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How many words to speak?

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s_allard
Triglot
Senior Member
Canada
Joined 3913 days ago

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

 
 Message 225 of 309
21 September 2014 at 1:52am | IP Logged 
I was a bit surprised to see that some people here felt that the problem with that e-mail that I gave earlier as a
bit of an interlude in the discussion was in the vocabulary. Not everybody agrees with my statement that the
vocabulary was perfect. My choice of wording may not have been the best but I thought that the key words of the
person's intentions were all there. I don't see anything missing.

There may be two schools of thought here as to how to improve this e-mail: a) add more vocabulary and b)
correct the binding between the existing words. I'm obviously on the b) side.

If I were an examiner hearing a candidate speak like this, I would not be very satisfied. I would give good marks
for the vocabulary and low marks for grammar and overall proficiency. What would make a difference for me, the
examiner? Actually, it wouldn't take much. I'm not a native speaker of English, but I'll have a go at an improved
version.

Before

"How are you? I'm happy, I'm on weekend and I see you Sunday for the meeting.

I would like having private lessons with you, above all for my understanding and to speak and speak again.

The next week, I don't work on Thursday, so we can try on skype. We discuss on Sunday, ok?

Thanks and have a nice evening.

Best regards,"

After - Version 1
"How are you? I'm happy, it's the weekend, and I'll be seeing you Sunday at the meeting.

I would like to have private lessons with you, above all for understanding and speaking - and more speaking!

Next week, I don't work on Thursday, so we can try Skype. Let's discuss it Sunday, ok?

Thanks, and have a nice evening.

Best regards,"

This is of course only one attempt at improving the original. I encourage readers to suggest their own After
version. As we can see, I hardly made any changes to the original vocabulary and sentence structure. The
corrections were all in the flow or binding of the words together. If I were an examiner hearing this, especially
with good pronunciation, including good intonation, the candidate would sail through the test. Other versions
are certainly possible but there is nothing wrong - by my standards - that warrants deducting marks.

I would be really curious to see how adding more vocabulary would work. With or without the grammatical
corrections. I could see taking the After version and adding all sorts of vocabulary to demonstrate lexical
prowess, but that is another story.

Edited by s_allard on 21 September 2014 at 1:54am

1 person has voted this message useful



luke
Diglot
Senior Member
United States
Joined 5688 days ago

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

 
 Message 226 of 309
21 September 2014 at 2:38am | IP Logged 
s_allard wrote:
If I were an examiner hearing this, especially with good pronunciation, including good
intonation, the candidate would sail through the test.


This brings up the question of what guidelines examiner's use and how much leeway they have or feel they
have. For the CEFR, I wonder. The
FSI examiners have guidelines
they take very seriously. The FSI rating is a promise the candidate will be
able to perform at at least the level awarded for some period of time after the test. They get in trouble if the
candidate cannot perform at the rating level specified for the post.

The FSI French and Spanish Testing Kit also gives examiner's methods and tactics to feel out the candidate
to make sure they don't rate a candidate higher than they can actually perform at the level in the real world
and not just for a few minutes during the exam. For the FSI, there is no "sail through the test" because of
good pronunciation and intonation. In fact, of the five things they rate candidates on, grammar, vocabulary,
comprehension, fluency, and accent, accent is given the least weight.
5 persons have voted this message useful



robarb
Nonaglot
Senior Member
United States
languagenpluson
Joined 3542 days ago

361 posts - 921 votes 
Speaks: Portuguese, English*, German, Italian, Spanish, Dutch, Swedish, Esperanto, French
Studies: Mandarin, Danish, Russian, Norwegian, Cantonese, Japanese, Korean, Polish, Greek, Latin, Nepali, Modern Hebrew

 
 Message 227 of 309
21 September 2014 at 8:05am | IP Logged 
I've reproduced here the weights assigned to each level of the components of speaking according to the FSI
guidelines, where 1 is completely inadequate and 6 is functionally equivalent to a native speaker.

For scores 1-2-3-4-5-6:

Accent: 0-1-2-2-3-4
Grammar: 6-12-18-24-30-36
Vocabulary: 4-8-12-16-20-24
Fluency: 2-4-6-8-10-12
Comprehension: 4-8-12-15-19-23

Conversion from total scores to assigned level:

16-25: 0+
26-32: 1
33-42: 1+
43-52: 2
53-62: 2+
63-72: 3
73-82: 3+
83-92: 4
93-99: 4+

Now, a rating of 1+ is roughly equivalent to B1. If the examinee has a vocabulary score of 2 ("limited to basic
personal and survival areas") and their other skills are as good or better, they'll pass at this level. B1 learners are
not supposed to be able to converse at full speed about any topic. It's enough to converse, mostly
comprehensibly but allowing for some repair, on a few basic topics. I see no reason why you couldn't get a 1+.
It's not like a student who scores a 1+ would be sent off to translate critical documents for the US government
and deal with foreign diplomats. It's more like a badge of "adequate progress, approve for Intermediate course."

