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How many words do you need to learn?

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pentatonic
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 Message 17 of 64
11 May 2005 at 8:52pm | IP Logged 
The about.com article brought to mind a program I wrote to find the most frequent German words. It would do searches on Google.de, visit the sites, gather the words, and add/update an entry in an SQL database. It also tried to find the definition for the word. I just fired up my database program and made a nice GIF from a query of the top 25 words. Unfortunately, I forgot I don't have a website to put it on and link to (doh!).

So, here are the words: Treffer, und, die, der, in, sie, für, von, mit, das, zu, den, ist, auf, im, de, nicht, ein, sich, eine, des, es, ich, auch, dem

You'll notice that the number one word is "Treffer" (156495 occurrences) and that the 16th word is "de" which is not really a word but the domain suffix for Deutschland, where webmasters are obviously very concerned about page hits (Treffer). Of course Treffer is not the most common word in German and when doing this kind of thing you have to be careful to consider the source.
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luke
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 Message 18 of 64
30 August 2006 at 9:15pm | IP Logged 
luke wrote:
The paper also discusses frequency by word type, i.e. noun, verb, adjective, adverb, modifier, preposition, conjunction. The magic mix would be about 64% nouns, 24% adjectives, 6% verbs, 5% prepositions, conjunctions and modifiers, and 1% adverbs for spoken Spanish.


So what would that mixture mean for a program like vocabulearn which has 3 CDs each of nouns, verbs, adjectives and adverbs, plus 3 CDs of expressions? I'll assume the expression CDs are about as useful as knowing nouns. If one wanted to study words in the approximate percentage they are used, the study order might be:

1) 1st 1/2 level 1 noun CD
2) 1st 1/2 level 1 expression CD
3) 2nd 1/2 level 1 noun CD
4) 2nd 1/2 level 1 expression CD
5) 1st 1/2 of level 1 adjective/adverb CD
6) 1st 1/2 level 2 noun CD
7) 1st 1/2 level 2 expression CD
8) 2nd 1/2 level 2 noun CD
9) 2nd 1/2 level 2 expression CD
10) 2nd 1/2 of level 1 adjective/adverb CD
11) 1st 1/2 level 3 noun CD
12) 1st 1/2 level 3 expression CD
13) 2nd 1/2 level 3 noun CD
14) 2nd 1/2 level 3 expression CD
15) 1st 1/2 level 2 adjective/adverb CD
16) 1st 1/2 level 1 verb CD

Although the cover of vocabulearn says 7500 words, it looks like "el" and "la" were counted a bunch of times. After steps 1-7 above, one would have studied approximately:

1200 nouns
1000 expressions
600 adjectives adverbs
400 verbs

After running out of noun and expression CDs, one could do:
17) 2nd 1/2 level 2 adjective/adverb CD
18) level 3 adjective/adverb CD
19) 2nd 1/2 level 1 verb CD
20) level 2 and level 3 verb CD

That would pickup another 600 adjectives/adverbs and 800 verbs.

One obviously wouldn't have to do these back to back, but I think I'll use it as a general guide when using Vocabulearn as a supplement vocabulary program. I don't think this is a good primary vocabulary program, because there is no context, but as the student advances and thinks "I'd like to know some more words" perhaps one can misuse the program a little.

I started using noun CD 1 tonight and was making up phrases no the fly, rather than just giving a translation. What I found is that I wanted to know more adjectives. For instance, "the knife is sharp", or "the mirror is smooth". This also gives me an opportunity to start "thinking in the language". The extemporaneous sentences provide context too.

Edited by luke on 30 August 2006 at 9:19pm

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MeshGearFox
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United States
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 Message 19 of 64
26 October 2006 at 9:36pm | IP Logged 
Just curious, but in those reports, are sentence (Noun. Meaning a blob of words that mean something), sentence (Verb), and sentence (The thing you get after your lawyer screws up) counted as separate words? If they're doing a mechanical search method, then would homonyms always properly be sorted?
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SamD
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 Message 20 of 64
27 October 2006 at 7:39am | IP Logged 
pentatonic wrote:
The about.com article brought to mind a program I wrote to find the most frequent German words.

So, here are the words: Treffer, und, die, der, in, sie, f?n, mit, das, zu, den, ist, auf, im, de, nicht, ein, sich, eine, des, es, ich, auch, dem

You'll notice that the number one word is "Treffer" (156495 occurrences) and that the 16th word is "de" which is not really a word but the domain suffix for Deutschland, where webmasters are obviously very concerned about page hits (Treffer). Of course Treffer is not the most common word in German and when doing this kind of thing you have to be careful to consider the source.


It looks like a lot of the German words are prepositions and articles and conjunctions. A similar English list would include the, and, in, not, I and other such words. In order to understand the gist of something, you'll need plenty of nouns and verbs.
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Iversen
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 Message 21 of 64
29 October 2006 at 10:58am | IP Logged 
In my opinion the most relevant thing about the German vocabulary as opposed to the English one is the large number of composite words (a characteristic that German shares with the Scandinavian languages), This means that the number of 'single-word' words becomes very large because dictionaries contain a plethora of composite words that in English would be rendered by a combination of to or three words. If the English phrase have a meaning that isn't obvious from its constituents you might still put it on your vocabulary lists, but it is a decision that somebody has to take, not an automatic process that a machine could do.

On the other hand, English stacks up a lot of homonyme words because of its propensity to use all words in several syntactic roles. This is not nearly as common in German.

These differences make it difficult to compare word counts across language borders.


Edited by Iversen on 30 October 2006 at 3:35am

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FuroraCeltica
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 Message 22 of 64
12 November 2006 at 2:18pm | IP Logged 
I would agree that very few words in a language can give you a surprising ability to communicate. However, as I have discovered during my study of a Spanish lexical fequency dictionary that a "word" may be listed just as a verb, and given that most verbs have dozens of potential conjugations, each verb may actually be better thought of as more than one word.
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RogueRook
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 Message 23 of 64
12 November 2006 at 6:38pm | IP Logged 
I can add from my experience that knowledge of about 1500 words allows you to get a fairly general picture of everything you read. This is the number of Hungarian words I learned since march. I write them all down on flashcards and count how much each day - that's why I can pinpoint the number.

At the same time it is obvious that my 1500 word vocab isnt't tweaked to efficency in basic communication. I simply write down and translate everything I read and lately also the words I manage to pick up from radio. Thats why I know the hungarian word for "voter turnout" but I don't know yet how to book a flight or hotel room :/


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Linguamor
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 Message 24 of 64
12 November 2006 at 10:59pm | 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 12 November 2006 at 11:04pm



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