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Picking up words from the dictionary

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ANK47
Triglot
Senior Member
United States
thearabicstudent.blo
Joined 5291 days ago

188 posts - 259 votes 
Speaks: English*, Arabic (Written), Arabic (classical)

 
 Message 17 of 60
22 June 2009 at 9:17pm | IP Logged 
I have to agree with others that using a dictionary to try to learn words is not going to make them stick in your mind. You need to have context and see how they are used in sentences and every day life. Also, with a dictionary you're definitely learning words that are not used at all. I used to do this with Arabic. I thought that the only thing important about learning a language was how many words you knew and that all you had to do was study lists. I would read the dictionary and then tell my teachers some of the words I learned. They wouldn't know what about half of them meant. Maybe if you had a list of the 20,000 most used French words then you could go for it, but with a dictionary that contains words used everyday but also words that are never used it's not going to work. It's basically a waste to know what a word "means" when even native speakers don't know. Looking through an English dictionary in the "a" section right now I see many many words that I don't know and that aren't used pretty much ever.

Even though it may take a long time to learn words from watching TV shows or listening to the news, it's really the only way to make sure you're learning words that are actually used and not ancient words used a handful of times in some poem from the 16th century. Authentic audio also makes the words stick in your mind better and gets you used to listening to the language which is the most important part.
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Iversen
Super Polyglot
Moderator
Denmark
berejst.dk
Joined 4897 days ago

9078 posts - 16470 votes 
Speaks: Danish*, French, English, German, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, Swedish, Esperanto, Romanian, Catalan
Studies: Afrikaans, Greek, Norwegian, Russian, Serbian, Icelandic, Latin, Irish, Lowland Scots, Indonesian, Polish, Croatian
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 Message 18 of 60
22 June 2009 at 10:08pm | IP Logged 
I can see that it has become an issue how many words you know in your native language. In principle that's easy: start counting in a good dictionary (or more realistically: take samples and multiply). The problem is that you get larger numbers with larger dictionaries, so it may be more relevant to ask which percentage of a midsize dictionary you know, - and that number had better be high for your native language! Being an inveterate number freak I actually have made those calculations for most of my languages, - the results can be seen in my log for May 8 2009. The conclusion for Danish (my native language) was that a dictionary with 60.000 lexemes isn't large enough, and I guess that this situation is rather common for those who use this language oriented forum.

Toufik18 wrote:
... I have a question please, how could you build up advanced vocabulary in German for instence, or French or English, I can benifit so much from your approach, like how did you select which words do you intend to learn?
Thank you and soory for my unending questions :).


No problem.

.. except that it took me more than a page to answer it with an illustration of the process, so I moved the answer to my personal log, where such long posts don't seem out of place


Edited by Iversen on 22 June 2009 at 11:42pm

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Toufik18
Bilingual Tetraglot
Senior Member
Algeria
Joined 3938 days ago

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

 
 Message 19 of 60
23 June 2009 at 12:10pm | IP Logged 
Thank you my friend for your elaborately elucidated answer, I've decided to give it a go and try for my self, I'll do it for English and French sicjce I am not fluent in Spanish and by the way, you word-count table is very impresssive, it's vague how you could learn an average of 30000 words for every single language "Je tire mon chapeau" you got to have and incredible collection of dictionary and language materials, maybe you'd like to post a picture? :)
Thank you
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Iversen
Super Polyglot
Moderator
Denmark
berejst.dk
Joined 4897 days ago

9078 posts - 16470 votes 
Speaks: Danish*, French, English, German, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, Swedish, Esperanto, Romanian, Catalan
Studies: Afrikaans, Greek, Norwegian, Russian, Serbian, Icelandic, Latin, Irish, Lowland Scots, Indonesian, Polish, Croatian
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 Message 20 of 60
23 June 2009 at 1:15pm | IP Logged 
picture

Btw. the average of my word counts is far below 30000, - the precise number is unimportant because it is so dependent on the choice of dictionaries for counting

Edited by Iversen on 23 June 2009 at 1:20pm

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Lizzern
Diglot
Senior Member
Norway
Joined 4103 days ago

791 posts - 1053 votes 
Speaks: Norwegian*, English
Studies: Japanese

 
 Message 21 of 60
23 June 2009 at 5:00pm | IP Logged 
Iversen, you are awesome.

