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Grade 4

Whole numbers and their relationships

Module 5

Ways of counting in local languages and different cultures


To describe and illustrate various ways of counting in local languages and different cultures throughout history [LO 1.2]

Now you are going to explore the world of number names and symbols to see how our number system developed.


1.1 You have been using numbers and counting on and counting backwards. See if you can remember the names for the numbers in some of our South African languages. In the table below write the name of a local language most commonly used in your area. Now write in the words in that language for numbers 1 to 10.

Numbers English ………………………. Afrikaans
1 One Een
2 Two Twee
3 Three Drie
4 Four Vier
5 Five Vyf
6 Six Ses
7 Seven Sewe
8 Eight Ag
9 Nine Nege
10 Ten Tien


When children learn to count, they chant the numbers and move rhythmically to the music. Get together with some friends and make up a rap song to count from 11 to 20 in any South African language. Present this song to the rest of the learners.

1.3 Now write number names of another local language most used in your area. Also write the name of the language in the space provided in the second column.

Numbers Other local language Numbers Other local language
11 16
12 17
13 18
14 19
15 20

1.4 Try to find out the names for the following numbers and write them in the correct columns:

Numbers Other local language English Afrikaans
1 000
10 000

CHECKLIST: Number names

Yes No
1.1 I have written in number names for 1 to 10 in a local language that is used most in my area.
1.2 I have made up a rap song to count from 11 to 20 with my friends. We performed it for the rest of the learners.
1.3 I have written in number names for 11 to 20 in a local language that is used most in my area.
1.4 I have found out and written in the names for 100; 1 000 and 10 000.


You may do this in your own time, at school and/or at home, as your educator decides.


(Research is when you need to look up information and use it to answer questions. Ask your educator to take you to the library to do the research in this section or use the computer to look up information on the Internet.)

READ: The following information tells you about counting systems. Now test your skills by answering the questions that follow.

2. Pre-history: People in ancient times

Thousands of years ago, before people could write, they had no knowledge of numbers and figures and they had to find ways of indicating how many animals or possessions they had. They put a small pebble in a bag for every animal they possessed, or carved notches on a stick.

  • Why did people start to need numbers?
  • Draw a stick with notches carved on it to show that the owner possessed 5 sheep.

2.3 Besides carving notches on a stick, what else did they use to show how many animals they possessed?

Ancient civilizations

3. The Babylonians

Many years later, people used signs or symbols to represent numbers. The Babylonians who lived in Mesopotamia made wedge-shaped notches in wood or pressed such marks into damp clay tablets.

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Source:  OpenStax, Mathematics grade 4. OpenStax CNX. Sep 18, 2009 Download for free at http://cnx.org/content/col11101/1.1
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