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How many words to speak?

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Maecenas23
Triglot
Newbie
Ukraine
Joined 3006 days ago

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

 
 Message 161 of 309
17 September 2014 at 11:01am | IP Logged 
Donaldshimoda wrote:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E72G-L1IvjY (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
words

I've watched his TV show called "German in 16 Hours" where he taught celebrities
German.After every lesson they had a homework, so they practised at home as much time if not more and some of them had a little background in German. Though at the last lesson
they barely understood simple questions stuttering to answer them. So they spent several
weeks studying but nobody could hold a simple conversation.
Here is the last lesson I am speaking about:
http://tvkultura.ru/video/show/brand_id/57579/episode_id/970 265

Edited by Maecenas23 on 17 September 2014 at 11:10am

1 person has voted this message useful



Serpent
Octoglot
Senior Member
Russian Federation
serpent-849.livejour
Joined 4992 days ago

9753 posts - 15777 votes 
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 162 of 309
17 September 2014 at 2:15pm | IP Logged 
Russian learners of Italian also found tons of mistakes in his Italian show:
http://ru-italiano.livejournal.com/700426.html
http://ru-italiano.livejournal.com/703357.html
http://ru-italiano.livejournal.com/703801.html
http://ru-italiano.livejournal.com/699865.html?thread=523080 9#t5230809

A very telling fact: seems like his only successful programme was the English one. Now, in Russia it's not quite like in s_allard's Canada, but still, most people have had some formal schooling in English. So both he and s_allard basically work with false beginners, making their random, chaotic knowledge more systematic. In this context it definitely makes sense to make sure the learner has some 300-500 words they know well and can reproduce confidently without hesitation. This does seem like a decent approach. The problem is that I don't see it working quite as well for those who've not had either years of inefficient study and/or know a related/similar language. Because even inefficient learning still gives you the advantage of getting used to the language.

Personal experience: after 3 years of German classes I felt like my knowledge was crappy - and I was learning it at a linguistic lyceum, not an average school... but I did have quite bad marks because Finnish was much more important to me. So, I worked with E.Gunnemark's list of the most useful words and made paper flash cards for all that I didn't know well. It felt like making amazing progress, because I finally had a comfort zone that I never had before. But I'd have been very delusional if I had said "I've learned more from this than from 3 years of classes". No, I just consolidated what I already sort of knew, and covered a couple of gaps. (I think for many learners Michael Thomas does that in terms of grammar)

Edited by Serpent on 17 September 2014 at 2:31pm

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 163 of 309
17 September 2014 at 3:09pm | IP Logged 
Maecenas23 wrote:
Donaldshimoda wrote:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E72G-L1IvjY (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
words

I've watched his TV show called "German in 16 Hours" where he taught celebrities
German.After every lesson they had a homework, so they practised at home as much time if not more and some
of them had a
little background in German. Though at the last lesson
they barely understood simple questions stuttering to answer them. So they spent several
weeks studying but nobody could hold a simple conversation.
Here is the last lesson I am speaking about:
http://tvkultura.ru/video/show/brand_id/57579/episode_id/970 265

There is an interesting point here. I wasn't able to find the video in question but I wouldn't be surprised if
beginning students had some difficulty speaking fluently with 300 words after 16 hours of tuition. That's exactly
what I would expect. Seriously, Would it have been different if the students knew 2000 words? The real problem
is how to use fluently and accurately the words they already know. But that's another story.

Here is a video of a journalist who has just finished 7 weeks of intensive French at Middlebury College.

Middlebury
student


There are a couple of annoying mistakes but I'm quite impressed by what has been accomplished in this time.
Again, the problem isn't lack of vocabulary. Throwing more words at the student isn't going to solve the problem
of the improper usage of the preposition pour or the word regarder, the pronunciation of interdit, complet. Even
the interviewer makes some mistakes.

Edited by s_allard on 17 September 2014 at 3:11pm

1 person has 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 164 of 309
17 September 2014 at 3:45pm | IP Logged 
Donaldshimoda wrote:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E72G-L1IvjY (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
words

Kudos to Donaldshimoda for this great video of Dmitri Petrov. He says exactly what I've been saying all along, to
considerable disdain here. And he does professional interpreting in 8 languages. If you listen to the interview,
nowhere does he says that 300 words is all you need to speak a language or that you can do everything with 300
words.
1 person has voted this message useful



Maecenas23
Triglot
Newbie
Ukraine
Joined 3006 days ago

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

 
 Message 165 of 309
17 September 2014 at 6:25pm | IP Logged 
Here is the working link to the 16th, last lesson which I told you about
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uE5rTPxptH0
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 166 of 309
17 September 2014 at 8:27pm | IP Logged 
emk wrote:
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."

It is true that we are not CEFR examiners and we don't worry about assessing other people's speaking. But there
is an intense interest here at HTLAL in vocabulary size, comprehension, text coverage and the CEFR levels. Some
people, not all, get very upset at the idea that a supposedly tiny vocabulary can be sufficient for any CEFR
examination, let alone a high-level one.

