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Message 193 of 30919 September 2014 at 4:33am | IP Logged
I have such a hard time trying to figure out what the op is trying to defend. Is it "you can pass the B1 conversation test
with a core of 300 words"? Let's say you learn the 300 most common words, and you know them really well. So well that,
unlike most people, your active vocabulary is equal to your passive vocabulary. If you can pass a B1 conversation test
with such a vocabulary, then I'd say it's not a very good test.
We are supposed to be able to understand movies and TV at C1/C2. Regardless of what the op has stated, this takes a
lot of vocab. I've used the rule of thumb C2 = 10k active/20k passive, and assuming vocabulary halves at each level, C1
= 5k/10k, B2 = 2.5k/5k, B1 = 1.25k/2.5k. Going back to movies, assuming that knowing the most common 500 words
means you know 83% of the words, how much do you really understand at the sentence level? Is it 83%? Is it 0% This is
key, and probably impossible to analyze with statistics alone. My gut feeling is maybe 10% on the average. It's definitely
a low percentage, well under half. I believe at C1 (5k/10k) I understand movies pretty comfortably, meaning about 90%
at the sentence level.
That's why, regardless of what a test tells me, I don't consider myself B1 unless I've got an active vocabulary of well over
1k. I think EMK said nobody had recorded passing a B1 test with 300 words. Two words - Benny's Mandarin. He used a
very small vocabulary in all his videos (maybe 200-300 words), and was independently verified to have achieved an
equivalent B1 level.
Why is the OP doing this…I'll probably never know. Does he want to only learn 300 Spanish words? Does he want to
discourage people from learning vocabulary? Does he want to prove that 300 words makes you proficient? B1? How do
you define proficiency? How do you define fluency? I really miss Slucido. Regardless of how heated the argument got, he
never ignored anybody. Hell of a nice guy.
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Message 194 of 30919 September 2014 at 6:00am | IP Logged
One way of looking at the issue of vocabulary size for the CEFR levels is to look at the correction system used by
examiners. Let's up the ante here and look at the speaking test for B2 French. I'm not arguing that 300 distinct
words will do, even though I think it certainly could. I just want to point out what the examiners are looking for.
In this case, the exam consists of choosing from one or two short texts, presenting verbally a position based on
the text and debating with one or two examiners. This is pretty serious stuff. You are required to take and
defend a stand. You have 20 minutes to prepare your presentation. The actual presentation and debate will take
The first problem is to read and understand the texts and make your choice. Let's assume that this isn't a
problem. Now you have to develop a position and put words to it. You have bunch of vocabulary given in the
How many unique words are you going to use during the 25-minute presentation and debate? It's up to you. I
don't have much of a figure in mind. Maybe you can squeeze in 1000 different words. Maybe only 200. To me,
that's not the problem. The real challenge facing the candidate is how to put those words together into coherent
and correct sentences that will engage the examiner.
And, above all, avoid mistakes. What we do know is that examiners become more intolerant of mistakes as we go
up the CEFR scale. But to be certain of what the examiners are looking for, we only need to look at the marking
grid that they are required to use: The grid is divided into three parts. Part 1 for 7 points looks at the monologue
and the speaker's argument. Part 2 for 6 points evaluates the debate. Part 3 for 12 points is a general overview of
the language used. Here are the details of Part 3:
Pour l'ensemble de l'épreuve
Lexique (étendue et maîtrise): 4
Possède une bonne variété de vocabulaire pour varier sa formulation et éviter des répétitions ; le vocabulaire est
précis mais des lacunes et des confusions subsistent. 4
A un bon contrôle grammatical, malgré de petites fautes syntaxiques.
Système phonologique: 3
A acquis une prononciation et une intonation claires et naturelles
Basically, the examiners are looking at how the candidate presents and defends a position and the language
used. The vocabulary is explicitly assessed for 4 points in terms of variety, lack of repetitions and precision.
There is no mention of a specific size. Out of 25 points, vocabulary counts for 4.
