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How many words to speak?

 Language Learning Forum : General discussion Post Reply
309 messages over 39 pages: 13 4 5 6 7 ... 2 ... 38 39 Next >>
smallwhite
Pentaglot
Senior Member
Australia
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537 posts - 1045 votes 
Speaks: Cantonese*, English, Mandarin, French, Spanish

 
 Message 9 of 309
31 August 2014 at 3:49pm | IP Logged 
s_allard wrote:
If I see polyglots talking to the camera, I call them talking heads.

s_allard wrote:
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.


Just go ahead and count the subtitles, counting head.


-

Edited by smallwhite on 31 August 2014 at 3:50pm

2 persons have voted this message useful



s_allard
Triglot
Senior Member
Canada
Joined 3825 days ago

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

 
 Message 10 of 309
31 August 2014 at 4:01pm | IP Logged 
When we have this debate, people always bring up all kinds of doomsday scenarios: how can you talk about this?
how can you talk about that? Of course, there are endless nuances, subtleties, regional differences, complexities
in speaking a language. I'm talking about pretty basic situations, like the one I experienced last night. I met four
new tenants (roommates) in my building. The conversation went something like this:

(In front of the elevator door)
- Here. I'll get the door.
- Thank you.
- Did you press 6?
- No, there you go?
- Thank you. Are you guys new in the building?
- Yes?
- Welcome
- Thank you.
- I've been here many years.
- You must really like it.
- Ya, I do. I love it.
(Elevator arrives at 4th floor)
- Nice meeting you. Have a good evening.
- You too.

There's nothing complicated about this little interaction. It doesn't require a huge vocabulary. What it does
require is the ability to spontaneously produce appropriately idiomatic speech. This where good grammar and
pronunciation comes in. How many people with huge vocabularies and dozens of books under their belt in their
target languages can do this and sound like a native speaker?


1 person has voted this message useful



tarvos
Super Polyglot
Winner TAC 2012
Senior Member
China
likeapolyglot.wordpr
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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 11 of 309
31 August 2014 at 4:20pm | IP Logged 
Yes, captain obvious. You've said this about a hundred times.

Edited by tarvos on 31 August 2014 at 4:20pm

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James29
Diglot
Senior Member
United States
Joined 3770 days ago

1265 posts - 2113 votes 
Speaks: English*, Spanish
Studies: French

 
 Message 12 of 309
31 August 2014 at 4:45pm | IP Logged 
A lot of work went into developing and defining the language "Basic English." It is a subset of English with a controlled vocabulary of 850 words. Many books have been translated into this language. I read the Bible in Basic English and it is extremely functional. Two or three words can very easily substitute for other words. They say that basically anything can be translated into these 850 words (plus proper names and locations).

This, of course, does not deal with being able to understand regular speaking, but it seems relevant to this discussion.
1 person has voted this message useful



Serpent
Octoglot
Senior Member
Russian Federation
serpent-849.livejour
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4 sounds
Speaks: Russian*, English, FinnishC1, Latin, German, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese
Studies: Danish, Romanian, Polish, Belarusian, Ukrainian, Croatian, Slovenian, Catalan, Czech, Galician, Dutch, Swedish

 
 Message 13 of 309
31 August 2014 at 4:47pm | IP Logged 
What's the point of sounding like a native speaker in such a superficial interaction if you can't understand more than 500 words?
4 persons have voted this message useful





emk
Diglot
Moderator
United States
Joined 3927 days ago

2615 posts - 8805 votes 
Speaks: English*, FrenchB2
Studies: Spanish, Ancient Egyptian
Personal Language Map

 
 Message 14 of 309
31 August 2014 at 5:05pm | IP Logged 
s_allard wrote:
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.

This would actually be an interesting claim if you made a list of these 500 words. Then we could learn them and see how far we could get.

But instead, every time we have this discussion, you take a single existing conversation, using a known vocabulary, and you count the words. And that's a totally different thing: you're assuming the student only ever needs to have that one, fixed conversation, and that they don't need to keep any words "in reserve."

s_allard wrote:
(In front of the elevator door)
- Here. I'll get the door.
- Thank you.
- Did you press 6?
- No, there you go?
- Thank you. Are you guys new in the building?
- Yes?
- Welcome
- Thank you.
- I've been here many years.
- You must really like it.
- Ya, I do. I love it.
(Elevator arrives at 4th floor)
- Nice meeting you. Have a good evening.
- You too.

