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Is vocabulary really necessary early on?

 Language Learning Forum : Learning Techniques, Methods & Strategies Post Reply
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United States
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 Message 1 of 30
19 August 2011 at 6:19pm | IP Logged 
I was thinking today about what goes into learning a new language, and how so often a lot of emphasis is placed on vocabulary building. I got to thinking about the other things that go into forming thoughts and concepts, and started to realize I had my own opinions about what else needs to be emphasized when first learning a new language. I also became curious what everyone else on this forum thought.

For me, I have found a lot of value on putting aside an intense study of vocabulary when first learning simply because the vocabulary will come over time anyway. For example, if I were to study verbs first, I might cover conjugations of the three main verb types in Spanish (-ar, -er, -ir), and in the process I will have learned 3 new words. I've mentioned in a few places that I thought a study of verbs was incredibly important because in many languages verb conjugations can be quite difficult to master; they're also what help a person express thoughts more clearly.

So as I got to thinking, I realized that these are some of the things I choose to study in the early stages of language learning, which I feel have paid off quite nicely:

- Verbs (past present and future tenses, participles, etc.)
- Pronouns
- Articles/Cases (including gender, if necessary)
- Possessives
- Little words like of, for, and, by, with, which, this, that, these, those, etc.
- Question words (who, what, where, when, why, how)
- The phrases "How do you say ____?" and "What does _____ mean?"
- Sentence structure (i.e. where the subject, verb, and object go)

That's the list I came up with. Again, my experience is that vocabulary comes with time, and it's much less frustrating to learn new vocabulary in real conversation, where meaningful associations take place between words and ideas/objects, whereas the foundational study can be better spent on some of the above items.

What are your thoughts? Anything on this list seem unnecessary or would you add anything?
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 Message 2 of 30
19 August 2011 at 6:24pm | IP Logged 
Grammar first, vocab over time.
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 Message 3 of 30
19 August 2011 at 6:28pm | IP Logged 
I generally learn grammar first--not in any particular order, usually I'll just follow the chapters of a grammar book. There will be a general set of basic vocabulary necessary for this. Somehow this always involves the word for umbrella. I'll learn that basic vocab as I go along.

I generally trust the author of grammar books to present grammar in a logical fashion, and I follow that.

Once grammar's done, I then do intensive vocabulary building.
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United States
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 Message 4 of 30
19 August 2011 at 7:11pm | IP Logged 
I think grammar is more important, but you do need to get a solid vocab base out of the way. It took me a long time to figure out that the reason I wasn't as advanced as I ought to have been in a certain language was that while I had many of the mechanics of the language down well enough, the vocabulary building had been inadequate in the beginning stages. Functional, but inadequate. There just comes a point where if you don't know the words it doesn't matter that you can understand the skeletal structure of the sentence.

I'm not familiar with many language learning methods or theories, but while it is possible to build a strong vocabulary gradually, in order for that to be possible you have to reach a critical mass of comprehension first so that you can figure new words and phrases in context and without resorting to a dictionary every other sentence.

Edited by AriD2385 on 19 August 2011 at 7:13pm

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BrazilRegistered users can see my Skype Name
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 Message 5 of 30
20 August 2011 at 9:19am | IP Logged 
Vocabulary is the most important thing for a beginner, what is the point in learning how to make sentences without having the words to use? i recommend to not even think about grammar before knowing at least 500 words.
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 Message 6 of 30
20 August 2011 at 10:29am | IP Logged 
Carlucio wrote:
(...)what is the point in learning how to make sentences without having the words to use?

I could rephrase that as "What is the point in learning words without knowing how to make sentences?"

Grammar examples cover vocabulary (how else are the sentences illustrated?), indivudal words doesn't give any clue about grammar.
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Andrew C
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 Message 7 of 30
20 August 2011 at 11:34am | IP Logged 
TrentBooks wrote:
What are your thoughts? Anything on this list seem unnecessary or would you add anything?

For me, you have omitted the most important thing from your list: Listening.

I believe learning should be as natural as possible. To me this means learning by listening (or sometimes reading) from meaningful contexts. Not learning grammar first, but learning it in small doses as you go along. When you are ready for it and inquisitive about it.

I think focussing only on grammar, or only on vocabulary for that matter, is counter productive.
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 Message 8 of 30
20 August 2011 at 2:14pm | IP Logged 
Sometimes vocabulary is, indeed, much more important than grammar. I can say about my experience with Ukrainian - I've only read several times all conjugations and declensions and that's all. It has no sense to lose time for learning them by heart if the general structure is similar to Polish, with some differences easy to remember. To be honest, I'm only learning words and phrases that are significantly different than these in Polish language. The rest will come with time by reading and listening.

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