We note that morphosyntax or grammar is more important than vocabulary. Here the examiners are looking for
Finally, the examiners are looking for good pronunciation.
How do you ace this? You want to show off all the vocabulary you know and at the same time you have to
demonstrate your mastery of the language. I personally prefer to emphasize fluency, grammatical precision, lack
of mistakes, good word usage and idiomatic construction over lots of words. I think this is what impresses the
examiners most. I prefer fewer words well used over many words poorly used. And if you can do many words
well, that's even better.
How many unique words are you going to actually use? Judging from what we've seen so far, it will probably be
less than 400 words. So you have to choose from your repertoire. And you want to choose well. How large a
repertoire do you need. I'm on the low side, obviously, but some people believe that you need a huge active
vocabulary just in case.
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Message 195 of 30919 September 2014 at 6:47am | IP Logged
|look at the speaking test for B2 French. I'm not arguing that 300
words will do, even though I think it certainly could. I just want to point out what the
examiners are looking for.
As I don't speak french good enough I'll use the English text as an example.
B2 reading text: http://www.examenglish.com/IELTS/IELTS_reading_2.htm
About 600 unique words.
B1 reading: http://www.examenglish.com/TOEFL/toefl_reading.htm
More than 400 unique words.
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Message 196 of 30919 September 2014 at 9:14am | IP Logged
I made the following deductions/conclusions last night. See what you think.
I may have gotten some details wrong. If so, just replace individual words with what you believe is correct. Just try to follow the idea that I'm trying to convey.
s_allard claims that one can converse with only 300 unique words. (or "can pass B1", just replace)
s_allard makes that claim because he found many 3-minute real-life dialogues that used only 300 unique words each.
"3-minute" was arbitrary, s_allard could've picked 4-minute dialogues, and finding 400 words used in each, claim that one can speak with only 400 words. Or 60-minute dialogues, or 13-minute.
Since s_allard could pick an arbitrary dialogue length, so can I.
Now, being the Chinese that I am, let's say I picked 18-seconds, and I find several 18-second dialogues, and they used only 18 unique words each.
And I say to s_allard, "one only needs 18 words to converse, why is everyone insisting on more? Why is emk insisting on 2000 and you on 300? That's excessive, that's xxx [substitute here what s_allard said to emk and Serpent before]"
Question: What would s_allard think? s_allard, what would you think?
Deduction: What s_allard would think about my claim = What others think about s_allard's claim.
"18 seconds is too short and not representative!" (other members think the same with 3 minutes)
"Any reasonable person can tell that 18 words is too little!" (other members think the same with 300 words)
Whereas if s_allard actually agrees with my 18-word speculation because it has the same basis as his, then that's even better. I would've made a breakthrough and improved on s_allard's hypothesis. They might even name the number 18 after me.
Edited by smallwhite on 19 September 2014 at 9:19am
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Message 197 of 30919 September 2014 at 10:29am | IP Logged
In my opinion this one is defenitely going to a dead end. I mean selecting the dialog,
which lasts 180 sec or 18 sec and on the grounds of it proving that one needs 300 or
30 to survive in a language is superfluous. Such reasoning may lead to conclusion:
today at work my colleague has found me alone in laboratory and interposed "oh, you
are alone" and I said (as I was kinda busy) "ye, they're gone". To survive in a
language I need 5 words. (I don't count ohs, ahs etc.)
The idea I try to convey is: it is feasible to interact with others making a good use
of 300 words. First hand experience: I was in Germany after having completed ~60
lessons of assimil and I did manage to buy a beer, ask for direction or explain why I
was there. But the essence of talking with others, in my opinion, are not those small
talks or buying a roll or asking the policeman for direction. The best part of
interacting with people is taking part in an interesting discussion (like this one) or
talking over the multiuniverse or chomsky's ideas. And I'm sure it's indispensable to
have more than 300 words to participate in such discussion. Native speakers have this
advantage that they have easy access to words needed in such topics. Of course they
don't use it everyday, maybe not even once per month, but they are always there
waiting for the right moment.
