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How many words to speak?

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Senior Member
United States
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Speaks: English*, Spanish
Studies: Esperanto, French

 Message 153 of 309
16 September 2014 at 4:35pm | IP Logged 
s_allard wrote:
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.

It does seem like you don't spend much time thinking about it, but you do post a lot about it.

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.

And this tells us that your vocabulary certainly larger than 300 words. Also, as a speaker of French and
English, you get a huge cognate discount with Spanish.

I don't discount the importance of connector words, grammar, prepositions, etc, particularly with your goal. I'd
think if you focused on accuracy and automaticity in the drills in FSI Basic Spanish along with everything else
you're doing you will indeed "ace" the exam.
2 persons have voted this message useful

Senior Member
United Kingdom
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Speaks: English*, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Norwegian, Dutch, Swedish, Italian
Studies: German, Danish, Russian, Catalan

 Message 154 of 309
16 September 2014 at 7:42pm | IP Logged 
Would not a C2 candidato who uses FSI Basic Spanish for the C2 examen be like a senior
chemical engineer who specialises in PID control loop theory for both linear and
nonlinear systems for a petroleum refinery pratising multilplication times tables to
improve his or her calculations?

But I would think that a C2 candidate has a vocabulary that would probably surpass 300

Edited by 1e4e6 on 16 September 2014 at 8:52pm

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Super Polyglot
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 Message 155 of 309
16 September 2014 at 8:56pm | IP Logged 
Nevertheless I am as a native Russian and Ukrainian speaker can say you that
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.

You could. He's the real deal, though. With the amount of languages he has it makes
sense that there's a few he masters less.

Edited by tarvos on 16 September 2014 at 8:57pm

1 person has voted this message useful

Senior Member
United States
Joined 5688 days ago

3133 posts - 4350 votes 
Speaks: English*, Spanish
Studies: Esperanto, French

 Message 156 of 309
16 September 2014 at 10:47pm | IP Logged 
1e4e6 wrote:
Would not a C2 candidato who uses FSI Basic Spanish for the C2 examen be like a senior chemical engineer who specialises in PID control loop theory for both linear and nonlinear systems for a petroleum refinery pratising multilplication times tables to improve his or her calculations?

Perhaps. But for someone who feels they are good on vocabulary, writing, and listening, but who still says things in an unusual or incorrect way, or perhaps hesitates a bit to get the words out correctly, FSI Basic Spanish is a great course.

1 person has voted this message useful

Super Polyglot
Joined 5186 days ago

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 Message 157 of 309
17 September 2014 at 12:56am | IP Logged 
Iversen wrote:
(..) 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.    

s_allard wrote:
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.

I have never been to a CEFR exam and never will, but a rich and varied language was definitely one of the criteria used when I studied French (and a few other languages) at the university in the 70s and early 80s. I doubt that this aspect has become totally anachronistic since then, and I certainly do notice when writers can express themselves in a way that show shows a familiarity even with less trodden paths in their chosen language. However it will only be really relevant when more critical factors like fluency and correctness have been assured.

When I suggested that examinators might 'smell rats' I was thinking about people that deliberately tried to direct the examinations towards themes where they had prepared a minimal, but functional vocabulary while leaving the rest of the linguistic univers aside. After all you are supposed to have some level of allround skills, and the examinations are only limited to a single theme (or maybe a few) because it would take forever to investigate scores of different themes, each with its own specific vocabulary.

But even suspicious examinators and censors would probably not wield their bloody axe just because a examinee didn't know rare old names for long forgotten agricultural implements or the collective names for all kinds of groups of animals. Even native speakers don't need to know what to call a scold of jays or leep of leopards, so why should second language learners? But a C2 candidate who didn't know the words "sibling" or "remote control" would probably raise an eyebrow or two.

Edited by Iversen on 17 September 2014 at 9:41am

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Senior Member
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Speaks: French*, English, Spanish
Studies: Polish

 Message 158 of 309
17 September 2014 at 4:49am | IP Logged 
Maecenas23 wrote:
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.

I usually don't answer this sort of stuff, but it's an opportunity to touch briefly on the question of the so-called
cognate discount. I say so-called because I believe that this is way overblown, especially for English. The fact
that languages are part of the same family and are closely related makes learning them easier than for disparate
language. No problem about that.

But the fact that two (or more) or more languages may have many cognates despite major differences of linguistic
structure is, in my mind, of little significance. But many people think that because of many cognates, one already
knows many words in another language, and, as this poster pointed out earlier, knows how to use the words.

Then we should believe that an average speaker of English automatically knows 10,000 words in French and how
to use them? Does this mean that English speakers are automatically bilingual? I have rarely heard anything so
preposterous here at HTLAL.
1 person has voted this message useful

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

 Message 159 of 309
17 September 2014 at 5:51am | IP Logged 
Since many people here do not read French, I thought I might look at the vocabulary size of a conversation
in English. I've copied below the transcript of a conversation between two medical doctors on the question of salt
in diet. The actual recording is about four minutes long and can be heard here.

