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How many words to speak?

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Serpent
Octoglot
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Russian Federation
serpent-849.livejour
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 Message 145 of 309
16 September 2014 at 12:18pm | IP Logged 
here's a relevant discussion. plot twist: I was convincing s_allard that you can speak well with a small vocabulary :)

So I don't disagree as fiercely as it might sound either. I'm willing to believe that this works fine in Canada, for similar languages ie French/English, in which most people have had schooling, and of course exposure too, so that anyone who's tried to speak has learned at least to understand. I don't question that, I just think it's a very peculiar situation and I'm tired of certain assumptions that don't apply to many/most HTLAL'ers.

s_allard wrote:
But what happens if you want to look at just one film? Again, the reasoning is that since you don't know what film you will choose, you need to learn all the words just in case.

Most learners want to see more than one film, and more importantly they want to be at the level where you don't worry about most individual films or conversations. It's not about preparing "just in case", it's about having a wide range of vocabulary that will be suitable for various situations. A longer-term strategy.

s_allard wrote:
Do I need to say that there is no mention of vocabulary size in the assessment criteria for oral proficiency? Vocabulary is certainly important but only as part of a general view of the ability to communicate. So let's say you don't know
the word for "strawberry" in your target language, will you automatically lose points because you say "little red fruit"? I say it depends on how you use the rest of the language. If your French is otherwise great, I don't think the examiner will even think about your not knowing the word for "strawberry".

Although there are no numbers given for vocabulary size, it's always pointed out that it has to be sufficient. And it gives you some leeway. People are not robots and they're likely to mess up at least a bit, especially in a fairly new language. I do agree that it's okay to say "little red fruit", but if you do this too much you'll sound like your vocabulary is inadequate, especially to an average person who doesn't care much about your grammar and communicative strategies. It's the learner's responsibility to simplify what they are trying to say if their knowledge is insufficient, both in terms of grammar and vocabulary. In many cases, saying "little red fruit" when you could replace strawberry with chocolate/banana/cherry is as suicidal as butchering the subjunctive instead of avoiding it.

Quote:
I know that people are obsessed with vocabulary size because they think this is the key to language success. If you know 10,000 words, you will surely pass that B1 test. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Again, assumptions. Vocabulary size is discussed a lot because it can be measured more easily than other language skills. Apart from the occasional person attempting to learn Swadesh lists, we generally have quite few people who don't understand that vocabulary isn't all you need.

Quote:
If there is one think I hope this debate accomplishes is to shift the spotlight away from vocabulary size towards general speaking competence, of which vocabulary is, in my opinion, only one component. Fluency, grammatical accuracy, idiomaticity, rendering of nuances are not easily quantified but these are the very things that examiners are looking for.

But there's not much overlap with real life. In real life, people look for vocabulary, fluency and a comprehensible pronunciation, and they'll want to speak more if you aren't obviously struggling and stuttering, and actually have something to say :D

PS please look at my formatting here, s_allard. It's very annoying when you constantly make two or even three posts in a row. I think it's even against the rules, although most of us do it at least occasionally. But seriously, three posts?..

Edited by Serpent on 16 September 2014 at 12:36pm

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s_allard
Triglot
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Canada
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Speaks: French*, English, Spanish
Studies: Polish

 
 Message 146 of 309
16 September 2014 at 2:13pm | IP Logged 
Since French is my native language, I don't spend much time thinking about what a core 300-word vocabulary
would look like in French. But since I am preparing for a C level exam in Spanish, possibly a C2 level, and I would
like to show how this core speaking vocabulary component plays an important role in my preparation strategy.

I think I'm doing all the right things. I read daily for at least an hour in Spanish. I write a couple of pages a week. I
work with a tutor once a week. I have couple of Anki stacks, countless little notebooks and half a dozen grammar
books. I'm not worried about vocabulary size at all. I have no clue about my productive and receptive
vocabularies are don't see the point of measuring.

I'm a great fan of rare words. My Spanish-speaking friends laugh when I come up with unusual or literary words
that they themselves do not use.

What concerns me the most is the speaking test. I feel that my Spanish is just not fluent and accurate enough.
There is still too much hesitation and mangling of words. Verb conjugation isn't a big problem, but I'm still
having problems with using some tenses properly. And there's the whole question of word order.

