Holiday English Lesson The Twelve Days Of Christmas Maths Puzzle Ep 289

A photograph of a colourful crested partridge up close, used to help describe the 12 Days of Christmas English lesson.

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💬 2197 words ▪️ ⏳ Reading Time 11 min

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English Lesson

Today's English lesson is proof of several things. One, Adept English is always trying to be on time with its lessons, and two mathematics is all around us. If you just expect Adept English to be reliable and are not that keen on maths, then maybe learning about a UK song that’s hundreds of years old and still just about everyone in the UK could sing along, will get you listening.

For those who celebrated Christmas and are still doing so, we wish you all a happy time. If you don’t celebrate Christmas we also wish you a happy time, why not? Everyone should find a moment of happiness and just enjoy themselves who needs the excuse of a special day to do it on!

Without mathematics, there’s nothing you can do. Everything around you is mathematics. Everything around you is numbers.
⭐ Shakuntala Devi, Indian writer and mental calculator

As always, with our English language learning technique, you will benefit most from repeat listening of the audio. You're trying to get your brain to accept spoken English as natural as your own language, you need to encourage your brain to treat the English sounds as a familiar language and repeat listening will help with that.

Most Unusual Words:


Most common 2 word phrases:

English Lessons6
You Get5
Turtle Doves5
A Partridge5
How Many4

Listen To The Audio Lesson Now

The mp3 audio and pdf transcript for this lesson is now part of the Adept English back catalogue . You can still download and listen to this lesson as part of one of our podcast bundles.

Transcript: Holiday English Lesson The Twelve Days of Christmas Maths Puzzle

Hi there and welcome to this latest podcast from Adept English, providing you with weekly free English lessons. These aren’t English lessons for beginners, but test out, test yourself out with this podcast to see how much you can understand – what percentage of it. Let’s do an English lesson with a festive, a Christmas flavour today. So even if you don’t celebrate Christmas, this English lesson also contains a Maths puzzle for you, just to keep your brain working! If you’d like to see the written words, the transcript for this podcast, then like all of our podcasts, our English lessons pdf file is available to download and you can find the transcript also on our website at

Do you know ‘The Twelve Days of Christmas’?

Have you ever heard of the Christmas song The Twelve Days of Christmas? Well, this is a traditional song, with lots of verses, which has been sung for hundreds of years in English speaking countries. And it’s used sometimes as a maths problem – if you’re a mathematician, it probably won’t be particularly difficult, but it’s an interesting challenge for those of us who aren’t mathematicians. And a mathematician? Well that’s someone who is an expert in Maths or Mathematics, numbers and sums.


  • What is meant by the ‘twelve days of Christmas’?

So you may know this song already, or you’ll be able to find it easily online I think – if you’d like to listen to it. The Twelve Days of Christmas starts off very simply with the first verse. It goes ‘On the first day of Christmas, my true love sent to me, a partridge in a pear tree’. A ‘partridge’, P-A-R-T-R-I-D-G-E is a kind of a bird – and a pear tree – a tree which bears fruit in the form of pears, P-E-A-R-S. They’re rather like apples. And a ‘true love’ is an old fashioned expression for your fiancé [or fiancé], the person that you’re engaged to be married to. So a bit of old fashioned romance here – the ‘true love’ is sending gifts for Christmas. And the twelve days of Christmas – well it starts on 25th December and it runs until 6th January. So 6th January is ‘Twelfth Night’ - and that’s when your Christmas decorations should be taken down by.

Meaning of the song and the word ‘cumulative’

So the Twelve Days of Christmas song is listing all the gifts which are sent by ‘my true love’ on the twelve days of Christmas. So the second verse goes ‘On the second day of Christmas, my true love sent to me, two turtle doves and a partridge in a pear tree’. So again, ‘turtle doves’ are a kind of bird, a bit like a pigeon, but notice you get another ‘partridge in a pear tree’ that’s sent as well. The third verse goes ‘On the third day of Christmas, my true love sent to me, three French hens’ – so another kind of bird, ‘Two turtle doves and a partridge in a pear tree.’ So notice by day three, how many birds have been sent by ‘my true love’? Well, this is where the Maths comes in. By day three, there’ve already been three partridges in a pear tree, two lots of two, so in total four turtle doves and now three French hens.


A photograph of two golden rings, used to help describe the 5 golden ring verse in the 12 days of Christmas English lesson.

©️ Adept English 2019

So it’s a song which builds and builds. A good word for this in English is ‘cumulative’, it adds over time, C-U-M-U-L-A-T-I-V-E. So with every verse, something new is added, but all the previous gifts are also sent again. Do you get the idea, do you understand why it’s a mathematical challenge? So here is the full list of all the gifts which are being sent by the final verse of the song, by verse 12. But the mathematical challenge is to work out, how many things are sent. English lessons for kids and adults alike – maybe you could set this mathematical challenge for your children, as well?

