NB: This question is addressed to those learners of German as a foreign language who have faced, and overcome, the problem described here.

My fluency with numbers lags far behind my fluency with the rest of spoken German. More precisely, this fluency gap shows only with numbers greater or equal to 20. (Of course, the root of my problem is the inversion in the ordering of the units and the decades.)

This fluency gap is wider for aural comprehension than for spoken production (but this is because my spoken production is all-around much weaker than my listening comprehension).

What's worse, I'm discovering that even though my general listening comprehension of German keeps improving steadily, my comprehension of numbers has not improved at all. As a result of this uneven development, when I now listen to standard spoken German (e.g. the evening news), I perceive numbers as short stretches of gibberish in a stream of otherwise clearly understable speech.

In other words: listening practice is not working when it comes to numbers (even though it's working for the rest of spoken German).

To be clear: (of course) I understand the rules for "sounding out" numbers in German perfectly well, and, with enough time, I can decode the number words, but at a rate that is 10x slower than is required for understanding speech spoken at a normal rate. In other words, knowing the rules only allows me to decode, a relatively slow process; something more must happen in order for me to understand these numbers instantly, in the same way that I understand everything else.

Does anyone know how to overcome with this problem?

EDIT: to be more precise: does anyone know of a tool/app or specific technique to overcome this problem?

If anyone is still unclear of what I mean by the difference between "decoding" and "listening comprehension" (at a normal spoken rate), I still remember when, upon hearing the word Kühlschrank, I would have to decode it into "cool + cupboard = fridge". Now, after hearing a lot of spoken German, which has included plenty of mentions of it over time, when I hear the word Kühlschrank in spoken German, not only I don't do this decoding starting with translating kühl and Schrank; I don't even think of the English word fridge. I just know what Kühlschrank is referring to as soon as I hear the word. No decoding or translation is involved anymore. This example is pretty representative, and it tells me that my listening comprehension is improving in general (i.e., I am practicing effectively, it's paying off, I don't have a general neurologic deficit, etc.). So my problem is very specific to numbers.

4 Answers 4


Mit Texttospeach-Software kann man sich leicht selbst Übungsmaterial produzieren.

Beispielsweise erzeugt folgender Befehl zwei gesprochene Zahlen:

echo "1927, siebenhunderacht" | espeak -v de --stdin

Je nach dem, in welchem Bereich die Zahlen sind, ob man auch negative üben will und Dezimalbrüche, kann man diese von einem Programmscript erzeugen lassen:

echo "$RANDOM" | espeak -v de --stdin

Mit wenigen weiteren Zeilen lässt sich eine Kontrolle dazu stricken:

echo $x | espeak -v de --stdin
sleep 2
echo $x 

und programmatisch eine Erfolgskontrolle:

echo $x | espeak -v de --stdin
read ergebnis -p "Welche Zahl haben Sie gehört? " 
test $(( ergebnis == x )) && echo prima || echo Richtig wäre $x gewesen

was sich weiter ausbauen lässt mit einer Schleife, die 10 oder 100 Zahlen übt, die die Quote richtiger Ergebnisse ausgibt und/oder die Geschwindigkeit der Antworten oder einfach misst, wie lange man für 20 richtige Antworten braucht, die längste Serie richtiger Antworten protokolliert und/oder immer größere Zahlen auf den Probanden loslässt.

Der gezeigte Beispielcode ist Bash; auf Linux muss espeak meist gesondert installiert werden.

  • 2
    Linux, yeah! Das ist eine Superidee! Danke!
    – kjo
    Jun 3, 2018 at 17:05

Als Nichtmuttersprachler (Schwede) aber in Kindheit etwas Deutsch beigebrachter Mensch, merke ich immernoch dass die höheren Zahlen zu ein paar Sekunden Nachdenken führt, was mich auf den folgenden Satz unaufmerksam macht. Dies ist ein Problem, aber nicht unüberwindlich. Ich habe das selbe Problem wenn ich Dänisch höre, dessen Nummernsystem dem Französischen ähnelt. Da wird der Fluß beim Zuhören noch schlimmer unterbrochen.

Ich habe daran nicht gearbeitet, ich denke aber, dass es keine andere Hilfe gibt als fleißiges Üben. Wenn du schon in deiner Muttersprache auch Probleme mit Nummern, Ziffern oder Mathematik hast, sind die Voraussetzungen auch schlechter.

  • Vielleicht wäre es besser auf eine englische Frage auch auf englisch zu antworten.
    – some_user
    Jun 3, 2018 at 9:23
  • @SomeWindowsUser Pourquoi? Jun 3, 2018 at 10:41
  • @ChristianGeiselmann Pienso que es más comprensible :)
    – some_user
    Jun 3, 2018 at 12:36
  • @SomeWindowsUser you might be right and are welcome to edit my answer into English
    – Beta
    Jun 3, 2018 at 13:33

I have the same problem, and I'm German. This is similar to left-right confusion – if it doesn't come natural to you, you can only fix it by focusing and asking people to repeat the number.

You aren't alone.

  • 5
    This does not really answer the question. If you have a different question, you can ask it by clicking Ask Question. You can also add a bounty to draw more attention to this question. - From Review
    – Robert
    Jun 3, 2018 at 8:51
  • @Robert: I agree with you, this would have been better as a comment. Then again, I upvoted it, because I found the information surprising and also helpful (in an unexpected way).
    – kjo
    Jun 3, 2018 at 17:16
  • 1
    This does indeed answer the question: You can only fix it by focusing and asking people to repeat the number.
    – Janka
    Jun 7, 2018 at 9:27

EDIT: to be more precise: does anyone know of a tool/app or specific technique to overcome this problem?

I didn't learn German as a foreign language, but of course I learned other foreign languages. In general I think that the saying "practice makes perfect" fits quite well. If you hear and use such numbers often enough, you will understand them without a delay at some point, because it becomes a habit. As you have already written, the decoding process is omitted then. This will also be the case for numbers, but it just takes longer for you to get used to it, I guess.

Listening to German news like "tagesschau" or "heute" is a perfect way to practise numbers, since numbers are often included in facts. However, this is only passive listening. To achieve a better effect you should listen actively, i. e. taking notes while listening to the news and later try to write an own article that includes as many numbers as possible. Especially online news are a good solution, since they often include a video and a corresponding text, so you can check with the text later on. "tagesschau" and "heute" both provide such online news on their websites.

Moreover, there are some websites and apps I have found which can be helpful, too:


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