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Counting with your fingers in English vs. in French

In English, you start counting on your fingers with your index finger while in French you start with your thumb.

I taught my bilingual children to count in English and French starting with the correct finger depending on the language. When they count in each language they switch their starting finger without thinking about it. Kids are so cool.

I have made a video to demonstrate this. French speakers…please, excuse my accent.


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  • M@ February 27, 2008, 8:36 pm

    I’m just weird. I do it both ways depending on the situation. If it’s a number that is greater than 5 I usually start with my thumb, and 6 is the pinkie of my other hand. If it’s 5 or less I start with my index finger. :)

  • Sarah February 28, 2008, 1:52 am

    This is a great example of how and why parents and teachers who want people to learn a second language can’t teach the language in a vacuum–it is much more meaningful when accompanied by lessons about culture. (I can remember being confused watching a French friend count on her fingers before I understand that Americans start with the index.) And “cuture” is much more than, say, great literature–it involves all of these small details that factor into how people live their lives on a daily basis.

  • Psychgrad February 28, 2008, 4:26 am

    Very neat! I’ll have to ask my French-Canadian friends how they count with their fingers. I always found it interesting how animals make different noises in different languages. My grandmother always say “how” instead of “ruff” for a dog’s bark.

  • expatraveler February 28, 2008, 5:52 am

    I used to get a kick out of me saying 1 and then the Swiss asking me if I wanted 2… I caught and and remember this very useful lesson just like you… But that’s even cooler that your kids know to switch between the two languages! :)

  • marie February 28, 2008, 9:41 am

    That’s funny… :)

    And being a native french speaker, i can tell that you don’t have much accent. You even say the french [r] right, which most anglo-saxons can’t!

  • Pumpkin February 28, 2008, 1:36 pm

    M@, I can’t start counting in English with my thumb and then continue with six as my pinkie on my other hand. My brain hates it!

    Sarah, That is so true because when I speak French I think French. I found that when I started to learn the French culture the language made more sense. It became a part of me.

    Psychgrad, I still don’t know many of the animal sounds in French. I do teach my kids the English sounds and sometimes they will tell me the French. :)

    Expatraveler, It totally amazes me how they keep it all separate!

    Marie, Thank you and that is nice to hear! Sometimes, I am still shy about my accent. About the French r…I practiced a lot! :)

  • Marie-Ève October 8, 2008, 2:32 am

    uh… I’m a french-speaker and I count in my finger like in English. XD I don’t think that works, well, nice try. I like your little accent in French :)

  • Pumpkin October 8, 2008, 8:23 am

    Marie-Eve,
    I think that is interesting that you count starting with your pointer finger. It isn’t something that I came up with myself that the French count starting with their thumbs. Actually, I never noticed it until my French husband pointed out that I was starting out with the wrong finger! :)

    Since then I have found that it is even on About.com where you can learn French online for free.

    Perhaps it isn’t true thoughout France and where you are from it is not the same? I don’t know. I would be interested to know if other people around you also start with their fingers.

    You have to understand I was a social psychology major in college and little things like this are really interesting to me.

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