Edited by robarb on 21 September 2014 at 8:07am

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theyweed
Senior Member
Poland
Joined 2295 days ago

23 posts - 33 votes
Speaks: English

 
 Message 228 of 309
21 September 2014 at 12:48pm | IP Logged 
The original post has 16 distinct words, but it lacks correctness. The one you've
created has 17 distinct and is well written. I've tried to come up with a message more
succint (explanation below), yet it turned out that it contains 19 distinct words.

Note 1: I don't claim to be an expert as far as English is concerned, actually I'd
assess my level B2.

Note 2: The programme used to count those words is called tagcrowd (it doesn't count
Is, Yous, ares, donts etc.)

My version:

How are you. I’m looking forward to seeing you. I’d like to have private lessons with
you, in order to improve my understanding and speak more.

(I'm not sure about the gist of the first line. Did he mean that it's sunday or that
he comes on sunday. I assumed the meeting is already arranged and he's glad to see
you, not describing his state in general)

I’m free following Thursday, so we can try to converse on Skype. We’ll discuss it
Sunday, ok?

Thanks, and have a nice evening.

My point: I must admit that having done this little test I slowly begin to comprehend
your reasoning. The feasibility of surviving in a language with scarce vocabulary
resources exists. Interestingly, only 15-20 words were used to convey a quite
comprehensive output. Nevertheless such limited vocabulary may lead to incredibly
awkward circumlocutions and is simply tiring for interlocutors.

Edited by theyweed on 21 September 2014 at 12:52pm

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luke
Diglot
Senior Member
United States
Joined 5688 days ago

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

 
 Message 229 of 309
21 September 2014 at 12:56pm | IP Logged 
robarb wrote:
I've reproduced here the weights assigned to each level of the components of speaking
according to the FSI guidelines, where 1 is completely inadequate and 6 is functionally equivalent to a native
speaker.


Thank you for reproducing the charts and weighting.

FSI diplomats are typically shooting for FSI level 3 (general professional proficiency) or higher. FSI and ILR
ratings are the same. According to wikipedia,
level 3
is similar to CEFR level C1
.

One informal observation mentioned in the conclusion of
lessons learned from fifty years of language
learning
is that at borderline professional proficiency or less, candidates skills "experience attrition"
after training and while on post. Strongly at FSI level 3, speaking skills are maintained or improve. If they
leave training speaking at level 3+ or 4, they "almost certainly continue to improve".

Edited by luke on 21 September 2014 at 1:06pm

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s_allard
Triglot
Senior Member
Canada
Joined 3913 days ago

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

 
 Message 230 of 309
21 September 2014 at 2:00pm | IP Logged 
theyweed wrote:
...
My version:

How are you. I’m looking forward to seeing you. I’d like to have private lessons with
you, in order to improve my understanding and speak more.

(I'm not sure about the gist of the first line. Did he mean that it's sunday or that
he comes on sunday. I assumed the meeting is already arranged and he's glad to see
you, not describing his state in general)

I’m free following Thursday, so we can try to converse on Skype. We’ll discuss it
Sunday, ok?

Thanks, and have a nice evening.

My point: I must admit that having done this little test I slowly begin to comprehend
your reasoning. The feasibility of surviving in a language with scarce vocabulary
resources exists. Interestingly, only 15-20 words were used to convey a quite
comprehensive output. Nevertheless such limited vocabulary may lead to incredibly
awkward circumlocutions and is simply tiring for interlocutors.

Thanks theyweed for a fine After version of the e-mail. I should point out that I reason I presented the original e-
mail was not to show the utility of a small vocabulary but rather to illustrate the importance of usage and
grammar in the perception of a message. I really wouldn't worry about the number of words here.

I personally kept very close to the original because I felt this best represented the author's original thinking. For
example, the author is happy because the weekend is here. But there is certainly room for interpretation and
quite different versions.

1 person has voted this message useful



s_allard
Triglot
Senior Member
Canada
Joined 3913 days ago

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

 
 Message 231 of 309
21 September 2014 at 3:14pm | IP Logged 
I had a look at the suggested version of the FSI testing kit for French and Spanish. I should point out that the FSI
is a rating or placement test that aims to determine the level of linguistic performance. On the other hand the
CEFR tests are achievement tests that assess for a specific level of proficiency. You can fail a CEFR test and end
up with nothing.