Edited by theyweed on 19 September 2014 at 10:30am
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Message 198 of 30919 September 2014 at 11:01am | IP Logged
|That's why, regardless of what a test tells me, I don't consider myself B1
unless I've got an active vocabulary of well over
1k. I think EMK said nobody had recorded passing a B1 test with 300 words. Two words -
Benny's Mandarin. He used a
very small vocabulary in all his videos (maybe 200-300 words), and was independently
verified to have achieved an
equivalent B1 level.
But that's only a cross-section; you haven't seen him speak more Mandarin than that.
After about 6 weeks or so of Mandarin I can claim to know 300 words in Mandarin
easily. But that doesn't mean I speak B1 Mandarin; however he probably had a vast
reserve of some tens of hundreds of more you didn't see because a video is just a
cross-section. If someone made a recording of one of my Chinese classes you would hear
a couple hundred words, but if you recorded all of my conversations in Chinese it
would be a lot more.
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Message 199 of 30919 September 2014 at 11:11am | IP Logged
I do think this is a misrepresentation of s_allard's position. You can definitely survive as a tourist in an exotic country with just 300 words (trust me, I have been to places like China whee I couldn't even read the street signs, and to places in the Arabic world where I couldn't even read the numbers). The point where this discussion veered off into Absurdistan was when it was suggested that you also could survive a CEFR test on 300 words. If that were true then nobody could take the CEFR system seriously.
The point is small corpora contain few unique words (and everything uttered in one examination session can be defined as a corpus), but if you take a number or corpora (read examination sessions) you will find that the vocabulary falls into two main categories. There is a nucleus of very common words which will be used in most of the corpora (grammar words and a few simple content words), but the rest of the words are so rare that two corpora only will have a limited overlap. OK, if you choose two examination sessions based on the same questions and with the same persons present the overlap will of course grow, but you'll enormously large corpora to reach a saturation point where an advanced examinee simply has exhausted his/her active vocabulary. But for beginners that point may be reach after half a session, if the examinator poses an unexpected question.
The very specific situation where an examinee with a minimal vocabulary tries to cheat his/her way through a CEFR test has got far too much attention in this thread. It would have been more relevant to discuss survival strategies for people with small vocabularies in more realistic contexts.
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Message 200 of 30919 September 2014 at 2:27pm | IP Logged
|I do think this is a misrepresentation of s_allard's position. You can definitely survive as a tourist in an exotic country with just 300 words (trust me, I have been to places like China whee I couldn't even read the street signs, and to places in the Arabic world where I couldn't even read the numbers). The point where this discussion veered off into Absurdistan was when it was suggested that you also could survive a CEFR test on 300 words. If that were true then nobody could take the CEFR system seriously.
I don't think the problem is that people have misrepresented s_allard, I think the problem is he is using his argument too widely. He makes the excellent point that you can "speak" a language well with a small vocabulary. Someone else then legitimately asks, "But could you pass a B1 exam?" and all hell breaks out. It would be cleared up if s_allard would say something like, "no I'm talking about getting by, not passing an exam," but he's trying too hard to accommodate the "can you pass an exam" objection. In the end, I and others really don't know whether he really thinks that a student could pass a B1 exam going in with 300 words.
I don't think anyone here disagrees with s_allard's two main points: 1. you can do a lot with a small amount of words, and 2. speaking proficiency and accuracy are as important (maybe more important) than vocabulary size. The objection isn't to this point; the objection is that most of us who are learning a foreign language want to do more with it.
I don't like small talk, I don't like to ask people about the weather, and I overuse the subjunctive in my native language because I like subtlety. I don't want to be able to buy tickets and bread or hold a 3 minute conversation in French. I want to be able to have a wide-ranging discussion which might start from a single topic but which will soon veer off into any and all directions including science, religion, literature, philosophy or Batman comics. That kind of freedom requires a lot of proficiency, a lot of speaking and listening practice, and.... a lot of vocabulary.
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