Zero, Zero, Zero, (Zero)

Funny how it is only recently that I realized this, despite that mandarin is supposed to be my mother tongue.

Maybe because I’m recently attending free basic korean language classes at the korean tourism office, reading a mandarin comic at night, and sitting in some sessions of basic Japanese language classes with my colleagues at the office.

In English, we think in “thousands”, or what I call a “3 zeros perspective”. For instance, “10,000” is pronounced as “ten thousand” and “100,000” is pronounced as “one hundred thousand”. Notice where the comma is placed? It’s after every third zero.

However, for Mandarin, Japanese, and Korean languages, we have to think in a “4 zeros perspective”.

Mandarin language

10,000: You don’t pronounce it as “十千” (“shi2-qian1”), which is a direct translation from english, but as 一万 (“yi1-wan4”), which roughly translates to 1 X 10000. With the comma, it is better reflected as 1,0000 (i.e. comma after the 4th zero)

100,000: Similarly, it is not pronounced as “一百千” (“yi1-bai3-qian1”), but as “十万” (“shi2-wan4”), or 10 X 10000, or 10,0000

Japanese language

10,000: It is “いちまん” (ichi-man), where いち is 1, and まん is 10000. See the pattern, 1 X 10000, or 1,0000

 100,000: This is “じゅうまん”(juu-man), where is じゅう is 10, and まん is 10000. Again 10 X 10000, or 10,0000

Korean language

10,000: It is “일만” (il -man), where 일 is 1, while 만 is 10000. Although in conversations, the Koreans will pronounce 10000 as 만, without the 일. Again, we see that일만 is 1 X 10000. The comma is again better reflected after the 4th zero, i.e. 1,0000.

100,000: It is “십만” (ship-man), where 십 is 10, and만 is 10000. 십만 literally means 10 X 10000,  or 10,0000

This makes it so much easier for me!

PS: Perhaps the extra zero is also the reason why people in east asia tend to work longer hours. I am referring to the UBS study. We take an extra step. In English, we say “think twice”, but in Mandarin, the equivalent is “三思而后行” (or think thrice!)

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