This is an A2 level conversation (or maybe less). All you're doing is repeating a few stock phrases. That's all fine and good, but what if their five year old child says, "I went to the zoo and saw an elephant. And there was a big crane, too."

Serpent wrote:
What's the point of sounding like a native speaker in such a superficial interaction if you can't understand more than 500 words?

A 500 word vocabulary can take you pretty far in Montreal, where a huge fraction of the population is bilingual. 500 words is enough to say, "I'm not an irritting monolingual who forces everybody to speak my language; I can make at least a token effort and be polite." Then, once you establish your good will with an A2 conversation, you just code switch as needed to actually communicate.

With a 500 word vocabulary, you have two choices:

1. Limit yourself to A2 conversations.
2. Only speak to people with pretty good English, and code switch every time you run into a tiny problem.

If I'm going to convince bilinguals that I'm not a jerk, a couple hundred words will go a long way, and then, hey, everybody speaks English, right? </sarcasm>

But if I'm going to be thrown into an immersion environment, and if I need to buy groceries, find the bathroom, buy a SIM card for my telephone, ask directions, and figure out why the police officer is mad at me, I'm going to want 2,000 to 3,000 words.

If I'm going to need to do a job interview, write work emails, call tech support for my Internet connection, read adult books, take an introductory college class, watch a crime drama on TV, and understand an article on a humor website—and do all this with ease—then I want something closer to 10,000 or 15,000 words.
8 persons have voted this message useful



Cavesa
Triglot
Senior Member
Czech Republic
Joined 3404 days ago

3277 posts - 6778 votes 
Speaks: Czech*, FrenchC2, EnglishC1
Studies: Spanish, German, Italian

 
 Message 15 of 309
31 August 2014 at 5:18pm | IP Logged 
Funny how often is this question asked despite everyone knowing the outcomes of the discussion as it has been already held a hundred times.

It depends on the definition of "speak" and on the choice of words. If "speaking" means speaking for a few minutes about familiar topics, it is different from "speakin" as functioning in the language even with mistakes but without the need to switch to English.

As I've experienced during my month long stay abroad, you need lots of words to speak about everyday topics and not to sound incompetent (which causes people to switch to English). I think 1000 words would be a good start but the trouble is to choose the most useful 1000 words for you. No frequency list or course does include majority of the vocabulary You are going to need in usual conversations.

Yes, you can always use a dictionary, and you are going to do that often, but every word you need to look up breaks the conversation and becomes a barrier, so you'd better lessen the need. You can make your way around the word by an explication but the explication sometimes requires other words of equal "difficulty/rarity level" and sounds stupid or just doesn't work well.

So, I would say that for simple conversations about coursebook topics, you can do pretty well with active knowledge of a few hundred words. With a good command of other aspects of the language, you are gonna make great videos with you speaking to other people and you will rightly be praised for your accomplishment and progress.

But when it comes to real life, the question and hunt for the least difficult path becomes totally pointless. If you need to use the language in other settings than talking about a narrow set of topics (like language learning, which is logically the alpha and omega topic of the polyglot videos), you'd better hoard as large vocabulary as you can. Use vocabulary lists to not get lost in explanations regarding to your appartment, turning on the heating, sorting the rubbish, solving a recurring internted connection issue and so on. Read a lot and possibly try the usual frequency lists (usually based on literature, newspapers etc.) for the more general vocabulary. Read native sources specific for your field of work because once you are in the office/laboratory/factory/whatever, noone will care about how proficient you are with your top 500 words from the frequency list. You are going to need lots of less common vocabulary to be the colleague who SPEAKS the language and not just another naive foreigner thinking too highly of themselves.

So, how many words to speak the language well enough to begin functioning in the normal situations? I'd say at least 5000 words of passive vocabulary and 2000 active. And this is still just a beginning, my favourite German course of A1 level teaches over 2000 words and I don't feel confident enough to claim to really speak the language by far. You are going to need thousands of words, I'd say 10 000 for full functioning in a language.
7 persons have voted this message useful



Cavesa
Triglot
Senior Member
Czech Republic
Joined 3404 days ago

3277 posts - 6778 votes 
Speaks: Czech*, FrenchC2, EnglishC1
Studies: Spanish, German, Italian

 
 Message 16 of 309
31 August 2014 at 5:31pm | IP Logged 
Ah, Emk wrote faster and basically the same thing, just with better words. I couldn't agree more.


1 person has voted this message useful



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