Wednesday, December 19, 2007

12 Days of Ordinal Numbers

You know, I was thinking of knocking off the tutor tips for about a month around the holidays, but one more brain wave hit me, so here’s a new tip for you. Try using “The 12 Days of Christmas” as a teaching tool for ordinal numbers.

The numbers that we express as first, second, third are known as ordinal numbers. That is, they indicate where something falls in a sequence. So, the baseball player who is number one in the batting order we call the first. After him someone bats second. I use the example of batting order because the word ordinal is related to order. I wouldn’t necessarily use the phrase “ordinal numbers” with a beginning learner, because who besides English teachers ever calls them that? To give a simple English definition, you might call them “the number for what order something comes in.” Or maybe you’ll come up with a more elegant definition on your own.

Also, this song gives a neat mnemonic to teach the irregular ordinal numbers first, second third and their corresponding cardinal numbers, one, two, three. So, “On the first day of Christmas my true love gave to me [one] partridge in a pear tree. On the second day of Christmas my true love gave to me two turtle doves and one partridge in a pear tree,” and so on.

And it’s a fun song to sing—sort of like “99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall” but less annoying. I always got in trouble after the 8 maids, though, so for your benefit, the lyrics are as follows:

1 Partridge in a pear tree
2 Turtle Doves
3 French Hens
4 Calling Birds
5 Golden Rings
6 Geese A-laying
7 Swans A-swimming
8 Maids A-milking
9 Ladies Dancing
10 Lords A-leaping
11 Pipers Piping
12 Drummers Drumming
And where does the word cardinal come from? Ah, that’s strange. My American Heritage Dictionary says it comes from Middle English word cardo, meaning “hinge.” That is, something important—pivotal—on which everything hinges. Oh, man what a language we’ve got. Till next time, Merry Christmas, Happy New Year and a blessed Eid ul Adha to all of you.