One thing that caught my eye in the FSI section on Testing Procedure was the following passage (page 4):
FSI testing kit wrote:

The test begins with simple social formulae: introductions, comments on the weather, questions like:
"Have you just come back from overseas?" "Is this the first time you've taken a test here?" "Did we keep you
waiting long?"

The examinee's success in responding to these opening utterances will determine the course of the rest of the
test. Failure to answer easily or to understand sorne of them, even with repetition and rephrasing, puts a
preliminary ceiling on the questions to be asked. The interviewer tries simply phrased
questions that can be answered out of autobiographic information - family, work, and the like - or asks for
street directions or poses a role-playing exercise (e.g., renting a house). Rarely, the examinee may handle these
kinds of problems well enough to be led on to discussions of current events or of detailed job experience.
Usually this kind of performance pegs the rating at some point below S- 2.

The examinee who copes adequately with the preliminaries generally is led into natural conversation on
autobiographical and professional topics. The experienced interviewer will simultaneously attempt to elicit the
grammatical features that need to be checked. As the questions increase in complexity and detail, the
examinee's limitations in vocabulary and structure normally become apparent quite rapidly.    (A well-trained
team usually can narrow the examinee's grade to one of two ratings within the first five or ten minutes; they
spend the rest of the interview collecting data to verify their preliminary conclusions and make a final decision. )


I've said on a few occasions that examiners of oral proficiency can have a good sense of an examinee's
proficiency within a few minutes of the interview. The FSI testing kit authors seem to agree with me. I've even
said with reference to our e-mail example that if the candidate spoke like in the After version, they would "sail
through the test." What I meant, metaphorically of course, was that this candidate obviously demonstrated a very
good command of the language and would have no problem with the rest of the test. There is no reason for
anyone to get upset.

To come back to the central theme of the thread, the question, it seems to me, is: How can such a small speaking
sample (5 minutes) be enough to give an overall idea of the candidate's proficiency? With reference specifically to
vocabulary, how much vocabulary can one cram into a conversation of five minutes duration?

You may have a huge vocabulary but you can't cram 1000 unique words into five minutes of conversation. It will
probably be closer to 200 from what we've seen here. But let's be generous and say 300 for the fast talkers. How
can 300 words determine your speaking proficiency?

I don't want to annoy even more people by repeating my position on this question ad nauseam. Basically, I
believe that such is the functioning of language that examiners feel confident that what they see in a small
sample is consistent with the rest. Taking our e-mail example, if you talk like one of the After versions above,
you're immediately pegged as a much better speaker than someone who speaks like the Before version. The
assumption is that anyone who can speak as in the After version exhibits a mastery of the language that applies
across the board.

As the FSI document points out, the level of proficiency quickly becomes apparent from the very beginning with
the initial pleasantries. All of this should not be surprising to us. For example, something like accent, which is
generally not very important for test scores, tends to be a good indicator of overall proficiency. With fluency, it is
certainly the most striking feature. As robarb has mentioned earlier, a great accent and a few words will convince
most people that you speak a language well. Not examiners or native speakers, of course.

What about cheating on a speaking test? There is this idea of having "islands" of knowledge where you may feel
more comfortable speaking because you are more familiar with the vocabulary and you have rehearsed more.
Therefore, you try to steer the conversation towards those islands.

Not a bad strategy. It's certainly easier to talk about pet topics than about things you are less familiar with.

That said, I don't see how this makes a difference in your grammar. I can see trying to avoid grammatical
constructions that you are less sure of. Certainly a good idea, but I think your level of control and mastery of
complexity becomes apparent quite quickly. You make mistakes or you don't.

And, as the FSI, makes clear in the very beginning, the gold standard in all this is what would a native speaker say
in a similar situation. This actually leaves room for a lot of variation because people don't all speak alike, just as
we can have different versions of our After e-mail above. But they are not full of mistakes.



Edited by s_allard on 21 September 2014 at 4:25pm

2 persons have voted this message useful



Serpent
Octoglot
Senior Member
Russian Federation
serpent-849.livejour
Joined 5080 days ago

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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 232 of 309
21 September 2014 at 3:58pm | IP Logged 
s_allard wrote:
not to show the utility of a small vocabulary but rather to illustrate the importance of usage and grammar in the perception of a message.

You said elsewhere that it's your motivation in general for this kind of discussions. But then why not name your threads accordingly and state the real subject clearly from the beginning? We've already had too many sport metaphors, but this is basically like starting a thread on "how to improve your running speed" on a forum about a sport that involves running (but not solely about running), and then just try to convince everyone that it's not really important to be a fast runner.


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