A question (for you Iversen and for others who use wordlists) related to the topic of this thread - do you find the words you need 'come to you' when you need them - active use, I mean? Do you find you end up losing many of those words or do they actually stick over time?

Liz
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TheBiscuit
Tetraglot
Senior Member
Mexico
Joined 4117 days ago

532 posts - 619 votes 
Speaks: English*, French, Spanish, Italian
Studies: German, Croatian

 
 Message 22 of 60
23 June 2009 at 7:17pm | IP Logged 
Toufik18 wrote:
Thank Lizzern for you good points :)
@ TheBiscuit : I admire your approach to a dictionary as a novel, so you just read and pick up interesting words, right?

Mainly high frequency words, this is why I use a Spanish - Italian dictionary, to know which words I'm more likely to use. I should have also mentioned that I combine dictionary reading with a lot of input to give the words I'm learning some kind of context and a deeper meaning for me.
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Iversen
Super Polyglot
Moderator
Denmark
berejst.dk
Joined 4897 days ago

9078 posts - 16470 votes 
Speaks: Danish*, French, English, German, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, Swedish, Esperanto, Romanian, Catalan
Studies: Afrikaans, Greek, Norwegian, Russian, Serbian, Icelandic, Latin, Irish, Lowland Scots, Indonesian, Polish, Croatian
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 Message 23 of 60
24 June 2009 at 3:53pm | IP Logged 
Lizzern wrote:
A question (for you Iversen and for others who use wordlists) related to the topic of this thread - do you find the words you need 'come to you' when you need them - active use, I mean? Do you find you end up losing many of those words or do they actually stick over time?


If you don't use your vocabulary it will get rusty, no matter how you got it. To find out whether a word learnt from word list is more or less fragile than a word learnt from a text you would have to learn for instance 100 new words from wordlists and 100 new words from a book, then wait a month and see how many of those words you retained. But how do you make certain that the two corpora are equally difficult, how do you deal with the words from the text that are NOT part of your selection, and how do you compensate for differences in the time it takes to find 100 suitable words from each source?

My guess is that a word 'sticks' better if I'm 100% sure of its meaning, and I do know that when doing wordlists from a dictionary, but not necessarily when I'm reading. Besides I'm focussing strictly on the words in the wordlists, but probably more on the content when I'm reading. So my guess is that the words from the wordlists stand a better chance of being memorized succesfully than words in a text. BUT.. if I didn't read a lot (and listen a bit too) I wouldn't learn how to use the words in practice, and I would not have any any reason to memorize them in the first place.

ANK47 wrote:
I have to agree with others that using a dictionary to try to learn words is not going to make them stick in your mind. You need to have context and see how they are used in sentences and every day life.


So what I'm saying is in fact that I don't agree with ANK47. The role of genuine texts isn't to teach you words, but to give you a reason to do it and a way of fine-tuning the use of the words you already know.

Edited by Iversen on 24 June 2009 at 3:57pm

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Lizzern
Diglot
Senior Member
Norway
Joined 4103 days ago

791 posts - 1053 votes 
Speaks: Norwegian*, English
Studies: Japanese

 
 Message 24 of 60
24 June 2009 at 5:20pm | IP Logged 
Iversen wrote:
My guess is that a word 'sticks' better if I'm 100% sure of its meaning, and I do know that when doing wordlists from a dictionary, but not necessarily when I'm reading.


OK follow-up question :-) Cause you know some of us kindergarten pixies on this forum are just out to mine that big ol' brain of yours... How do you feel about the way dictionaries don't necessarily tell the whole truth about a word's meaning? Do you use monolingual dictionaries? Cause I find that bilingual ones sometimes tweak comparisons in meaning so much that they're practically half-lying to you about what a word means, which can get confusing, but context can set the record straight and keep me from learning something that isn't entirely true. Even monolingual dictionaries seem to simplify things sometimes to the point of uselessness. I'm chronically miserable at coming up with examples but I'm sure you know what I mean, it seems some things can only really be dealt with by natives who know what they're doing. What to do about all this to make sure we learn properly?


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