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"All I need to know is 2500 words"

 Language Learning Forum : Language Programs, Books & Tapes Post Reply
32 messages over 4 pages: 1 2 3
luke
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 Message 25 of 32
18 September 2006 at 5:12pm | IP Logged 
lengua wrote:
This suggests - to me at least - you don't need a ton of words to be fluent.

Perhaps it's worthwhile to make a distinction between fluent and articulate. One can be fluent - speaking with ease, but not necessarily articulate - clear and precise in expression. One can fluently express a lot of thoughts with a vocabulary of 2500 common words and a good handle on grammar. To be articulate, one has to be precise in grammar as well as nuanced in word selection. The speaker has an advantage in that s/he has complete control over word selection.

The picture is different when one talks about understanding. For reading and listening, one has little control over the word selection of others.

Edited by luke on 18 September 2006 at 5:20pm

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Iversen
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 Message 26 of 32
18 September 2006 at 6:27pm | IP Logged 
Ishikawa Minoru wrote:

... there's a myriad of subjects I want to get myself involved in that require many technical words.Take biology and medicine,for example.
5000 words for basic fluency and 10000 for advanced,near native proficiency.


If you know the terminology of these subjects in English or your native language (or in some cases Latin), then chances are that you more or less can use the words directly in a third language without going through a learning process. So yes you may need a bigger vocabulary, but you get it for free.

luke wrote:

Perhaps it's worthwhile to make a distinction between fluent and articulate. One can be fluent - speaking with ease, but not necessarily articulate - clear and precise in expression. One can fluently express a lot of thoughts with a vocabulary of 2500 common words and a good handle on grammar. To be articulate, one has to be precise in grammar as well as nuanced in word selection.


I agree: being fluent does not mean that you know a lot of words or can express yourself with the utmost grace and eloquence, it just means that you can express what you want to say without stopping all the time to search for words or make up phrases. Ease of speaking, size of vocabulary and grammatical correctness do not automatically develope in parallel in a certain person, but if you want to be articulate all of these three things should be in order.



Edited by Iversen on 18 September 2006 at 6:39pm

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lengua
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 Message 27 of 32
18 September 2006 at 6:39pm | IP Logged 
^ Exactly. If the language is Latin-based, almost every technical or scientific term will be a cognate found across the board.

I personally wonder if we place too much of an emphasis on learning vocabulary, and not nearly enough on learning the structure necessary to use them. Because if you know how to use a language (verbs; STRUCTURE), you can add vocabulary pretty much at will - either through radio, television, books, or conversation. But if you have a dictionary-grade vocabulary, that isn't going to get you anywhere if you don't know how to string together sentences. I see post after post (and thread after thread) asking for strategies to build vocabularies - but I rarely see threads or posts on how to 'say' things in the language comfortably. I argue that if your grammar is rock-solid, you can add words like water. But the words themselves are nothing if one does not know how to use them.

Ah well. We each must chart our own course. On the matter of eloquence, I agree that fluency does not necessarily equal eloquence. But again, to me, the difference between fluency and eloquence is akin to the difference between 95% and 99% of a million dollars. Once you reach an ease of use of the language in speaking and in comprehension (the "f" word), eloquence is simply the icing on the cake. Depending on your definition of eloquence, it is quite possible to make the argument that the overwhelming percentage of native speakers of any given language would not qualify as 'eloquent'. It is a reflection of one's vocabulary, namely in the choice use of uncommon words. This comes through lots of reading, lots of listening, and lots of speaking: ie, intellectual use of the language. It's a luxury, and one that can be acquired with considerably more ease than that required to learn the language itself.

Edited by lengua on 18 September 2006 at 6:53pm

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frenkeld
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 Message 28 of 32
19 September 2006 at 12:30am | IP Logged 
lengua wrote:
I argue that if your grammar is rock-solid, you can add words like water. But the words themselves are nothing if one does not know how to use them.


Not quite like water. The problem is that "knowing how to use them" does not reduce to having your grammar "rock-solid". Learning a language well is not just about learning words and rules, to borrow from the title of a book. What's missing is the third element, usage, which is about a precise discrmination of the shades of meaning of related words and the context when each word can and cannot be used if one is to sound "natural".

I would say that the mastery of usage is among the most reliable indicatiors of whether the learner has crossed the line from the language being a mental game of stringing decent sentences together to its having become a new medium of thought. You can even think in a language without having your grammar flawless - I do it with English all the time, but you cannot do serious thinking in a language if you do not have a very well-developed sense of the precise meaning of each word and the proper context for using it.

As far as what gets discussed the most in this forum, acquiring adequate vocabulary is the most time-consuming activity for an intermediate learner, so it is not surprising that it gets a lot of attention here. As an intermediate learner of Spanish, I can certainly testify that at least when reading novels, I run into a lot more sentences with unknown words than into sentences whose grammatical structure I have trouble parsing. The latter are not that frequent, in fact, while the amount of the former is nothing short of depressing.


Edited by frenkeld on 19 September 2006 at 12:31am

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Linguamor
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 Message 29 of 32
25 October 2006 at 5:38pm | IP Logged 
The number of words needed to function in a language is often grossly underestimated. Numbers like 600 or 1000 words need not be taken seriously. Something like 2000-2500 words seems to be a threshhold, but an active vocabulary nearer 10,000 words is probably necessary in order to communicate with ease in a language. Number of words is not the only factor in learning vocabulary. Knowing how to "put words together" is at least as important as knowing the meaning of a word. By this I don't mean grammar, but how words "pattern together" to express meaning. This is sometimes referred to as usage and is the most difficult part of learning a language well.

Edited by Linguamor on 25 October 2006 at 5:51pm

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fsc
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 Message 30 of 32
22 May 2008 at 9:06am | IP Logged 
Iversen wrote:
There is one thing you can't do with radio, namely rerun it (unless you have recorded it of course). And you can't stop it, if you just need to look up a specific word to get some passage to make sense.In that respect written sources have an advantage.


Three words - Podcast and MP3 player.
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Iversen
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 Message 31 of 32
22 May 2008 at 3:30pm | IP Logged 
OK, you have a point. But I did write 'radio' and I did refer to the possibility of recording things for later use.
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reineke
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 Message 32 of 32
22 May 2008 at 5:37pm | IP Logged 
fsc wrote:
Iversen wrote:
There is one thing you can't do with radio, namely rerun it (unless you have recorded it of course). And you can't stop it, if you just need to look up a specific word to get some passage to make sense.In that respect written sources have an advantage.


Three words - Podcast and MP3 player.


Actually, that's four words, sort of. There is at least one device I'm aware of that can act as a sort of a "Radio Tivo" and computers can be rigged to do it with both online and satellite/ordinary broadcasts.

Edited by reineke on 22 May 2008 at 5:41pm



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