When we hear a non-native speaking our target language, I'm sure we have an opinion. When we go to a
conversation meetup group, we hear the good speakers and the not so good speakers. Most people want to
practice with the good speakers or with the natives. Nobody wants to practice with the raw beginners.

And when we meet someone who is really good, the next thing we want to know is how they did it.

My own interest in all this is not really in proving that 300 words is some magic figure that will magically make a
learner into a native-like speaker. What I find fascinating is how little it takes to basically form an opinion of the
level of proficiency of a speaker.

We talk a lot about the importance of having a large vocabulary in order to talk about a wide variety of subjects.
But in reality, we can tell whether a person is a native speaker or a very high-level speaker in a few minutes
without having explored a wide variety of topics.

Do we really have to have a chat over dinner in order to determine how well a person speaks a language? I say no.
Anybody who has read the transcript of the conversation on salt intake would conclude that these were two very
high-proficient speakers. If they listened to the recording, they would instantly say that these were native
speakers of Australian English. Do we have to chat with them to decide if they speak English well?

How many words did they use? Somewhere around 300 - 350. Did they use "sibling" or "remote control"? No.
How large a receptive and productive vocabulary do they really have? We don't know.

I'm being a bit cynical here because we all know that these two medical doctors are higly-educated native
speakers with undoubtedly very large vocabularies. But how do we know that? We never actually count the words
they know. They can certainly talk about other subjects besides salt intake but can they talk about anything?

If we have a chat with these two gentlemen, or any speaker of our target language, over dinner, are we going to
steer the conversation around certain subjects to see if they have these "islands" outside of which they are unable
to speak? I don't think so.

What then allows to very quickly form an idea of how well a person speaks, even if we are not professional
examiners and profess to say "I don't have a clue."? Here's my list of key assessment criteria.

1. Great accent. In my opinion, a pleasant accent predisposes the listener. It's probably the most important
factor. A poor accent immediately rubs the wrong way.

2. Good grammar with no or few mistakes of any kind. The golden rule of speaking assessment is you don't lose
points for not saying something; you lose points for saying something incorrectly. Mistakes are jarring and call
attention to your weaknesses.

3. Fluency. Little hesitation and stuttering.

4. Idiomatic control of vocabulary with a good sense of style and levels of formality.

5. Adequate vocabulary. Using the right words.

The conversation between the two doctors is a perfect example of all this. Just by listening to this little sample,
we are able to make an overall assessment of these speakers' language skills. We don't need to see if they know a
minimum of 2,000 words. Isn't it interesting that we are sure they know more than 2,000 words just by hearing
them use around 300? It seems paradoxical to me.


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leosmith
Senior Member
United States
Joined 4945 days ago

2365 posts - 3803 votes 
Speaks: English*
Studies: Tagalog

 
 Message 167 of 309
18 September 2014 at 3:28am | IP Logged 
s_allard wrote:
Just by listening to this little sample, we are able to make an overall assessment of these speakers'
language skills.

I'm guilty of doing this myself, but the sample is too small to be accurate, and I would never claim otherwise, as you
seem to be doing. Which brings me to the same question I often ask you in these long silly threads - why are you
doing this? How many words to speak? How long is a piece of string?

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 168 of 309
18 September 2014 at 4:13am | IP Logged 
leosmith wrote:
s_allard wrote:
Just by listening to this little sample, we are able to make an overall
assessment of these speakers'
language skills.

I'm guilty of doing this myself, but the sample is too small to be accurate, and I would never claim otherwise, as
you
seem to be doing. Which brings me to the same question I often ask you in these long silly threads - why are you
doing this? How many words to speak? How long is a piece of string?

I'm always struck by the fact that some people who have contributed nothing to the debate so far suddenly
decide that their only contribution will be to complain in an insulting fashion about the thread. It seems to me
that if the thread is so long and silly, why contribute to make it longer and sillier?

Some people are not interested in this thread, so they don't come here. Others like the give and take of serious
discussion. And then there are the lurkers who come to life from time to time to interject some irrelevant
comment into the discussion. But all that is par for the course.

That said, this post did ask an interesting question despite the nasty innuendo. Why do I like to debate a subject
to the bitter end? The answer is simple: I question what I think is poor science. I'm a skeptic. I don't take things
for granted. If I don't believe that a large vocabulary is synonymous with language proficiency, I don't see why I
should not make my voice heard loud and clear.

I will discuss methods and theory. I like to look at the data. I doubt that I change anybody's mind but at least we
have something to write about.

Some people like to debate. Others don't. Some people have something to say. Others don't.

I may be stubborn and hard-headed but when i'm wrong I'll admit it. I have been corrected on a few occasions.
Although I may be a bit snarky at times, I've never stooped to insults here and anywhere. And it's not for lack of
wanting to.


1 person has voted this message useful



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