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Iversen

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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 33 of 107
15 May 2008 at 1:46pm | IP Logged 
I have been asked a couple of times how a word list according to the specifications above might look like. I have scanned one with a bit of Dutch and a bit of Spanish (http://www.berejst.dk/grafik/wordlist.jpg):



This specimen also illustrates that the important thing isn't where the words come from, but the method of memorizing blocks of 5-7 words and the use of triple columns (target - native - target language). As long as I do intensive reading where I look up every unknown word it is logical to use the words in word lists. Later, when the words make sense in themselves and I feel that I have seen most of them before somewhere, it is faster just to grab a dictionary and use all the words that I would like to retain.

Afterwards it is essential to do at least one repetition round in order to refresh the words, preferably in writing.


Edited by Iversen on 15 May 2008 at 1:51pm

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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 35 of 107
15 May 2008 at 3:06pm | IP Logged 
No, I think flash cards are cumbersome to work with (both on paper and on a PC), and I instinctively feel the element of chance not as a way to learn new words, but as an external control of whether I did my work well enough in the first place. With my wordlists I feel that I am in control, not the goddess Fortuna.

However I know from this forum that many people like them, and I'm sure that they do what they are supposed to do for these people.

Learning from context is not only a valuable, but also necessary activity - in fact you can only learn the real language from genuine sources. But you should ask yourself the simple question: when do I learn most from reading a book or listening to a TV program, - when I am prepared for most of the words or when I stumble over half of them? Learning from word lists may not teach you all about the use of each single word, but it is a reliable and fast method of getting some idea about the meaning of a lot of words, and this will make your work with genuine sources much more effective.


Edited by Iversen on 16 May 2008 at 3:27am

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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 36 of 107
16 July 2008 at 7:33am | IP Logged 
These profile threads can not be used only to say 'hallo world', but also to sum up somebody's 'pet peeves' on different subjects. I have written about word lists above, now you get something about how to learn morphology.

Morphology is dominated by tables. Nobody in their sane mind believe that you can learn a language by memorizing these tables plus x words, but the reaction against learning morphology by heart has in my opinion gone too far. If you compare old editions of for instance Teach yourself with newer editions then the authors have tried to hide the tables by dividing them into bits and pieces so that you never get the full picture. Other systems avoid giving you the canonical names for cases and verbal forms. Instead they use circumlocutions and homemade descriptions in the base language of the courseware, which is even more idiotic than using the old Latin-based systems. I'm aware that many classical and traditional distinctions with Latin names are too detailed and to irrelevant to be taken seriously, but using an international set of case names for (roughly) equivalent cases is a blessing for those that try to learn several languages, and if those names are Latin then that's just fine with me.

The alternative to learning the formal names and tables by heart is to expect everything to sort itself out if you just get enough input and make enough errors to elicit a sufficient number of isolated correction "No, you don't say 'YYYY", say 'XXXX"! I'm aware that children learn their first language in this way, and I have nothing against these activities - on the contrary! However as grown-ups who can read we have to chance to use some tools that children can't yet use, and as long as we remember that these tools aren't the main point about learning languages I don't see why we shouldn't use them to speed up the process and avoid misunderstandings.

(Btw. for an exceptionally well argumented alternative with less formal use of grammars see charlmartell's thread )

And now for the more practical side of morphology learning. When I want to get a first impression of a new language (even if I don't intend to learn it) the morphological tables is one of the first things I check out. I want to know how the regular forms are, the different kinds or irregularities don't interest me at this point. I also read about the different uses of the different forms, but without going into details.

If it is a language that I intend to learn then the next step is to make my own tables, preferably using several books. At this point I decide how the presentation should be (with the option of changing my opinion later). That is not necessarily the way that they are set up in the books. For instance I prefer to have the case order (vocative) Nominative Accusative Genitive Dative Instrumental Prepositional/Locative[/ablative in Latin] ... so far I haven't learnt languages with more cases than this. The reason that I want to have exactly the same case order in all languages I know is that I use the spatial arrangement as a visual memory tool, and having changing orders would spoil that.   

In some cases my analysis lead to a result that is different from those in the books. For instance it is evident that Greek verbs have two stems, and there is a present and a past simple form for each of them (in active and passive). However the 'present' of the aorist isn't really used as a present, but with θα and να it is used as future resp. subjunctive (there are a few cases where it can be seen in isolated, but a beginner can ignore these). So we get a simple 2 x 2 x 2 matrix, where the endings to a large extent are reused or - in the passive - a set of endings inspired by the passive of the verb 'to be'. The books tend to use other setups based mainly on historical principles, but I can learn those when I decide to learn old Greek - I can ignore these considerations now.

Complex verbal forms should generally be learnt as some auxiliary verb plus an infinite form of the regular verb - so there is absolutely no reason to write all the forms in a table for the regular verbs. Auxiliary verbs are few and generally irregular so you should learn those in a process separated from the study of the regular verbs. There are certain exceptions where the finite part of a composite verbal form can't be used in isolation. For instance in the case of the Romanian futuric forms with (v)oi + infinitive there aren't any simple verbform voi or oi, even though these forms historically come from the verb for 'to go'. Learn them as the forms of a (non-existant) irregular verb.

The real problem with complex forms is how to draw the line between constructions that really should be mentioned in any conjugation table because they are used instead of simple forms - versus constructions that more look like idiomatic expressions.

