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Only knowing words in certain contexts

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YnEoS
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United States
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Studies: German, Russian, Cantonese, Japanese, French, Hungarian, Czech, Swedish, Mandarin, Italian, Spanish

 
 Message 1 of 15
01 July 2014 at 12:08am | IP Logged 
I've been thinking a bit about the overall language learning process and moving passage knowledge into active knowledge. And I have an idea that I've been developing and I'd like to get some feedback from more advanced learners or anyone with linguistic knowledge if this makes any sort of sense.

There's one thing I think applies to language learning in general, but I have noticed very specifically in relation to studying Chinese characters in Anki. What I noticed is that when I "learn" a character in Anki, I haven't really learned it, but rather I've learned to distinguish it from the other characters in my deck. So the result is as I learn new characters, I have to start paying closer attention to characters I already "learned" to be able to distinguish them against new characters. So I'm thinking that this might apply to passive understanding in general and that when you learn to understand a word in a certain course, you still may not have fully learned the word, but only learned to distinguish it against other words in the course. I know a lot of people in this forum have mentioned it's important to hear words in different contexts. But I always assumed this was meant in terms of learning the peculiarities of usage of a word in a language, and getting used to hearing it at different speeds and from different voices. But now I'm thinking that it may also be a way and preventing your brain from taking shortcuts in recognizing a word in a familiar context and not learning the whole world.

Now of course the simple answer is, "just do active study" and I do think active study really cements a word in your brain since you need to know ever syllable by heart (or know ever stroke in the case of Chinese Characters). But I also suspect that active study is just paying a lot of attention to learning 1 word at a time, whereas passive extensive study, is just slowly and gradually deepening your understanding of many words.

I might be cherry picking examples here, but I feel like a lot of proposed methods here like "listening from the beginning" and "the multi-track approach" might in part be based around the importance of running into words outside the context of a course so your brain has to learn them to distinguish them better by paying closer attention to smaller details. I think I even remember Professor Arguelles saying something about becoming numb to a course after a while, and I think while this might be partly related to boredom, I think one aspect might be learning words in the same context over and over again inhibits further understanding.

I frequently notice in my studies that whenever I try to stick to 1 single method that I think is most "efficient" for too long, I eventually run into a brick wall and have to switch things up. I'm now suspecting that a big part of this is that when your brain is learning a word, it does the least amount of work possible to accomplish the task you give it. So to really learn words, you have to give your brain harder and harder tasks using those words to move them from passive understanding to active understanding. And perhaps some useful methods could be thought up for how to most efficiently move words from passive understanding to active knowledge.


Anyways, that's just what I've been thinking about recently. Just thought I'd throw this out there to hear what others think and see how much of it is crazy and what bits might be useful.
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tarvos
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 Message 2 of 15
01 July 2014 at 10:02am | IP Logged 
Yeah, it's about forcing yourself to melt your brain.

Today my French teacher set me an exercise to transcribe a 1:14 minute excerpt of a slang
part of a movie in French where 10 angry teenage girls are yelling at each other.

It's impossibru.

But if you are good, then you can do this too...
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rdearman
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 Message 3 of 15
01 July 2014 at 10:52am | IP Logged 
tarvos wrote:
Yeah, it's about forcing yourself to melt your brain.

Today my French teacher set me an exercise to transcribe a 1:14 minute excerpt of a slang part of a movie in French where 10 angry teenage girls are yelling at each other.

It's impossibru.

But if you are good, then you can do this too...


I just have to say what a really brilliant exercise that is! I'm going to have a go at doing this.

As far as learning via context, personally I find that words don't seem to "sink in" until I've heard it and read it a number of times in different places. SO if I've heard it in a TV show & a movie, then read it in a book & saw it in my flashcards, it is much more likely to stick. I read somewhere that you need to encounter a word 15 times before it sticks, don't know how true that is. Seems to be a good rule-of-thumb for me.