Adept English ‘Vocabulary Explanation’ of the Twelve Days of Christmas

So of course, there’s a separate verse for each new line, for each new gift – and then all the previous gifts are given again. But this is this list….what the list is like, with vocabulary explanations by verse 12.

Twelve Days of Christmas Video

So on the twelfth day of Christmas, my true love sent to me…..

  • Twelve lords a-leaping – well Lord, L-O-R-D is a title, it’s part of the British aristocracy, like Lord Alan Sugar, or Lord Peter Mandelsson. And a-leaping? Well, that just means they’re jumping up and down!
  • Eleven ladies dancing – so ‘ladies’, L-A-D-I-E-S means women, but also Lady, L-A-D-Y with a capital ‘L’ is the female title to go with Lord. So eleven ladies dancing.
  • Ten pipers piping – well ‘pipes’ in this context means a musical instrument, which you blow – and it has a military connection – so a ‘piper’ is someone, probably a soldier who plays the pipes. So that’s ten pipers piping.
  • Nine drummers drumming – so here ‘drums’, D-R-U-M-S again is a musical instrument, a percussion instrument and this is probably in a military context. So soldiers might be drummers in a military band. So nine drummers drumming. Next it’s…..
  • Eight maids a-milking. So here ‘maid’, M-A-I-D here is an old fashioned word for a young woman, one who isn’t married. And ‘a-milking’ just means milking. That a- to make ‘milking’ into ‘a-milking’ is just old English, because it’s an old rhyme, an old song. So these maids, these young women are ‘milking’ and that means ‘milking cows’. So they’re women who extract the milk from cows by hand. Not many of those in the UK these days.
  • Seven swams a-swimming comes next. So swans, S-W-A-N-S are birds which are wild in the UK – they’re white with long necks and are usually seen swimming on lakes. They can be quite scary too – sometimes they attack you, if you’re trying to feed then. And a curious fact – all the swans in the United Kingdom belong to Queen Elizabeth – so they’re protected.
  • Six geese a-laying – so six geese, so G-E-E-S-E and the singular of this nouns is goose, G-O-O-S-E. And a goose is one of those birds that you might eat for your Christmas dinner. It’s a bit like a swan, but we do also eat their eggs – goose eggs are bigger than a hen’s egg. And a-laying? That just means that they’re laying eggs. So ‘six geese a-laying’.
  • Five gold rings – that’s fairly self explanatory. A ring, R-I-N-G here is something that you would wear on your finger, a piece of jewellry, made of gold. So gold is the yellow-coloured precious metal.

And then of course, we’re back to our ‘four calling birds, three French hens, two turtle doves and a partridge in a pear tree.’

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Work out the maths….

So the trick with this puzzle, this maths challenge is to work out how many individual items are given as presents across the twelve days of Christmas? So count the partridge in a pear tree as one item, and bear in mind that by the time you get to verse twelve, there have been twelve partridges in a pear tree given. Do you get the idea? So just for a bit of brain exercise over the Christmas period – in addition to listening to and trying to understand this podcast in English of course – why not try to work out how many individual items, so that’s birds, rings, people like the drummers and maids have been gifted by ‘my true love’ by the twelfth day of Christmas?

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And work out the cost? Well someone does….!

And if you want the answer to this mathematical problem? You’ll find it in the transcript at Even more challenging – to calculate the cost of all these gifts during ‘The Twelve Days of Christmas’? One organisation, PNC Financial Services Group puts out its Christmas Price Index every year, and has done since 1984. It calculates the cost of all the gifts in the Twelve Days of Christmas, based on current market rates; 2019's total comes to $38,993.59, or if you count each mention of each item separately, it comes to $170,298.03. Ouch – that’s an expensive Christmas!


So there you have it – the Twelve Days of Christmas in an English lesson – and a Maths lesson too. What more could you want?! All English lessons from Adept English – everything in English, so you get used to listening to our free English lessons online.

Enough for now. Have a lovely day. Speak to you again soon. Goodbye.

PS: Not Much To Add Today As I Am The Only One Working

As I sit here answering support emails and helping people who have questions or problems with the Adept English language courses they have bought over the last few days, it reminds me of just how global the Internet really is. Many of our students don’t celebrate Christmas or are working just like me right through, what is, a huge UK holiday.

I think it’s something like 90% of the UK will eat too much and drinking too much as they celebrate Christmas. However, only a small percentage of those people celebrate for religious reasons.

So as I drove to work today, there were no cars on the road, it was like a ghost city as I drove around. Anyways, I will see you in the new year, take care :)



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