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How many words to speak?

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fiolmattias
Triglot
Groupie
Sweden
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62 posts - 129 votes 
Speaks: Swedish*, English, Arabic (Written)

 
 Message 241 of 309
22 September 2014 at 6:33am | IP Logged 
s_allard wrote:

Let me take an example in English. Here is a sentence from the article How the body
recognizes viruses
we
saw earlier?

My work is actually looking at the atomic level, so it's very, very tiny scales, and
looking at how those molecules
interact together to produce a good immune response.


How many words are necessary to understand this sentence. I say around 28 words.


Sure! But if you are going to ask a man what he does for a living and you only knows
those 28 words (+the question words) you're in trouble. Or extremly lucky that he does
just that for a living.
1 person has voted this message useful



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

 
 Message 242 of 309
22 September 2014 at 7:02am | IP Logged 
Part of the difference between emk's and my approach to developing productive vocabularies lies in the
difference in objectives. emk's primary objective is to understand the widest range of French movies. Therefore it
only makes sense to study the most frequent words to be found in such movies

My goal, not mine personally, but that of my students, is to speak French well as quickly as possible. Therefore,
our approach is to learn the vocabulary as needed. A major part of the strategy for learning to speak is to study
transcriptions of spoken French. Nothing is wrong with reading great literature and lots of extensive reading, but
if speaking is the goal, why not concentrate on studying speaking.

That's why I love the France Bienvenue site. It's raw and real spoken French.One of the wonderful things about
the site is the many explanations of grammar, idioms and usage that the authors add to the transcriptions. I use
other sites as well to illustrate other varieties of spoken French. It could be a conference, a newscast, even
television and radio commercials.

The vocabulary of the students progresses with the material. I would never suggest learning a bunch of useless
words just because they are on a frequency list. I say learn a word when you encounter it by looking it up in a
dictionary.

So let's say that my first 300 words are derived from three conversations in France Bienvenue. That's a hell of a
good start. I have three conversations to work with. I can study the speaking strategies. I can see the patterns. I
can extrapolate to other speaking situations. I certainly don't care whether these words are among the 400 most
common words of French movies.

Of course, I don't stop at 300. If I read something that I feel that I can incorporate into my active vocabulary, I
pick it up, I expand as I go along.


1 person has 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 243 of 309
22 September 2014 at 8:44am | IP Logged 
All the words on emk's list of 400 most common words in French movies are also common in real French
conversations. If you wanted to learn the 400 most useful words for natural French conversations, one approach
would be to take a corpus of natural French conversations and learn the 400 most frequent words in that corpus.
This, by definition, would give you the highest % coverage of natural French conversations.

Instead, s_allard suggests to learn the words as they are encountered. This is a viable strategy, but not because
the words learned this way are particularly useful. Instead, the advantage is that the words are learned in context,
so it should be easier to acquire them more quickly than an equal number of words from a word list. This
strategy combines vocabulary learning with input, providing an integrated approach that feels natural.

Still, the 400 most common words in movies will certainly have a very high overlap with the 400 most common
words in natural conversation. In the hypothetical scenario where you can only learn 400 words and have to stop,
the first 400 you pick up from observing conversations may not serve you well. Too many spots will be wasted by
words specific to the topics you happened to read about first, and many core words will have to be missed to
make room for them.

On the other hand, maximum % coverage is probably not the best thing for early speaking. If you only learn the
most common words that give you the most coverage, you end up with almost no words that refer to specific
things. Instead you get a core of function words, connectors, and basic verbs that can be used on any topic, plus
a few words for people and such. You end up with the ability to build the backbone of any sentence, but the
crucial content words are not covered. For really early speaking it's better to have a more bare-bones version of
the core, with some frequent but nonessential words removed, and some infrequent words added about the topic
you're going to try to talk about. If you learn your words by studying conversations about that topic, you get
pretty close to this, so the strategy seems like a good one.

Edited by robarb on 22 September 2014 at 8:46am

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Bao
Diglot
Senior Member
Germany
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Joined 4249 days ago

2256 posts - 4045 votes 
Speaks: German*, English
Studies: French, Spanish, Japanese, Mandarin

 
 Message 244 of 309
22 September 2014 at 11:24am | IP Logged 
Ah, the joy of one's questions being ignored.

s_allard wrote:
1. Use a range of prefixes like re, dé, sous, im, il, in, poly, etc. to modify the meaning of a word. One can get
very creative with prefixes sur and super.

I gather that you don't know any substantial German.


s_allard wrote:
2. Use the vast number of suffixes to modify categories of words and introduce nuances of meaning. I can take
the verb jeter and make the adjective jetable. And then in the heat of the discussion speak of jetabiliité which
doesn't really exist in my dictionary but could be perfectly acceptable because it is formed just like acceptabiliité.
Another useful suffix is -isme to create abstract nouns. You could take adjectif and make adjectivisme.

3. Extensive use of idiomatic expressions. Things like à bras ouverts, tirer par les cheveux, ne pas savoir sur quel
pied danser among very many demonstrate good command of vocabulary.

