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How many words to speak?

 Language Learning Forum : General discussion Post Reply
309 messages over 39 pages: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 ... 1 ... 38 39 Next >>
s_allard
Triglot
Senior Member
Canada
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Speaks: French*, English, Spanish
Studies: Polish

 
 Message 1 of 309
31 August 2014 at 1:38pm | IP Logged 
I recently saw the awesome video of hyperpolyglot Emanuele Marini speaking 15 languages at the Budapest
Polyglot Conference in 2013.
Emanuele Marini
I liked that fact that we see Marini speaking to actual people and not one of these talking-head videos where the
so-called polyglot just cycles through various languages.

But what really struck me was that in the various languages these short, simple and informal conversations only
used a small number of different words. Here, in my mind, was a confirmation, if ever one was needed, that you
can speak a language well and in certain circumstances with a very small vocabulary.

I am sure that Marini has a larger vocabulary in the 30 languages he speaks than what is shown in the video, but
it doesn't take a lot to actually start speaking. I have argued that in French 300 words will get you started and
that around 1000 words well mastered is all you need to be able to converse well about simple topics.

In order to talk about complex topics or technical subjects, you will need a larger vocabulary of course. But the
point is that for basic conversation along the lines of this video, a small number of words, good grammar and
pronunciation are all you need. You do not need to learn 10,000 words before starting to speak.

I wonder what people think about this.
2 persons have voted this message useful



tarvos
Super Polyglot
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China
likeapolyglot.wordpr
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Speaks: Dutch*, English, Swedish, French, Russian, German, Italian, Norwegian, Mandarin, Romanian, Afrikaans
Studies: Greek, Modern Hebrew, Spanish, Portuguese, Czech, Korean, Esperanto, Finnish

 
 Message 2 of 309
31 August 2014 at 1:46pm | IP Logged 
One. You speak a word when it exits your mouth. I suggest "Hodor" as a good example of
how much you need.
8 persons have voted this message useful





emk
Diglot
Moderator
United States
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Speaks: English*, FrenchB2
Studies: Spanish, Ancient Egyptian
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 Message 3 of 309
31 August 2014 at 2:09pm | IP Logged 
xkcd: Up Goer Five

Quote:
US Space Team's
Up Goer Five

The only flying space car that's
taken anyone to another world.

(Explained using only the ten hundred
words that people use most often.)

You can, of course, vastly reduce the number of words you need if you plan all your conversations in advance, and if you only learn exactly the words you intend to use. Of course, if you want to answer unplanned questions or allow other people to change the subject, your vocabulary requirements go up rather noticeably.
4 persons have voted this message useful



Serpent
Octoglot
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Russian Federation
serpent-849.livejour
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 Message 4 of 309
31 August 2014 at 2:12pm | IP Logged 
Of course you can speak when you know 300 words, or even 50. The problem is comprehension - you're going to speak better than you understand :) This will make conversations difficult or at least not very enjoyable.

Assuming you agree that one should understand more than 300 words in order to have a conversation, I just wonder why limit one's active vocabulary like that?

Also I think it's disrespectful to say "so-called polyglots" just because their videos don't fit your standards. They do fit the definition of *speaking* many languages, even if you're not satisfied because you want to see them having conversations.

Edited by Serpent on 31 August 2014 at 2:21pm

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s_allard
Triglot
Senior Member
Canada
Joined 3791 days ago

2704 posts - 5424 votes 
Speaks: French*, English, Spanish
Studies: Polish

 
 Message 5 of 309
31 August 2014 at 2:34pm | IP Logged 
In the video we see Marini conversing about simple subjects in 15 languages. He's not talking about the latest
advances in rocket design or interstellar travel. He's shooting the breeze. I don't see that he has planned his
conversations in advance. I don't him searching for words or not understanding what people are saying to him.

