EasyRead Time Teacher

How other cultures learn to tell the time

If your child is learning to read a clock for the first time, then they are likely going to have a lot of questions. Whilst the majority of them will probably centre around how clocks work or how they demonstrate the passing of time, your child might start to look outside of their own experience and wonder how different cultures tell time. Different countries and languages can all measure and interact with time in very different ways, so if you or your child are interested in exploring how other cultures learn to tell the time, here is our guide.

Time-telling across the world

Different parts of the world have different, and often unique, ways of interacting with time, shaped by historical, geographical, and social factors. Modern timekeeping is largely uniform due to globalisation and technological advancements which have reduced modern time telling skills to a quick glance at a screen, and so it is easy for us to overlook the importance that time still holds for many cultures across the globe.

Exploring how different people learn to tell the time can reveal a great deal about their societies and the structure of their days, as many local time practices still reflect cultural identities. Whilst in Britain, our timekeeping is primarily used as a way to schedule our daily lives and has little cultural impact, in other areas the way people interact with time can vary depending upon the seasons, the time of day, and any religious holidays or festivals.

These rules, whether clearly displayed across societies or simply implied through practices that have been passed down through generations, nurture the timekeeping traditions of different areas and keep them from fading. So, before we get into a deeper exploration of how cultures across the world learn to tell the time, let’s take a look at how interactions with time differ from country to country.

Interactions with time

Cultural attitudes towards time vary significantly around the world, reflecting deeper values and revealing much about the numerous different ways of life. These diverse attitudes towards time and its passing not only influence daily schedules and social norms but also reflect broader cultural values and priorities, shaping how people interact, conduct business, and manage social relationships.

For example, in countries such as America and the UK, time is viewed as a way to keep track of the different stages of the day and informs which actions we take next, which has resulted in a structured approach to time management and a strong emphasis on punctuality, scheduling, and efficiency. Time in the West exists to keep us on track and manage our tasks, and this strict approach to time is also one shared by several East Asian societies, particularly across Japan and South Korea. These areas often have a considered and measured approach to time, valuing punctuality and structure highly and viewing time as a resource that must be managed wisely. However, it is important to remember that many of these attitudes are unwritten, and can only be observed through daily interactions, rather than through the study of time.

In contrast to these more rigid contexts, where time is money and lateness is seen as an insult or indicative of one’s commitments, many other societies have a more relaxed attitude towards time. Primarily found across Middle Eastern and Latin American cultures, these attitudes are informed more by social factors than strict schedules, and measurements of time are often event related, meaning that the conclusion of an activity is generally more reliant on the judgement of the participants rather than the amount of time allotted on a clock.

By taking the time to observe these different ways of scheduling, planning, and utilising our time, we can explore the different societal and environmental factors that inform our engagement with the concept of time. What may seem unusual, or sometimes rude or wasteful, to one culture is often informed by many centuries of societal development and cultural norms, illustrating the multifaceted nature of time across global cultures. Despite being seen as a universal concept that touches every area of humanity, the ways that we interact with time have been adapted to suit the requirements of different societies across the world: so, no matter where you come from, there is always something to be learned through exploring the different attitudes to time.

Telling the Time

As our understanding of time differs so much depending upon where we come from, it goes without saying that how we learn to tell the time differs greatly as well.

For as long as humanity has been able to observe the sun rising and going down, and the turn of the seasons as temperatures dropped and crops stopped growing, we have been developing ways of tracking it. Ancient cultures such as the Maya and Egyptians developed advanced calendar systems that integrated astronomy and seasonal cycles, which informed our understanding of time and eventually led to the development of a worldwide 12-month calendar based on our planets’ movement around the sun. This shows that the natural progression of time is inherently circular and relies upon continuous natural loops, but over the centuries, we have moved away from astrological ways of tracking time – although there are still cultures who use natural indicators for tracking religious or cultural events.

Time-telling methods vary globally, influenced by cultural, historical, and environmental factors, and these variations remind us that time’s perception is as much a cultural construct as a scientific measure. However, there is one universally accepted and utilised tool that helps us all measure time: the clock.


Across the world, clocks are used as a visual representation of the passage of time, and whether we use it to create our schedules or track our time, they are always there to show the hours, minutes, and seconds as they pass.

Throughout the US and Europe, people predominantly use the 12-hour and 24-hour formats on digital or analogue clocks, with many of the historical ways of telling the time long forgotten by the advancement of time-telling resources. The timekeeping practises of many East Asian cultures is also similar to these methods, as they utilise both digital and analogue clocks and the timekeeping system divides the day into 12 two-hour periods, whilst Latin American cultures use the 12-hour format – although often without strict adherence to exact times and with a more flexible, relaxed approach to time.

