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How many words do I have to learn ?

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Toufik18
Bilingual Tetraglot
Senior Member
Algeria
Joined 4654 days ago

188 posts - 202 votes 
Speaks: Arabic (Written)*, Arabic (classical)*, French, English

 
 Message 25 of 70
14 April 2009 at 3:13pm | IP Logged 
Great comments ;)
Thanx guys
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Cainntear
Pentaglot
Senior Member
Scotland
linguafrankly.blogsp
Joined 4921 days ago

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Speaks: Lowland Scots, English*, French, Spanish, Scottish Gaelic
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 Message 26 of 70
14 April 2009 at 6:59pm | IP Logged 
josht wrote:

In my opinion, most of the people who think you only need 2-3,000 words to be "fluent" are being far too conservative, perhaps because they don't want to scare off potential language learners by, right out of the gate, saying that you'll need 10,000 or 15,000 (or some other number higher than 2,000) words. Perhaps it's also just a case of humans being lazy. 2,000 is a nice, relatively small number of words, and people like the idea of learning 2,000 words and being able to get by just fine in the language. The only problem is that it's not going to happen. :)

If that's the case, then I reckon it's unnecessary. I don't think anyone can really conceptualise a number of words. I personally have no idea what 2,000, 10,000 or even 15,000 words feels like....


[how do you know how many words you know]
icing_death wrote:
SRS users usually know.

When I was working with flashcards, I found that there were words in the deck that I couldn't use in conversation and words I used every day in conversation that would cause me difficulty in the flashcard program.

OK, it wasn't an SRS deck that I'd written, but a prestructured course. The first time I was asked to give the word for "eye", I was stumped. Completely. But I say it all the time, in various contexts.

So while I use flashcards from time to time, I don't consider "knowing the flashcard" as equivalent to "knowing the word".
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gogglehead
Triglot
Senior Member
Argentina
Joined 4985 days ago

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 Message 27 of 70
14 April 2009 at 9:41pm | IP Logged 
What is "core vocabulary"? I heard that it is a certain number of words that form the majority (70,80%? I have no idea) of everyday speech, and that each language has a different figure, depending upon the descriptiveness of the language and the different cultural aspects.
Does anyone have any facts and figures about the core vocabularies of various languages? I was going to ask this in a different thread, but it also seems relevant here.

G Head


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Iversen
Super Polyglot
Moderator
Denmark
berejst.dk
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 Message 28 of 70
15 April 2009 at 12:49am | IP Logged 
Cainntear wrote:
So how do you guys know how many words you know? I haven't got a clue how many I know in any language....


I do, because I have made word counts in many of my languages while learning or relearning them. I have used the simple and unscientific method of picking a number of pages in a dictionary and writing a list of all the words I know on those pages (excluding words that I can guess, but can't say with certainty that I have met). From that I can make a rough estimate of my passive vocabulary in that language, and if I do this once in a while I can keep track of my progress, which at least has a positive psychological effect.

The exact counts are very dependent on the choice of dictionary and also on the strictness of excluding 'guessable' words and derivations, so the numbers I give now are not meant for comparisons. But I can say that my 'epiphany moments' where I suddenly discover that I can understand a normal news broadcast or something similar usually happens when my counts are hovering somewhere between 5.000 and 10.000 lexemes. To get to the point where I can read and understand just about anything with very little use of dictionaries I would say that 15.000 to 20.000 lexemes are necessary. I would hesitate to claim basic fluency in languages where I didn't have a word count at least in this range (and fullfilled some other criteria, which aren't relevant here).

It is much more difficult to know how many of these words are active, because it depends on my alertness, the circumstances and the theme of a discussion whether I can recall any particular word. But I have noticed that the better I know a language the larger the percentage of words that I'm fairly confident that I could recall if I had to. I have made some very loose estimates about some of my languages some time ago, but I don't remember the numbers I got.

I did however a regular experiment shortly after I started as a member here: I collected all my posts, extracted all unique word forms and got around 4.000 unique word forms in English. I then manually reduced this to somewhere around 2000 or 2500 lexemes (I quote this from memory). Since then I have written a lot, but my total number of used lexemes on this board has of course not grown proportionally. Let's just for examples sake say that the total number of lexemes I have used now is somewhere around 3.500-4.000. If I added the English words I have used outside the forum I might boost the number somewhat, let's say up to at least 5.000. So my used vocabulary is at least 5.000 words.