4. Use advanced grammatical constructions to render nuances.

5. Make puns and plays on words that sound the same (homophones)

6. Make good use of connector words like the prepositions. For example, show that you know the distinction
between à cause de and grâce à.

I seem to gather that when you say word you mean what is generally called word family and not lexical item, and that you ignore lexical items in your count with distinct meaning that consist of known lexical items out of those 300 basic word families?


s_allard wrote:
7. Play with the grammatical gender of nouns that may be written the same but have different genders.

Which all are, obviously, part of your set of basic word families.

Edited by Bao on 22 September 2014 at 11:26am

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Serpent
Octoglot
Senior Member
Russian Federation
serpent-849.livejour
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 Message 245 of 309
22 September 2014 at 12:20pm | IP Logged 
robarb wrote:
Instead, s_allard suggests to learn the words as they are encountered. This is a viable strategy,

Far less viable outside of an immersion situation, imo. At least if it's about learning from conversations.
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 246 of 309
22 September 2014 at 12:49pm | IP Logged 
Bao wrote:
Ah, the joy of one's questions being ignored.

s_allard wrote:
1. Use a range of prefixes like re, dé, sous, im, il, in, poly, etc. to modify the meaning of a word.
One can get
very creative with prefixes sur and super.

I gather that you don't know any substantial German.

...

I love it. I have been accused of many things -including claiming that 300 words is all you need to learn to speak
like a native - but this is the first time that I've been accused of not knowing any substantial
German. I'm guilty as accused. Bao has called me out. I know no German. I don't recall ever mentioning German
in the thread so far. It seems to me that hitherto we have been focusing on French, English and, very remotely,
Spanish. But I may be wrong.

To avoid any further confusion, let me reiterate that my remark on the use of prefixes during the speaking test
for the French C2 speaking test applies only to French and not to German.

Edited by s_allard on 22 September 2014 at 1:10pm

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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 247 of 309
22 September 2014 at 1:05pm | IP Logged 
As I am about to start reading the book Cinco horas con Mario by Mario Delibes, I got to thinking about how
to deal with the inevitable unknown vocabulary that I'll encounter. Given the discussion we've had so far, there
seems to be three approaches:

1. My usual approach. Start reading, stop when I meet a word I don't know and look it up in the dictionary. Make
a flashcard or an Anki entry if I feel like it.

2. Peruse my big fat Oxford Spanish-English dictionary and try to learn as many words in advance. This is the
brute force approach.

3. Find a Spanish 20,000 Spanish word frequency list and look up the words I don't know.

The big advantages of approaches 2 and 3 is that I won't have to stop when reading the novel. But there's a
trade-off here because I have to spend time studying the words. It might be worth a try.

Edited by s_allard on 22 September 2014 at 1:08pm

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emk
Diglot
Moderator
United States
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Speaks: English*, FrenchB2
Studies: Spanish, Ancient Egyptian
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 Message 248 of 309
22 September 2014 at 1:21pm | IP Logged 
s_allard wrote:
3. Extensive use of idiomatic expressions. Things like à bras ouverts, tirer par les cheveux, ne pas savoir sur quel
pied danser among very many demonstrate good command of vocabulary.

These phrases are essentially just another form of vocabulary. Rather than words, they're fixed phrases. However, I'm a little skeptical that tirer par les cheveux is going to help you much when your vocabulary is still limited to 300 words, because:

1. You'd need to know cheveux, and it's actually far more likely to show up on a 1000-word list than a 300-word list.
2. There's not much point in mastering idiomatic sayings when French conversations still look like this:

emk wrote:
Quote:
A : C’est XXXXXXXXXX, hein, ce que la XXXXXX peut faire ! C’est vraiment… Bon, et donc, XXXXXX les deux, Claire et
Sophie, vous vous XXXXXXXXXX, mais XXXXXXXXXX, pas tant que… enfin… Si, vous vous XXXXXXXXXX. Vous êtes des
vraies XXXXXXXX.
C : Oui, on est des vraies XXXXXXXX, 100 % vraies XXXXXXXX. Et après, ça XXXXXX des gens. Des gens nous disent
qu’on se XXXXXXXXX XXXXXXXXXX
A : Bah, au XXXXX, moi j’ai…

Now, I agree that it's useful to master the basics, and to know lots of fancy idioms. But our hypothetical student has far bigger problems at the 300-word level: Most real-world conversation is basically just a blur. They certainly can't work with native materials, and if they buy a grammar book, it's hard to learn grammar when the example sentences are full of XXXXXXXX.

To learn idioms, you need to know the words they use. To learn grammar, you need to know the words in the example sentences. To benefit from an excellent accent and fluid speech, you need to understand the native-speed responses that you'll get.

I notice the importance of vocabulary a lot with Egyptian. It doesn't matter how well I understand adverbial sentences if I don't know two or three of the most important words. But once I know the words, the grammar can usually be puzzled out, or at least accepted as a mysterious new data point which may be clarified by later examples.

Edited by emk on 22 September 2014 at 1:22pm



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