I have students who work in and around medicine. The other day I did this article from the BBC web site: First trial of embryonic stem cells in humans. As they read it aloud some interesting problems arose.
Geron, a biotech company based in "silicon valley" south of San Francisco, has spent $170m on developing a stem cell treatment for spinal cord injury.
A student read this as just 170 million without stating the currency. Of course, when talking naturally about your own currency – and more so now that we have the euro in a large area – the name of the currency is often omitted as the context supplies it. But that cannot be generalised. Very often the denomination must be stated for the sake of clarity. It is best to do so all the time perhaps.
Every year around 12,000 people in the US sustain spinal cord injuries.
Two students in different classes read this as 2,000 people. I don’t know why they did so, but numbers need special attention because they have little or no context. Two thousand would have been a plausible number, at first sight at least. Many people have great difficulty reading numbers, especially complicated ones, in a foreign language. It is a skill worth developing.
Ben Sykes, executive director of the UK National Stem Cell Network, said: "This is indeed a significant milestone in our journey towards the promise of stem cell-based medicines.
One student knew the word milestone but pronounced so that it sounded more like millstone. The context would probably show that millstone was wrong but might not immediately suggest milestone as the correct word. At least there would be momentary confusion on the part of a listener. It is the sort of thing that should be avoided in any spoken presentation.