It's an open guess where my potential active vocabulary in English lies, but 2-3 times the 'used' vocabulary doesn't seem unlikely. Now how much is that compared to my passive vocabulary? The last couple of times I counted my English words I used the Oxford Advanced Dictionary (1980), which has around 70.000 "headwords and derivatives", and I knew roughly half of those (around 35.000 lexemes). This should centainly be lowered somewhat to exclude the most regular derivations, but even allowing for that it is clear that my active vocabulary is much smaller than the passive one, even though English is one of my best languages. With other languages the discrepancy would be even greater, but I haven't made any corresponding 'total used' counts for these, simply because I haven't got a representative corpus of my own utterances.

(translation here - just for fun)


Edited by Iversen on 15 April 2009 at 2:36am

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icing_death
Senior Member
United States
Joined 4771 days ago

296 posts - 302 votes 
Speaks: English*

 
 Message 29 of 70
15 April 2009 at 6:10am | IP Logged 
Cainntear wrote:
I don't consider "knowing the flashcard" as equivalent to "knowing the word".

True. If you have 90% retention with 10,000 cards, your passive vocabulary should be close to 9,000. Active may be
as little as half of that.
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sprachefin
Triglot
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Germany
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 Message 30 of 70
15 April 2009 at 6:18am | IP Logged 
I do not think that anyone should be satisfied with JUST ENOUGH for basic fluency. I think everyone should
continue learning until they cannot find anymore to learn. If you are going to learn a language, do not be lazy and
do not be satisfied with BASIC fluency. To whole point of learning a language is to SPEAK the language, which
essentially says native fluency. So if you aren't going to learn more than 5.000 words, then don't learn the
language.
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Toufik18
Bilingual Tetraglot
Senior Member
Algeria
Joined 4654 days ago

188 posts - 202 votes 
Speaks: Arabic (Written)*, Arabic (classical)*, French, English

 
 Message 31 of 70
15 April 2009 at 3:10pm | IP Logged 
sprachefin wrote:
I do not think that anyone should be satisfied with JUST ENOUGH for basic fluency. I think everyone should
continue learning until they cannot find anymore to learn. If you are going to learn a language, do not be lazy and
do not be satisfied with BASIC fluency. To whole point of learning a language is to SPEAK the language, which
essentially says native fluency. So if you aren't going to learn more than 5.000 words, then don't learn the
language.

True...neverthless, you can't spend 5 or 6 years learning a language and refining your vocabulary skills untile you reach 10000 word, but I am saying that maybe 3000 word are enought to get you where you want in your language and therefore moving to the next lang .
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Cainntear
Pentaglot
Senior Member
Scotland
linguafrankly.blogsp
Joined 4921 days ago

4399 posts - 7687 votes 
Speaks: Lowland Scots, English*, French, Spanish, Scottish Gaelic
Studies: Catalan, Italian, German, Irish, Welsh

 
 Message 32 of 70
15 April 2009 at 6:00pm | IP Logged 
sprachefin wrote:
I do not think that anyone should be satisfied with JUST ENOUGH for basic fluency. I think everyone should
continue learning until they cannot find anymore to learn. If you are going to learn a language, do not be lazy and
do not be satisfied with BASIC fluency. To whole point of learning a language is to SPEAK the language, which
essentially says native fluency.

You're assuming a lot there. I want to be native-like in ever language I learn, but I don't have the time to study all of them to that level and so I have to strike a balance of breadth vs depth.

My goal with Italian last year was to be as good as I could be before a holiday in Italy, and I was satisfied by the result. I stopped studying Italian after the holiday because my priority was then Spanish (for my degree!) I've been revising and refreshing my beginner German over the past week, but I have no intention of perfecting it to a near-native level in the next few years. I'm studying the basics so that I have a strong foundation to build on in case I get assigned there with work in the near future.

Aren't these valid goals? It's a hobby, after all, and would you suggest that all painters should aim for photorealism? Some people like painting abstract or impressionist paintings after all....


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