Both the 24-hour clock and the 12-hour clock represent the same units of time, but the passage of time is displayed in different ways. The 24-hour clock, often referred to as “military time,” is a widely adopted format that eliminates the ambiguity present in the 12-hour clock system by making it immediately clear which part of the day is being referred to. For instance, 18:00 immediately indicates late afternoon or early evening, whereas 6:00 on the 12-hour clock could be early morning or evening and requires the additional specifier of “a.m.” or “p.m.” to clarify. Despite this, the 12-hour format has a long historical identity and is deeply embedded in the daily life and culture of the regions that use it.

Cultural methods

In many other areas of the world, the erasure of traditional methods is not as widespread, and many cultures utilise a blend of traditional and modern methods that reflect their cultural nuances. This is particularly evident in global Islamic cultures, as prayer times are crucial and Muslims are expected to pray up to five times a day. This schedule is maintained year-round, and the yearly calendar also contains numerous religious holidays depending upon the movement of celestial bodies, as the month begins with the new crescent moon in the Islamic calendar, and astrology remains a key focus of their festivals and celebrations.

Similarly, whilst the majority of the Indian subcontinent follows the standard 12-hour and 24-hour clock formats, the landmass still contains rural areas and cultures that utilise traditional time units as cultural measurements. Although they rarely depend upon them for modern-day timekeeping, these traditional and cultural attitudes towards time continue to coexist with contemporary methods despite the rapid global modernisation.

How to tell the time with EasyRead Time Teacher

The enduring popularity of cultural timekeeping methods alongside modern practices highlights the complexity of how humans perceive and manage time, and understanding these varied timekeeping approaches offers valuable insights into the social fabric of different cultures, reflecting each community’s values and routines.

The range of clocks offered by Easy Read Time Teacher reflects this widespread diversity, accommodating the different time-telling styles that shape our daily experiences and interactions. So, whether you are searching for an English, French, Spanish, or Welsh clock to learn to tell the time with, explore our full range today and find the best resources for your needs.

Home schooling teaching time

Home Schooling? Try Tackling Time Teaching

Helping children master telling the time is a brilliant thing parents can do during the long days at home.

Home schooling teaching time

If you’re not a teacher, knowing what to teach your children during home schooling can be baffling. There’s no better time to focus on an important life skill: telling the time.

With schools closed worldwide, parents find themselves thrust into the role of teacher—a role most feel poorly-equipped to inhabit. Most primary schools are advising parents to have fun with their children, try some of the ideas they suggest, but without expecting them to stick to a rigid schedule, make learning fun for everyone.  At a time when we’re all struggling to get used to our new normal, parents need learning activities they can understand and feel confident sharing with their children.

Knowing how to tell the time is an important skill that not all children master by the time they leave primary school. In fact, one fifth of young adults struggle to tell the time on an analogue clock, relying on digital devices instead.  But it’s no wonder. Teaching time to a class of thirty children with varying needs, strengths and attention spans is complex, and inevitably, curriculum pressures mean it’s time to move on before all children are secure. Most teachers would agree that if they could sit one to one with each child and teach at a pace that suits them, the journey to understanding analogue time would be easier, quicker and far more enjoyable for both student and teacher. Now seems like the perfect opportunity for parents to smooth their children’s time-telling journey.

Here at EasyRead time teacher (ERTT) we have developed a range of clock faces that make telling the time easier for children than using traditional clock faces.  Alongside easy-to-read hour numbers, our clocks feature numbers for minutes past and to, as well as clearly-marked halves and quarters.  This extra information means children have fewer hurdles to overcome to be successful time-readers. For parents, who may not have taught time before, having a clock that makes explaining analogue time easier is welcome.

ERTT’s three-step method makes things even easier: read the number at the end of the long hand, check whether it falls on the minutes past or to side, read the number at the end of the short hand. Job done. It’s not how time is traditionally taught but removing some of the obstacles means children get to the good bit faster and can build up their concepts from a position of accomplishment.

home schooling colouring clock

We are sharing some free resources for parents and children to use while schools are closed. Our clock face pdf can be printed out, stuck on card and sticky-tacked to a wall. Referring to the clock little and often will give children a regular learning experience that will help build competence and confidence. We are also sharing ideas on our social media channels for how parents can use their clock to boost their children’s time-telling skills. Every little helps and we hope this will be just what parents need with all this ‘time on their hands’!