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Reading Literature & Vocabulary

 Language Learning Forum : Learning Techniques, Methods & Strategies Post Reply
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souley
Senior Member
Joined 5724 days ago

178 posts - 177 votes 
Speaks: Swedish*
Studies: Arabic (Written), French

 
 Message 1 of 39
12 April 2005 at 12:08pm | IP Logged 
Dear Ardaschir, I read throughout your posts that you consistantly work your way through literature in the language you are currently studying on a daily basis.
So my question to you is, when you come across a word which you do not know, how do you handle it? Do you just look it up and continue on with the text, or do you perhaps write the word and it's meaning down on a piece of paper or notebook for remembrance?

What is the best way to work through a piece of literature in a target language?

I often find myself confused as to what I should do when I come across a new word. One side of me wants to write it down for the purpose of future remembrance and another side of me thinks that if I look up the meaning and just keep reading, it will eventually stick.

I asked this question openly instead of through a private message as I assume your answer could benefit us all.

Thank you in advance.

Edited by souley on 12 April 2005 at 12:09pm

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souley
Senior Member
Joined 5724 days ago

178 posts - 177 votes 
Speaks: Swedish*
Studies: Arabic (Written), French

 
 Message 2 of 39
12 April 2005 at 12:13pm | IP Logged 
Just wanted to add; anyone who has some thoughts and / or experiences on this topic could share, it's not exclusively for Ardaschir.
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administrator
Hexaglot
Forum Admin
Switzerland
FXcuisine.com
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 Message 3 of 39
12 April 2005 at 2:43pm | IP Logged 
There is a dilemna of either looking up every word and getting tired after two pages, or never look up any word and not understand all of the text.

Ardaschir's suggestion in a different post was to use bilingual editions or buy a translation of the book you wish to read and go back and forth. I am trying this as we speak and for me it is much better than the alternative described above.
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ProfArguelles
Moderator
United States
foreignlanguageexper
Joined 5739 days ago

609 posts - 2100 votes 

 
 Message 4 of 39
12 April 2005 at 6:53pm | IP Logged 
I generally try to avoid using a dictionary at all until I am quite advanced in a language. As I've written before, I get to that point either by transferring skills from other languages in the family, or by spending requisite years reading "readers," bilingual texts, children's literature, and with a translated text at hand.

One way or another, I eventually get to the point when I can understand at least 80% of the words in a text, and I mean that literally, i.e., if I take them out of the text, that is, out of their context, I can explain and actively use 4 out of 5 words. The difference between 75% and 80% doesn't sound great when you write them as percentages, but when you do it this way, you will find that 75% means only 3 out of 4, which is not enough, so you have to cross this barrier first.

If you know 4 words out of 5, the meaning of the fifth word is generally provided by the context. So, when you get to this point, the trick is to read as much as you can for a while, as swiftly as you can, tolerating the ambiguity of not understanding everything, fighting the impulse to look up every single word that you do not know. If you just read, read, read like this for several hours a day, every day for a few weeks or months depending on the difficulty of the language, you will find that your vocabulary has snowballed and that you have learned many new words from context without ever needing to look them up.

It is only at this point in my enjoyment of a literature (i.e., when I probably already know something like 95% of the words on a page) that I allow myself to begin using a dictionary. As a rule, I only look up two kinds of words: those that truly impede my understanding of a passage, and those that I call "known unknowns," i.e., words with whose form I have become familiar but whose meaning continues to elude me - I often find myself actively wondering whether they mean this, that, or the other thing, and perhaps musing on them in odd moments, as when I am in the shower, thinking "...now just what the hell could that damn word possibly mean? It's not... maybe it's..." When I do finally look up such words, I only need to do so once, for I remember them forever without needing to write them down.

For the most part, though, I generally continue to absorb the meaning of words from their context. As a general principle of learning, I think that you know and understand better by figuring things out for yourself than by having them explained to you.

I love dictionaries (especially etymological ones) and I even spent many years of my life compiling an extensive English-French-Spanish-German-Russian-Korean one that is now hopefully soon finally going to see publication, alas with only the first four. However, I truly feel that a dictionary used too early is not a help to a language learner, it is a hinderance.
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souley
Senior Member
Joined 5724 days ago

178 posts - 177 votes 
Speaks: Swedish*
Studies: Arabic (Written), French

 
 Message 5 of 39
12 April 2005 at 7:39pm | IP Logged 
Thank you for your answer Ardaschir, your thoughts are very interesting indeed. However, would you mind elaborating on this:

Ardaschir wrote:
However, I truly feel that a dictionary used too early is not a help to a language learner, it is a hinderance.


Is it because it slows the learning process down constantly looking up words?
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guillaume
Pentaglot
Groupie
France
Joined 5664 days ago

59 posts - 57 votes 
Speaks: French*, English, German, Spanish, Japanese
Studies: Mandarin

 
 Message 6 of 39
12 April 2005 at 8:03pm | IP Logged 
The problem of systematically using the dictionnary is that you learn a word by keeping it associated to a meaning in your own language. I believe that a word should be associated with the context you have seen it in if you want to be able to use well and easily. So this is why using a dictionnary can be a hinderance to really learn a language.
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Eric
Senior Member
Australia
Joined 5711 days ago

102 posts - 105 votes 
Speaks: English*
Studies: Spanish, French

 
 Message 7 of 39
13 April 2005 at 1:43am | IP Logged 
administrator wrote:
There is a dilemna of either looking up every word and getting tired after two pages, or never look up any word and not understand all of the text.

Ardaschir's suggestion in a different post was to use bilingual editions or buy a translation of the book you wish to read and go back and forth. I am trying this as we speak and for me it is much better than the alternative described above.


I'm going to buy one of these books when I can François, as the book I currently have is less than 400 words (I know, I know) and at times I have to have a dictionary on hand, not to understand the flow of what is happening, but because if I don't know a word it bugs the HELL out of me until I succumb and look it up.

I am a slave to my curiosity.

A bi-lingual book however will allow me to learn from context, I was actually in the Uni Library the other day looking at a little Cicero comparing the Latin to the English ... interesting, but boy does Latin look different to Spanish (and to a lesser extent Italian) in my opinion.

Also, Dr Arguelles Korean book was there, I might have a glance at it next time!
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administrator
Hexaglot
Forum Admin
Switzerland
FXcuisine.com
Joined 5859 days ago

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 Message 8 of 39
13 April 2005 at 4:36am | IP Logged 
administrator wrote:
There is a dilemna of either looking up every word and getting tired after two pages, or never look up any word and not understand all of the text.


I forgot to mention another alternative to get out of the dilemna: the main problem of looking up words in the dictionary is that it takes time and effort. If there was a way to put your finger on the word and have its definition magically pop up, I think I'd look up words more often. And this exactly what I do when reading articles in Russian online. With an electronic dictionary, I can just highlight a word with the mouse, then right click on it and get its definition. This is a great benefit and enables me to look up many more words than I could with a paper dictionary with the same effort.

This being said, I would agree with Ardaschir that reading a text with no recourse to the dictionary and figure out most words by their context only is a magical way of learning and can be greatly enjoyable. You feel like a young Sherlock Holmes unravelling a life-size puzzle, telling which words means what based on its neighbours.

Edited by administrator on 13 April 2005 at 4:42am



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