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How many words to speak?

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patrickwilken
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 Message 217 of 309
20 September 2014 at 11:04am | IP Logged 
robarb wrote:
To be equitable, he was discoursing on a wealthier topic. Petitioning to establish a meeting time is snoozeworthier
than telling some of the yarns he digs the most about himself and his clan.


But there is knowing words and knowing words.

It's a truism isn't it that better writers have a better vocabularies? It's just a question of knowing when to use the correct words at the right time.

Having a broad overview of what a word means, is not the same as knowing when to use it in language. Obviously. And I would say that someone doesn't really possess a larger vocabulary until they know when to apply the words they know properly.

Even simple prepositions can be difficult: "Getting ON a bus" versus "Getting IN a car".

Edited by patrickwilken on 20 September 2014 at 1:14pm

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Serpent
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 Message 218 of 309
20 September 2014 at 12:25pm | IP Logged 
robarb wrote:
In my experience, people are most easily impressed by pronunciation. Many people are willing to rave over your ability based on a very tiny sample if the pronunciation is good.

That's true, but the next point after pronunciation is vocabulary. Native speakers just want to listen effortlessly, and these are the main things that help. You may not care about the exact word if you can explain it, but the native will likely need to find it, or even feel obliged to provide you with the missing word.

As for half-learnt, this is far from a binary or three-way scale. As s_allard never fails to remind, the basic words are hard when you try to use them the way native speakers do. The less common the word, the more straight-forward and/or specific it tends to be. Also, even in our native language we know some words only vaguely, and/or we don't always agree with other natives about a specific word. It's more of a continuum really. (I think Barry Farber described this beautifully... or even Prof Argüelles? Erik Gunnemark? Hard to look for the quote when I'm not even sure who said that)

Basically, no need to make assumptions.

Edited by Serpent on 20 September 2014 at 12:27pm

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Jeffers
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 Message 219 of 309
20 September 2014 at 12:55pm | IP Logged 
Serpent wrote:

As for this particular case, I definitely wouldn't call that a perfect vocabulary. A lot of precision is missing: words like practise, day off, maybe even comprehension. "happy" also sounds too general, something like "excited" could be better. and "looking forward to (having) private lessons", if an agreement was reached before. "speak and speak again" could be replaced by "practise conversation(al) skills and receive corrections" (but then they'd not need a tutor). Of course I'm not a native speaker, but it would definitely sound better to me with the vocabulary I mentioned, even if the grammatical mistakes were still there.


I think this is an excellent point which people have missed in this fast moving discussion. The writer actually fell down in part because of his lack of vocabulary. Some grammatical mistakes are due to vocabulary: we shoehorn a word that doesn't match into a slot because we don't know the correct word.
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Serpent
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 Message 220 of 309
20 September 2014 at 1:44pm | IP Logged 
Heh I meant to say that simple cognates would help, as in "fortunately [or finally] the weekend has come and I can relax", but then I checked and saw that out of these, only relax is almost the same in French. Still, I can't imagine these words being that difficult for French speakers.

Let's also take another look at "speak and speak again". This looks like a mistake, but technically there's nothing wrong with the grammar. It's simply clear that the person had a more complicated word/concept/idea in mind, but could only express this with such a rudimentary structure.
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s_allard
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 Message 221 of 309
20 September 2014 at 3:18pm | IP Logged 
I didn't want the question of the mistakes in the email to derail the debate here. But it does raise the issue of
whether more vocabulary or better grammar is the solution to the problem here.

To return to main theme, I think that robarb has raised a number of interesting points that do advance the
discussion. For example, it is pointed out, very correctly, that to able to use a small vocabulary well, a speaker
must have acquired a good command of the language that only comes from extensive exposure and practice of
the language. Therefore this speaker inevitably has a larger vocabulary of which they select to use only a small
portion.

I would add to this reasonable argument that the idea of speaking in a sophisticated manner with a tiny
vocabulary is probably deceptive. It would seem that you probably have to have a large vocabulary in order to use
a small one.

I actually agree, and I think I have alluded to this earlier. We observe native speakers talking about sophisticated
topics with small vocabularies. They should not be compared with language learners struggling to use the same
vocabulary.

Actually, that was the whole point of the email example. I think a native speaker could take those same words
and with some little changes make the email into something a native speaker would write.