What's the solution? Learn more words? Obviously, there's nothing wrong with more vocabulary, and I still add to
my Anki stacks every day, But that's only part of the solution.

To attack the accurate fluency problem, I think the solution is a return to basics. This doesn't mean starting over.
It means working on the key elements that determine fluency. I call this connected speech. This doesn't require a
huge vocabulary. This is exactly what the examples of real French conversations have shown. If I could have just
one conversation like that in Spanish, I would be totally happy.

To do all this, I like to use a core vocabulary that contains the essential elements that occur in all conversations.
How do I decide what goes into this core vocabulary? I study real conversations, especially interviews. I have a
growing collection of short transcriptions that I use to shadow recordings. I look at how people interact through
the language.

What I see is that it's the little things that make a difference. Those connector words are there for a reason.
Prepositions, conjunctions, adverbs are vitally important.

Certain verbs keep coming back all the time. I drill them constantly in the most common forms so that there
should not be the slightest hesitation in the conjugation.

As much as I love rare and interesting words, I all keep in mind the idea that the chain is only as strong as the
weakest link. What's the point of having a huge vocabulary if I'm still stumbling over the basics?
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s_allard
Triglot
Senior Member
Canada
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Speaks: French*, English, Spanish
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 Message 147 of 309
16 September 2014 at 2:29pm | IP Logged 
Iversen wrote:
This discussion hinges on one single question, namely the degree to which you can direct a
CEFR test in the direction of one of your language islands (with a reference to Mr. Shekhtman's terminology). If
you can't do that then it is irrelevant that you could survive on 300 words in a discussion about any one theme.

But why this focus on language tests? If you really want to show the virtues of a microscopic, but well chosen
vocabulary, then go for small talk with random persons or shopping where you can point to the goods you want
to buy (and ask for a written price). If those examinators are worth their salt then they would smell the rat and
check the range of your vocabulary - and as it already has been pointed out this could be done with a few
probing questions.    

With all due respect for iversen, I think he has misunderstood what I've been getting at. Why would examiners
smell a rat if your speaking is great? Why would they check for range of vocabulary? Will an examiner really ask
you to name 10 flowers in your target language? Maybe you don't know the word for remote control but you can
talk smoothly around it. Will the examiner make a note "Does not know remote control."? Let's not be silly.
1 person has voted this message useful



s_allard
Triglot
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Canada
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 Message 148 of 309
16 September 2014 at 2:46pm | IP Logged 
Just to come back briefly to the hyperpolyglot, Emanuele Marini, whose performance was the starting point of
this whole discussion. I do not believe that Marini has a 2000-word minimum vocabulary in each of 15
languages, let alone 30 languages. How many unique words of each language do we hear him use in the 50
seconds of each language spoken? I didn't count. Let's say 50. Nobody came up to him and asked "How do you
say strawberry in this language?"

Instead, everybody, including myself, is impressed by the fact that Marini talks fluently and correctly, as far as I
can tell, in 15 languages. Sure, it's small talk. Some people will jump and and say that Marini cannot talk about
minimally invasive laparoscopic surgery in 15 languages. So what? Do we conclude that he is a charlatan who has
learned just 50 words in 30 languages? Give me a break.

What I think he has done, as I have said before, is mastered the essential core of each language. I'm not saying
300 words. Whatever that number is, it's the foundation for dealing with variety of situations that may require
calling on additional vocabulary resources.
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Maecenas23
Triglot
Newbie
Ukraine
Joined 3006 days ago