Salt intake research

I don't yet have an exact count of all the unique words. I did count 60 nouns and 49 verbs. There may be slight
discrepancies due to classification issues. That's 109 unique words so far. When I get a moment, I'll look at the
other categories. I suspect the adjectives will be quite high, around the same level as the nouns or even a bit
more. I feel that the total number of unique words will be in the 300-word range. I encourage readers to do
their own counting.

As I hope this proves, using 300 words does not mean making gestures, pointing and grunting. Nor does it mean
making small talk about trivial topics.

Now, as someone will immediately point out, you can't use these same 300 words to talk about the development
of harpsichord music in 18th century Germany or the mating rituals of killer whales. That's true. That we always
knew. Here we talking about salt intake, nothing else.

Norman Swan: So speaking of lifestyle factors and changing your lifestyle and blood pressure, you are obsessed
with salt, quite rightly, and there are three papers this week in the New England Journal of Medicine on salt which kind of go either way.

Bruce Neal: Yes, there's the first paper, which is the one I like…

Norman Swan: [Laughs] Suits your prejudice!

Bruce Neal: Yes, suits my prejudices. It talks about the effects of excess salt consumption on a global basis, and
basically what it concludes is that eating too much salt around the world is causing about 1.7 million deaths each year.

Norman Swan: Premature deaths.

Bruce Neal: Premature deaths, yes. And the way they've worked that out is taken a pretty comprehensive look at
all the available data on salt consumption, applied what we know about the effects of salt on blood pressure and modelled that through to
work out effects on stroke and heart

Norman Swan: And there was another one that went the other way and said people with low salt are at higher

Bruce Neal: Yes, so this was a big study called the PURE Study…probably the impure study, in my view…

Norman Swan: Oh, catty!

Bruce Neal: About 100,000 people from around the world. And what they did there was they asked them a whole
bunch of questions about their lifestyle. They collected a spot urine sample to measure their urinary sodium, which is a way of trying to work out
how much salt they are eating, and then they used that spot sample to try and work out how much salt they were eating on average during each day.
And they looked to see what were the risks of having strokes and heart attacks moving forward.

Norman Swan: And?

Bruce Neal: And what they found was that the people who had the high salt intake had high risks of having
strokes and heart attacks, but also the people who had the lowest salt intake also had elevated risk for strokes and heart attacks.

Norman Swan: So warning, warning, warning, we've got a U-shaped curve here, so the people in the middle have
the lowest risk, moderate intake, and then there's a U-shape. But of course that's notorious in alcohol because in alcohol they say there's a U-shaped
curve, people who don't drink much alcohol have a higher risk, and people who drink a lot of alcohol have a high risk, assuming that people on the
left-hand side at the high risk on the low alcohol consumption are normal people, and they weren't, they are actually sick people and that's why they
are not taking alcohol.

Bruce Neal: Yes, I think the most likely explanation for this is this what's called reverse causation problem. So you
got a bunch of people who eat a low amount of salt because they've got a disease and they've gone, oh, I've got to do something about this. And if
you look at the data carefully in this study, what you see is that those people who are at the lowest level of consumption, they actually tend to be
taking more blood pressure lowering drugs, they are eating more fruits and vegetables, they are clearly different to what you would expect them to
be. So probably what you've got here is…

Norman Swan: You've got people who have been scared out of their brains because they've got something wrong with them.

Bruce Neal: Exactly, yes.

Norman Swan: Now, what is the advice for people listening, on their salt intake?

Bruce Neal: My advice is the lower the better. If you think about human evolution, for most of evolution we grew
up on a Palaeolithic diet. I'm not necessarily advocating a Palaeolithic diet, I certainly don't eat one. But we used to eat probably less than a gram
of salt a day. We now eat 10 times that. We know that if you eat less salt your blood pressure is lower, and we know that blood pressure is the
single most important cause of premature death around the world. It's incredibly unlikely that eating less salt, lowering your blood pressure is going
to cause you harm.

Norman Swan: So what do you do?

Bruce Neal: I sit at home…

Norman Swan: You don't go out anywhere, never to a Thai restaurant!

Bruce Neal: I irritate restaurant chefs by asking them to leave salt out of everything. I cook my own bread in a
breadmaker so I can make it without salt. I'm a little bit obsessed with it, it has to be said.

Norman Swan: But when you look at the back of the packet, some talk about sodium and some talk about salt.
How do you make sense of that?

Bruce Neal: That's painful. Basically to get from sodium to salt you have to multiply by 2.5. One thing that
hopefully will improve this is we are going to start to see the better front-of-packet labelling in Australia soon. And we've got a little smart phone
app you can use, Food Switch, which will scan the barcode and it will show you red, amber or green, depending on how much salt is in there. It will
suggest lower salt alternatives too.

Norman Swan: And if you don't do anything else, no salt in cooking or at the table.

Bruce Neal: Look, only about 10% or 15% of the salt that you eat on a day-to-day basis is salt you add, most of it
is just hidden in processed foods, restaurant foods. So yes, don't add any, but don't expect that to solve the problem.

Edited by s_allard on 17 September 2014 at 5:59am

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 Message 160 of 309
17 September 2014 at 9:01am | IP Logged (spanish)

pretty long but quite cool interview with Dmitri Petrov and how within 2/3 weeks people
could actually "speak" a language based on the fact 90% of conversations use 300/500

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