Edited by rdearman on 01 July 2014 at 10:53am

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tarvos
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 Message 4 of 15
01 July 2014 at 11:24am | IP Logged 
And by transcribe I mean EVERY. SINGLE. WORD. You're not allowed to miss a single one. I
couldn't do it on the first go, neither on the second, so she told me to take my time and
listen to it 40 times if I have to, just to get the exact transcription right.
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luhmann
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Brazil
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 Message 5 of 15
01 July 2014 at 4:06pm | IP Logged 
When I moved to SRSing example sentences instead of single words, my listening comprehension skyrocketed. I had about 3000 words in my Persian Deck, and yet, when watching television, I would only pick up one word here or there, amidst a flow of gibberish. (After about four months learning Persian from various courses). When I changed to doing example sentences instead, in about one week I already there was a already a huge improvement, and after two months, I can understand about 90% of what is said in a typical television serial, most of the time.

All the time I spent working on my single words deck, seem to be wasted for not good. If I had invested that time in sentences, I'd probably feel nearly fluent by now.

I had worked my Chinese deck to nearly 17000 words, watched many hours of television, over the course about 5 years, and yet, I understand spoken Persian better than I understand Chinese (although my vocabulary level is a much lower).

PS. I harvest my sentences using the "Progressive Aligned Sentences" method, which is probably the reason it yields so high in terms of listening comprehension.


( EDIT: My apparently impressive results happens basically, because I'm learning form a frequency list taken for a corpus of movie subtitles, which correlates highly to the spoken language. The number of words your need to understand television serials is much smaller than the one you need to able read. )



Edited by luhmann on 02 July 2014 at 3:30pm

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Serpent
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 Message 6 of 15
01 July 2014 at 4:49pm | IP Logged 
YnEoS wrote:
But I also suspect that active study is just paying a lot of attention to learning 1 word at a time, whereas passive extensive study, is just slowly and gradually deepening your understanding of many words.

Very true. Once you've learned to understand a word effortlessly, it will start moving towards the active part of your vocabulary. It might be important to have the right mindset, though.
Listening from the beginning is also vital due to its connection with speaking. In Finnish, I learned to read, write and think before learning to speak (mostly by shadowing), and my listening was always behind. In Italian I did a lot of listening and I didn't really need shadowing, other than for improving my pronunciation.


luhmann, were you using audio cards?
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shk00design
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 Message 7 of 15
01 July 2014 at 5:08pm | IP Logged 
The other day came across a phrase in French: "Transmettez-leur mon meilleur souvenir". If you try to
translate into English directly you'd get something like: "Transmit to them my best memories" but the
English equivalent is actually: "Give them my best regards". The word "tansmettez" looks like "transmit"
bit in this case it is use as the English equivalent "Give" and "souvenir" normally means "memory" in this
case refers to "regards".

Another example in French is the use of "c'est" for "it is" in English. In English we have "he" & "she" for
people and "it" for animals or objects. In French there isn't the English equivalent of "it". They just use
"il" (the same as the masculine person "he") when it is referring to an animal unless you know the sex of
a dog is female then you may use "elle".
When you are referring to a place such as a restaurant, you might say something like "it is close to
here". In French you'd say "c'est prè d'ici". You'd use the pronoun "it" for "it is a good restaurant" but in
French you wouldn't say "il est un bon restaurant" but instead you'd use "c'est un bon restaurant".

There is a word 状元 in Chinese often translated as "scholar" in English. Before China became a republic
in 1911, 状元 refers to people who successfully passed the state exam in Beijing and destined for
lifetime employment as a government official. Today 狀元 refers to those who got top scores in the 高考
(university entrance exam taken in high school), the Chinese equivalent of the SAT in the US. The word
in Chinese for scholar is 讀書人 which literally translate to a person who is well-read. In English both
terms is translated to scholar. However, 讀書人 is a more general term while 狀元 is a more specific term
associated with a specific exam.

The other day came across across a TV show where a singer from Africa used an incorrect classifier. In
English we use "a pair of shoes" and "a pair of pants". In Chinese the same rule doesn't apply. We'd say
"一對鞋“ but we wouldn't say "一對褲“ but instead we'd use "一條褲". 褲 uses the same classifier for long
things such as "river" 河 which is "一條河".
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Serpent
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 Message 8 of 15
01 July 2014 at 5:31pm | IP Logged 
These are cool examples but I'm not sure what point you're making. That it's better not to learn words in isolation, especially in languages that are vastly different from English, such as Mandarin?


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