Truly irregular words don't belong in tables for regular verb declension or noun conjugation. They should be studied one word at a time with a table containing all their forms, combined with lots of examples drawn from reality. In fact these words are often so common so that you will meet them in almost any text so it's easy to make a collection. But don't let them clutter your tables.

Systematic irregularities based on phonological criteria are best learnt with each word in the language. But you have to know where the irregularities occur, and luckily there are mostly a systematic side to this. For instance Spanish verbs with 'o' normally have 'ue' in certain forms, and this is so regular a feature that you have to make room for it in your regular tables. But you don't have to clutter your tables with each and every type of phonological alternation because they generally run in parallel - so you can leave e-ie out .

Another case: Russian nouns and adjectives. There are different sets of endings that corresponds to situations with a preceding soft sound vs. situations with a hard sound, - which in practical terms just means that you have either Ы or и in the endings (resp.о or е/ё). This is different from cases where there is a non-phonological irregularity (датчанин, where the suffix нин disappears in certain forms), and cases where one form only is affected. You can make a note in your table that certain masculine nouns have -a in Nominative plural insted of Ы or и, but put the actual list of such nouns somewhere else, don't quote it in your table.

There are in fact cases where two sets of endings exist, each for a certain class of words. For instance all the Germanic languages have strong and weak verbs and strong and weak nouns. A strong verb generally uses a vowel shift to indicate its past tense (swim swam) while a weak verb relies on the ending (jump jumped). Of course there are irregularities (do did), but as usual: learn the system as a system and learn the exceptions as exceptions one at a time. Classically oriented grammars make separate classes for each and every combination of vowel changes in the strong verbs, but you don't have to make tables for all these. Learn the endings for strong verbs in general, learn the most common vowel combinations and finally learn with each new verb what its present, it preterite and its participle is, then you don't need a name. I remember when I learnt Latin in school we had to memorize the main forms of all verbs and the irregular verbs in particular. Just do the same thing with the strong verbs in the Germanic languages.

There are also strong and weak nouns in the Germanic languages, but in spite of most grammars it is nonsense to speak about strong and weak adjectives in for instance the Nordic languages and German. What happens is that in some cases there is a definitive determiner of some kind (typically a definite article) and then ALL adjectives have another set of endings - called weak - then in the absence of such a thing. So there aren't too classes of adjectives, but only two parallel sets of endings.

I won't say more about this kind of analysis because it will inevitably by different from language to language, and there are just too many things to mention here. The main point is that you should identify truly irregular cases and kick them out of your regular tables, you should identify groups of minor irregularities and mention them - but write the list of affected words somewhere else, and if there are really two or more sets of regular endings then you have to include them.

One beneficial sideeffect of this analysis is that you may accidentally learn the forms, but to be sure I have made it a habit to write my final versions af the tables on green sheets of cardboard which I try to keep within sight whenever I work with a certain language. If I then see a dubious ending I can check the table, and in this way I will soon learn all the regular forms without doing any memorizing in the strict sense of the word.

Besides I make a limited number of morphological annotations when I make word lists: in Greek I make a note of the form af the aorist with any verb unless it is formed in a trivial way, in Russian I make a note of the gender of nouns on -ь and I always learn imperfective and perfective verbs in pairs. I rarely make lists of German words, but when I do I mark feminine and neutral nouns, but not masculine ones - because most German nouns are masculine so unless there is an indication to the contrary your best guess will be that any given new word is masculine.     

As I wrote in the beginning you don't learn morphology for its own sake. The positive thing about morphology is that it CAN be learnt from a combination of reading+ listening and a wee bit of old fashion black school table trashing.


Edited by Iversen on 16 July 2008 at 4:03pm

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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 38 of 107
16 July 2008 at 4:05pm | IP Logged 
That's too harsh a judgement - I have learnt much from other members of this forum (though not all are still active here, for different reasons)

EDIT - the post that I answered disappeared while I was writing.

Edited by Iversen on 16 July 2008 at 4:37pm

2 persons have voted this message useful





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
Personal Language Map

 
 Message 39 of 107
16 July 2008 at 4:26pm | IP Logged 
Here are a couple of 'green sheets' to illustrate the method sketched out in the preceding post. The first is the table of regular Russian adjectival and nominal endings, the second is the table for regular Modern Greek verbs. And no, these tables are not meant for memorizing - otherwise I would have used full words in the Russian table. They are meant for learning while I make them and for later reference, and therefore it is enough to indicate the regular endings if space is scarce. And because they until now only have been for my personal use I have also dropped long case names and things like that. These sheets is not part of an upcoming text book, but just a memory aid for one specific person on this planet - but hopefully they can inspire others to take a more independent look at their study materials.





PS: I'm not going to write an equally lengthy post here about my weird ideas about syntax - I did so some time ago in the thread A hybrid kind of grammar


Edited by Iversen on 16 July 2008 at 4:44pm

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victor
Tetraglot
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United States
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 Message 40 of 107
16 July 2008 at 4:58pm | IP Logged 
Wowm, thanks Iversen for spending time to put all this together. I've heard you talk about your word lists, but I just happened to see a picture of one. I'm experimenting with different methods to memorize vocabulary. As for verb conjugations and noun declensions, I agree with you about writing it out as you learn. I find that it's particularly effective to practice out loud one part of the table over and over, and conjugating/declining different words until mastery. Perfect time for it is probably during showers or when you're alone doing something that doesn't require mental work.


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