I agree with robarb. No native speaker has a productive vocabulary of only 300 words even though they may
never use more than a very small number in a given conversation.

Why, then, should I bother arguing that one could pass a B1-level speaking test with only 300 words of
productive vocabulary when it seems highly unlikely that a candidate would arrive with such a small vocabulary?

Good question. I have two reasons for defending this position. First, I want to counter what I consider outlandish
claims that one needs thousands of words of productive vocabulary for these test situations when in fact the
candidate will only use a small number. The main justification for such large numbers is "just in case a subject
comes up".

Second, I want to draw attention to everything else that I consider as important if not more important than
vocabulary. I think people pay lip service to this question of how the words are put together and spoken because
it is not easy to quantify and put into graphs.

For those people who are preparing for something like a speaking test or even just speaking well in general there
are some major implications. Basically, it's better to focus on mastering a small number of key elements with
great pronunciation than to just accumulate lots of words.

Finally, just a quick note on the distinction between receptive or passive vocabulary and productive or active
vocabulary. This could be a whole other thread. The idea of passive vocabulary is that set of words that we have
met and whose meaning we know although we may never use them.

Active vocabulary is more difficult to define. Here I think we are looking at those words that we can use properly
or we feel comfortable using. I personally like to go further and say that my active vocabulary is that set of words
that I have actually used in a recent past, not the words that I think I could use.
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Serpent
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 Message 222 of 309
20 September 2014 at 3:44pm | IP Logged 
s_allard wrote:
Good question. I have two reasons for defending this position. First, I want to counter what I consider outlandish claims that one needs thousands of words of productive vocabulary for these test situations when in fact the candidate will only use a small number. The main justification for such large numbers is "just in case a subject comes up".

Nobody spoke about learning "just in case you need to speak about it at the exam". It's a simple fact that comprehension exams definitely require much more than 300 words. And so does real life.

We're not talking about a shaky B1 which is barely enough to pass a test. In fact I suspect that most who aim for B1 would actually prefer to have a wider vocabulary knowledge than B1 implies - they simply aren't interested in other aspects of B2. And when it comes to self-assessment, for most learners it's more important to reach the level described by the guidelines than to estimate which exam they could pass.


Quote:
Basically, it's better to focus on mastering a small number of key elements with great pronunciation than to just accumulate lots of words.

Normally when someone has a great pronunciation, this applies to all words they use, maybe apart from some they've only seen in writing.

And honestly, 95% of HTLAL knows that accumulating lots of words is not enough.

Edited by Serpent on 20 September 2014 at 3:45pm

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tarvos
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 Message 223 of 309
20 September 2014 at 6:18pm | IP Logged 
Serpent wrote:

Also, random native speakers probably don't even find mastering the simple vocab as
impressive as you do. Someone without a teaching experience, and especially someone
who hasn't reached even B1 in any foreign language, is likely to overlook all those
subtle difficulties and be much more impressed with someone who knows "complicated"
words - ironically, these words might actually be present in the learner's native
language too.


You have no idea how true this is. And even people who have taught are impressed by
people knowing certain words, especially colloquial words. I'll give you a good
example: барахлить. This word is actually in an Assimil Russian lesson, but it's a
colloquial word and marked as such. People don't expect foreigners to know this word
because it (except for in Assimil) isn't usually taught to foreigners, but because I
have used this word before with my Russian friends (and I also use other slang words)
every time Russians look up confused because "how does he know that word???" When I
used it about my internet connection acting up during a class my teacher just asked
where the hell I pulled that word from because she's not used to students being able
to use it. It worked the same when I used other, complicated terminology in a blog
article I wrote in Russian which she had to look up (and confirmed as correct
Russian). You're not supposed to know these words as a foreigner.
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hrhenry
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 Message 224 of 309
20 September 2014 at 6:46pm | IP Logged 
tarvos wrote:
I'll give you a good example: барахлить....It worked the same when I used other, complicated terminology in a blog article I wrote in Russian which she had to look up (and confirmed as correct Russian). You're not supposed to know these words as a foreigner.

Interestingly, inputting that word into Google translate and letting it try to autodetect which language, it'll give you Mongolian, or at least it did me.

So Google thinks it's complicated, too.

R.
==


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