21 posts - 56 votes 
Speaks: Ukrainian*, Russian, English
Studies: German

 
 Message 149 of 309
16 September 2014 at 3:18pm | IP Logged 
I think Marini knows much more than 2000 words in each of his languages, given the
fact, that almost all the languages he speaks are Indo-European and they have thousands
of cognates. A person whose native language is English automatically have 60% of words
of latin origin in his vocabulary, which means if your passive vocabulary in English is
30000 words you can recognise 10-15 thousands words in French or Spanish and use them
without even learning them by heart. You have an enormous advantage when you learn many
European languages it makes every next of them you start to acquire easier in geometric
progression. Maybe that explains part of your illusion about the ability to speak with
300 words fluently.
Nevertheless I am as a native Russian and Ukrainian speaker can say you that his
Russian seems to be on intermidiate level but Ukrainian is awful.I watched several of
his Youtube videos and in one of them he reads from the screen pretending to speak
Russian and Ukrainian - he has a bad pronounciation in Ukrainian and i had an
impression that he doesn't have a cue about the simplest grammar. But it's almost
impossible to assess someone's language level by listening to a short 30 second
monologue, where he constantly repeats the same things about how he likes this
particular language and culture. I assure you that I can learn several phrases in
Arabic by heart and train to parrot them so hard that I'd be indistinguishable from a
native speaker, though I'd not be able to say anything else.
This discussion is meaningless. You can't speak using 300 words without a strong
vocabulary and hundreds of hours of learning a language and exposure. Language usage
and learning is a mind-bogglinly complicated process and it has some stages which are
the same for every learner (we even do the same types of grammatical mistakes on each
stage). The laws of language learning are almost as strict as the laws of Physics and
there is no way you can cheat on them. I would paraphrase one philosopher and say that
there is no royal way to language learning.


Edited by Maecenas23 on 16 September 2014 at 5:58pm

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s_allard
Triglot
Senior Member
Canada
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Speaks: French*, English, Spanish
Studies: Polish

 
 Message 150 of 309
16 September 2014 at 3:38pm | IP Logged 
Maecenas23 wrote:
I think Marini knows much more than 2000 words in each of his languages, given the
fact, that almost all the languages he speaks are European and they have thousands of
cognates. A person whose native language is English automatically have 60% of words of
latin origin in his vocabulary, which means if your passive vocabulary in English is
30000 words you can recognise 10-15 thousands words in French or Spanish and use them
without even learning them by heart. You have an enormous advantage when you learn many
European languages it makes every next of them you start to acquire easier in geometric
progression. Maybe that explains part of your illusion about the ability to speak with
300 words fluently.
...

I just want to comment briefly on this idea that having many cognates makes learning a language easy,
especially, for English speakers, "you can recognize 10-15 thousands words in French or Spanish and use them
without even learning them by heart." I could hardly believe my eyes when I read this. This sort of statement
reveals exactly this thinking that if you know words, you know how to use them. Really, in all seriousness, can a
speaker of English with a 30,000-word vocabulary claim to have a vocabulary of 10-15 thousand words in French
and start speaking right away? Tell that to the millions of English-speakers who have tried learning French.

After reading that sort of grand declaration on cognates, I couldn't be bothered with commenting the rest of the
post.
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emk
Diglot
Moderator
United States
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 Message 151 of 309
16 September 2014 at 3:40pm | IP Logged 
s_allard wrote:
Just to come back briefly to the hyperpolyglot, Emanuele Marini, whose performance was the starting point of this whole discussion.

I have no opinion about Emanuele Marini, because:

- I've never heard him speak.
- I've never tried to carry on a 5-minute conversation with him in any of our mutual languages.
- I can only evaluate people's skills in two languages: English and French. And I'm going to miss stuff in French.
- I know how devastatingly effective Boris Shekhtman's "islands" technique can be in the right hands.
- I know how audiences tend to wildly exaggerate the skill of any polyglot.
- I know how hard it is to activate a language immediately, with no prior warning.
- I know, as sfuqua pointed out, that "Language testing interviews are a battlefield."

Thus, I can't imagine having an opinion on any polyglot's skills based on a video, or on second-hand reports, or on a 30-second conversation. The only way I'd actually have any opinion one way or the other would be to sit down over dinner, or whatever, and just have a pleasant chat. And even then, I'd only have an opinion on the languages we actually used.

But that's OK. I don't generally feel any urge to praise or to condemn polyglots, and I'm not a CEFR examiner, so why would I need to assess a stranger's skills? I find that life is much more comfortable if I avoid theorizing before I have first-hand data. It's very relaxing to say, "Honestly, I don't have a clue."
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Maecenas23
Triglot
Newbie
Ukraine
Joined 3006 days ago

21 posts - 56 votes 
Speaks: Ukrainian*, Russian, English
Studies: German

 
 Message 152 of 309
16 September 2014 at 3:58pm | IP Logged 
s_allard - I don't know how is it possible, but I can read simple articles in Wikipedia
in Spanish without even studying a language - there are hundreds of words I can
understand without looking into a dictionary, and I am not a native speaker of English.

Edited by Maecenas23 on 16 September 2014 at 3:58pm



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