Depending on how comfortable you are with French numbers, you can let the video play naturally, only giving yourself the allotted time to write your answers. Or you can pause and rewind, listening to the audio as many times as you need.
Audio and video dictations include the answers at the end. Check yourself and record your score so you can keep track of your progress with each dictation exercise.
You’ve practiced saying and listening to numbers. Now it’s time to try writing and spelling.
3. Challenge Yourself: Take Sporcle Quizzes
I find that quizzes are excellent resources for learners to practice correct spelling, and there are plenty of options online.
For instance, Sporcle, an entertainment trivia website, offers a basic, timed test on French numbers one through 20 and each subsequent tens set (30, 40, 50, etc.) up to 100.
This quiz is particularly helpful because the site does not accept your answer unless you include the correct hyphens, which are important in many French numbers such as quatre-vingt-dix (90).
Another fantastic website is Quizlet, which offers thousands of study sets in various subjects. Their French numbers study set has a huge variety of useful resources for you.
First, they offer flashcards. Quizlet shows you a card with a written French number—for example, trois (three)—and you have to guess which number it is before flipping it over and seeing the answer in numeral form.
The second option is a writing test. You see a French number, such as soixante-quatorze (74), and you must type the correct corresponding numeral.
Last, they offer a final French numbers test that mixes written, matching, multiple choice and true or false questions.
4. Have Fun: Play Number Games on Quizlet
While you’re still on Quizlet’s French numbers study set, try out their two game options, which focus on perfecting your written numbers.
The first is a simple matching game, where you drag numerals and words together as fast as you can. For example, you match onze (eleven) with the numeral 11.
The second game they offer is a super fun asteroid game. Your mission is to protect the planet by typing the correct spelling of each asteroid’s numeral before it hits.
In other words, an asteroid will contain a numeral like 56 and you have to correctly type in cinquante-six (fifty-six) before it hits the planet.
This exercise is thorough because the game won’t accept your answers without the correct accents. For example, you must type in zéro (zero) instead of zero.
These games are a great way to pass the time while improving your written numbers.
5. Make It Count: Apply Your Numbers Knowledge to Money
Using money to practice counting is an incredible way to master French numbers.
When you’re dealing with a financial transaction of any size, whether buying a croissant or paying rent on a flat in Paris, the stakes are higher than normal.
If you don’t get your numbers right, you could end up paying too much.
Plus, dealing with money is something you already do every day—even if it’s done in English—and it’s something you’ll do every day while abroad in a French-speaking country. You need to familiarize yourself with the euro and learn how to form sentences with French numbers and currency.
The best place to start is to watch and learn.
YouLearnFrench, a French dialogue YouTube channel, has a great video that simulates an exchange between a shopper and employee at the grocery store. The video uses tons of numbers, both with money (paying the cashier and getting change back) and with quantities (asking for a certain number of products).
Both the French and English transcriptions are included to help you understand the words and numbers in the conversation. The video pauses after each sentence to give you plenty of time to practice saying the numbers and dialogue aloud!
6. Make It Real: Practice French Numbers in Context
You’re ready to make it real. Grab a partner and delegate one person to play the role of the shopkeeper and the other to act as the customer.
If you don’t have a partner, don’t sweat it—simply play both parts. Or you can read a dialogue already written online and assume the role of your choice.
There are also plenty of sites that allow you to connect with other French learners. Try this exercise with someone you meet on one of these online platforms.
Second, choose the type of store you want to simulate. Be sure to change the scenario each time so you can incorporate lots of different vocabulary while simultaneously learning your numbers.
Additionally, you’ll get to practice how to interact at a shop in French, so this lesson is like getting three separate exercises for the price of one—look at that, we’ve already started playing!
If you need some help getting started, imagine that you are in a clothing boutique and try using the following dialogue:
Customer: Bonjour, monsieur, je voudrais acheter une chemise blanche pour une fête formelle. (Hello, Sir, I would like to buy a white shirt for a formal party.)
Shopkeeper: Oui, madame, vous désirez une chemise dans combien? (Yes, Ma’am, and you’re looking for a shirt that costs how much?)
Customer: Dans les 40 € environ. (Around 40 euros.)
Shopkeeper: Alors, j’ai plusiers chemises blanches ici. (Okay, I have several white shirts here.)
Customer: Ah, celui-là est vraiment belle! Il fait combien? (Ah, this one is very pretty! How much does it cost?)
Shopkeeper: 60 €, madame. (60 euros, Ma’am.)
Customer: C’est assez cher. (It is quite expensive.)
Shopkeeper: Je peux vous donner une réduction de 5 €. (I can give you a discount of 5 euros.)
Customer: D’accord, je la prends pour 55 €. (Okay, I’ll take it for 55 euros.)
Getting creative with oral exercises is both fun and good for practicing spontaneity when speaking French.
Being able to say French numbers is only one side of the coin. You’ll also need to be able to easily understand them when listening to others.
When I try to improve my listening skills, I find that dictation exercises are extremely helpful.
When learning French numbers, it’s important to learn all aspects of them so that you can apply your knowledge to real-life situations.
Fortunately, learning them can be great fun, so get started right away!
The next step after the six above, of course, is to start using your numbers in your actual life.
Find French stores and restaurants where the language is spoken, and starting using your newfound knowledge to treat yourself to French cuisine and other treats.
Who knew learning French numbers could be delicious, too?
Camille Turner is an experienced freelance writer and ESL teacher.