What I see are natural, informal, casual conversations that demonstrate Marini's ability to interact naturally with
native speakers. And he can do that in 30 languages. If I could do that in five languages I would be very happy.
1 person has voted this message useful



tarvos
Super Polyglot
Winner TAC 2012
Senior Member
China
likeapolyglot.wordpr
Joined 3068 days ago

5310 posts - 9398 votes 
Speaks: Dutch*, English, Swedish, French, Russian, German, Italian, Norwegian, Mandarin, Romanian, Afrikaans
Studies: Greek, Modern Hebrew, Spanish, Portuguese, Czech, Korean, Esperanto, Finnish

 
 Message 6 of 309
31 August 2014 at 3:22pm | IP Logged 
That was also not the setup if you've listened to the video. By the way, Mr Allard, I've
personally spoken to many of these polyglots. I can vouch for pretty much all of them.
Your condescension can be left at home.
7 persons have voted this message useful



shk00design
Triglot
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Canada
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Speaks: Cantonese*, English, Mandarin
Studies: French

 
 Message 7 of 309
31 August 2014 at 3:38pm | IP Logged 
The other day I started watching an old TV series from England: "Mind Your Language" produced by
London Weekend Television. Anybody who hasn't seen the show it is about an English teacher Mr. Brown
teaching a group of immigrants. In the group you have natives from France, Italy, Spain, India, Pakistan,
Hungarian, etc. The show was a comedy and highlighted the problem of having a limited vocabulary. The
amount of confusion over grammatical errors, phrases that have more than 1 meanings.

For example: In the first episode, the teacher introduced himself as Mr. Brown. The student from Pakistan
replied: "No, you are not brown, we are brown and you are white". In another episode the teacher asked:
"Where would you take a cheque"? Student: "To Czechoslovakia". Teacher: "Not that sort of cheque, a
cheque for certain amounts of money". Then the correct reply: "Ah, to a bank". The confusion was over
the word "cheque" vs "Czech". Another question: "Zoltan, where do you buy cigarettes? Which shop?" and
he replied: "No shop, Zoltan no smoke" sort of thing.

You can pick up a few words & phrases from half-dozen languages but you can't really say you're fluent
until you can pick up a conversation and understand it in the correct context. Every language has words &
phrases that are native to that part of the world. Even for common words you are going to find difference
usages. For example: The word for "to take a bath" commonly used in Hong Kong & the Chinese
community in Singapore is 沖涼 (chōngliáng). In China & Taiwan you hear 洗澡 (xǐzǎo). The word in
Chinese for 週末 (zhōumò) used by the Chinese communities in the US & Canada refer to the weekend
which includes Saturday & Sunday. However, in Asia, most people would work half a day on Saturday,
people generally think of 週末 as Sunday excluding Saturday. When a Chinese at the dinner table says: "起
筷" (qǐkuài), this is an expression which means literally "raise your chopsticks" or "we can begin eating". In
places where people don't use chopsticks you'd translate the phrase with something that would have a
similar context: "We shall start the meal".

Like the way Moses McCormick would tackle languages. In the beginning he would make a list of the most
frequently used words in a language and start with these to introduce himself in a conversation. These
includes: "Hello, my name is...", "I'm a student from the US who is studying languages", "Are you from
India? Do you speak Hindi?" this sort of thing to break the ice. You won't be able to discuss anything in
depth unless you know enough about the topic of discussion or have a large enough vocabulary to ask
questions. If someone in Hong Kong starts a conversation with something from the news recently: 佔中.
This is a Chinese acronym for 佔領中環 which translates to "Occupy Central". Central is a district in
Hong Kong where the government buildings are located. Occupy Central is a movement to demand
democratic elections in Hong Kong for 2017 by protesting in the Central District. Suppose you as a
foreigner studied Chinese for a while. A person from Hong Kong asks you what you think of 佔中. How
would you respond? Suppose you don't know enough about the topic, would you be able to get into an
intelligent conversation?

Edited by shk00design on 31 August 2014 at 4:12pm

1 person has voted this message useful



s_allard
Triglot
Senior Member
Canada
Joined 3791 days ago

2704 posts - 5424 votes 
Speaks: French*, English, Spanish
Studies: Polish

 
 Message 8 of 309
31 August 2014 at 3:42pm | IP Logged 
Since I don't live in Europe, I go by what I see. I see Marini talking to 15 different people. I'm in awe. If I see
polyglots talking to the camera, I call them talking heads. I also see people, like Richard, Luca, Steve talking to
people in various languages. I call them polyglots. What's the problem?

But that's a red herring. The real issue is how many words do you need the speak, or, to be more specific, to be able
of have conversation like Marini is having in each of those languages. Is it 500, a 1,000 or 5,000? I say it's closer to
500 with good grammar and pronunciation.


2 persons have voted this message useful



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