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How many words do you need to learn?

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FuroraCeltica
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 Message 25 of 64
13 November 2006 at 1:58pm | IP Logged 
I'd agree with Linguamor. Yes, its very well and good to have a few hundred words if you just want a quick weekend break somewhere and all you want is to "get by". However, most of us on here have more ambitious goals, and I'd estimate that 10,000+ words is the bare minimum. I have a vocabulary of around 700-1,000 Spanish words, and whilst I'm fairly good at reading, I'm still nowhere near the finished article.

I have had around 170 hours of practise and learning since March 2006, and I noticed I began to make a marked improvement between hour 100-110.
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Iversen
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 Message 26 of 64
13 November 2006 at 4:29pm | IP Logged 
FuroraCeltica wrote:
...I have a vocabulary of around 700-1,000 Spanish words, and whilst I'm fairly good at reading, I'm still nowhere near the finished article.
I have had around 170 hours of practise and learning since March 2006,...


Did you really count those words using a dictionary, or is it just a guess? If you are fairly good at reading ordinary texts in Spanish (newspapers, books) then I suspect that you know a far higher number of words - at least as passive vocabulary.

It is true that a small number of words makes up most of ordinary texts, but they only serve as the glue, - the details are expressed through the rest of the words and these are both rarer and more diverse. It is impossible to tell how many words you need for reading because there are so many levels of reading materials, but I doubt that you could get far with 700-1000 words, and something like 5000 words to read an ordinary novel would be a more reasonable estimate. How large your active vocabulary is is quite another matter.

RogueRook wrote:
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.


Same comment, even though 1500 words is a more realistic number. You know how many flash-cards you have got, but couldn't some sly and cunning word surreptiously have entered your mind without getting on a flash-card? Again, if you want to know the extent of your vocabulary, then there is one simple way to find out: take a dictionary, count everything you know on for instance 10 pages and multiply to get the total.

FuroraCeltica wrote:
... given that most verbs have dozens of potential conjugations, each verb may actually be better thought of as more than one word.


Yoiu may have a point there. I would agree that at least an irregular verb should be counted as more than one word. You have to learn at least every stem of such a verb separately, whereas it is enough to know one stem of a regular verb. But few dictionaries are organized that way.



Edited by Iversen on 13 November 2006 at 4:53pm

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MeshGearFox
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 Message 27 of 64
13 December 2006 at 3:00pm | IP Logged 
this hasn't come up since the first page, but I've also noticed you need fewer verbs than nouns to get by. I'm thinking this is because, say, the potential number of things you can do to an asparagus without getting weird is rather small. Probably eating, cooking, and cutting it up. Maybe planting and harvesting if you're taking a farming perspective.

On the other hand, there's a much wider variety of things you can eat, cook, and cut up than just asparaguses. like wise, the verb seems easier to limit with immediate context. If the family's sitting down for dinner, odds are they aren't loading asparagus into the back of their care. By that same token, if you know they're just sitting down for dinner, while you can probably figure out what they're doing, this won't necessarily help you figure out what they're eating.

I'm also wondering whether or not nouns are more salient than verbs, or adjectives, or what.
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hagen
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 Message 28 of 64
13 December 2006 at 4:22pm | IP Logged 
MeshGearFox wrote:
this hasn't come up since the first page, but I've also noticed you need fewer verbs than nouns to get by.


I did a quick check on a sizable (German) text corpus and could confirm that there are indeed about twice as many noun types (i.e. vocabulary items) than verb types of reasonable frequency.
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Andy E
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 Message 29 of 64
14 December 2006 at 2:51am | IP Logged 
The re-appearance of this thread on Active Topics reminds me of something I meant to post a couple of months ago on this topic.

I had been reading a book by David Crystal (if you're not familiar with him, he's a fairly prolific writer on language - particularly English) called Words, Words, Words. It's not his best book by any means but one chapter focused on the number of words people know and also the number they might need to know.

His conclusion was that people always severely underestimate the vocabulary - especially passive vocab - they already know.

However, the most interesting thing in the chapter was an experiment he and a colleague undertook with the on-line edition of the Sun newspaper - <sarcasm>a publication that any nation would be proud of</sarcasm>. Using software they counted the number of separate words a reader of the Sun would need to know to have perfect understanding of the edition in question. I have forgotten the exact figure (but I will go and look it up again in the library) but I know it was over 10,000 - a figure that absolutely astounded me.

Now it was a one-off experiment against a single edition, but I have no reason to suppose that on that day the Times staff were moonlighting at their colleauges' offices. I imagine, therefore, that the figure give or take the odd thou is fairly representative.


Andy.

EDIT: My thanks to Luke for that paper - I somehow missed the link totally first time round.

Edited by Andy E on 14 December 2006 at 3:11am

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Iversen
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 Message 30 of 64
14 December 2006 at 5:49am | IP Logged 
The question is how they counted the 10.000 words, - did they count all word forms or did they reduce the number by eliminating different forms of the same word, - and did they count homonymes? I made an exercise of the same kind in September (see the thread All I need to know is 2500 words) and found that I at that time had used 4000 different word forms in two months on this forum, which could by a harsh elimination process be reduced to around 2400 lexical items. In a newspaper where there are pages about everything from scandals to .. well, scandals, but at least different kinds of scandals there might be 10.000 different forms, but I doubt that there would be more than 10.000 'real' lexical items.

Nevertheless the conclusion is clear, namely that you need a fairly large passive vocabulary even to read a newspaper like Sun (which I have fortunately only had the 'pleasure' of studying a few times during holidays in the UK)

Somebody once claimed that the Swedish author Strindberg had used 100.000 words in his collected works, - and Swedish is not known to have a excessively large morphology.



Edited by Iversen on 14 December 2006 at 7:26am

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Andy E
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 Message 31 of 64
14 December 2006 at 7:03am | IP Logged 
Iversen wrote:
The question is how they counted the 10.000 words, - did they did all word forms or did they reduce the number by eliminating different forms of the same word, - and did they count homonymes?


Yes. Which I why I need to go and borrow the book again - and post better information on the experiment. I have a vague memory of him making the point that they had eliminated various forms of verbs and plurals but that's somewhat subjective a couple of months after the fact....

Andy.

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MeshGearFox
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 Message 32 of 64
14 December 2006 at 5:30pm | IP Logged 
Going back to the idea about needing to know more nouns than verbs, do you think they'd hit a point of diminishing returns at different numbers? Like, the total percentage of comprehended writing afforded by knowing 1000 verbs would be only marginally higher than, say, 500 verbs, but knowing 3000 nouns instead of 2000 would offer significantly better comprehension.

And keep in mind those numbers are totally made up.

Anyway though, maybe not, especially if you're getting into more specialized things like, say, food. As long as you can tell if what's being eaten is meat, vegetable, or a desert, you shouldn't suffer too much. I think in this sense, as long as you can figure out a general classification for what the noun is, actually knowing fully the definition isn't important.


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