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How many words to speak?

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Serpent
Octoglot
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Russian Federation
serpent-849.livejour
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 Message 25 of 309
01 September 2014 at 3:11am | IP Logged 
Again, I don't think anyone disagrees that this is useful for average learners you come across in real life. HTLAL just isn't the target audience for that. If someone is learning advanced words before learning to have conversations, most likely they just hate small talk (think Iversen) or don't have opportunities to practice the language now.

As emk hinted, the situation in Canada/Montreal is quite special, and this is far less useful outside this kind of places. (I do wish I had known that this applies to Malta too, at least if you want to practise Italian there)
1 person has voted this message useful



Cavesa
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 Message 26 of 309
01 September 2014 at 3:33am | IP Logged 
The exemple with "musculation" is actually useful. There is nothing difficult in comprehension even for someone with limited vocabulary (at least as long as French isn't their first european language). But I'm telling you quite no learner with vocabulary of 1000 words is going to be the person spontanously speaking about "musculation". Or is it on your frequency lists? Or in a basic course? No, it is not. It is a good exemple of why you need wider active vocabulary than a few hundred words. In this case, there is just one rare word (even though logically recognizable for an English native) but it is the key to the whole conversation.

And again, I believe several points are being mixed up in order to make more straw men. The name of the thread should have probably been "how many words to speak idiomatically" or "how many words to begin speaking". But my point stands. To become functionally a speaker of the language, even though second language speaker with some mistakes and without the unnecessary worship of idiomatic speech as the highest priority, you need much wider vocabulary than a few hundred words.
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Cavesa
Triglot
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Czech Republic
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 Message 27 of 309
01 September 2014 at 4:06am | IP Logged 
s_allard wrote:

Your vocabulary will expand with exposure, such as through schooling or technical literature, but to start speaking idiomatically you only need to master the basics.


There's the trouble:
1.noone said you won't acquire more vocabulary over time (another straw man alert ;-) ). But the same can be said about speaking idiomatically. You'll improve with exposure and practice. To begin speaking (heh, funny to watch the switches between "speak", "begin speaking" and "speak idiomatically"), you need neither too wide vocabulary nor to speak idiomatically. But you will be limited.
2.If your primary goal is to fake being a native for a while(and "speaking idiomatically, that's what the natives do"), it is a different learning process then if you need to use the language for a wide range of uses in the country above all.
3.The English Harmony site actually supports the more conservative view represented on this thread:
"Let’s go further – if you know 300 most commonly used English words, you’ll be able to understand 65% of spoken English. You see – only 300 words comprise nearly two thirds of English vocabulary! Do you start getting the point I’m trying to make here? Then let’s take it one more step further – the General Service list of English words consisting of about 2000 words will take you very close to conversational English fluency – 90 to 95%!"

See? 300 words lead only to 65% in their opinion. And as you've been arguing in the comprehension thread, 65% is not that much and the % may mean various things, based on the methodology of counting. And what the site calls "conversational English fluency" is probably not so far from what most people in this thread consider "speaking" and our estimate of 2000 words is the same as the one on the English Harmony site.

By the way, English Harmony looks, at least at first sight, to be a tool of quite dubious quality which I wouldn't trust without recommendation from someone with first hand experience. Their advice in the article seems to be pretty generic and nothing most learners would disagree with. But the links in the end further support what I've already said. First are small talk phrases. Being capable of small talk is different than speaking a language. Phrasal verbs are useful but extremely English specific, you won't find such a crutch for most languages. The filler phrases may be useful though, even though it is still far from "speaking idiomatically like a native".
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s_allard
Triglot
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Canada
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 Message 28 of 309
01 September 2014 at 4:28am | IP Logged 
Cavesa wrote:
The exemple with "musculation" is actually useful. There is nothing difficult in comprehension
even for someone with limited vocabulary (at least as long as French isn't their first european language). But I'm
telling you quite no learner with vocabulary of 1000 words is going to be the person spontanously speaking
about "musculation". Or is it on your frequency lists? Or in a basic course? No, it is not. It is a good exemple of
why you need wider active vocabulary than a few hundred words. In this case, there is just one rare word (even
though logically recognizable for an English native) but it is the key to the whole conversation.

And again, I believe several points are being mixed up in order to make more straw men. The name of the thread
should have probably been "how many words to speak idiomatically" or "how many words to begin speaking". But
my point stands. To become functionally a speaker of the language, even though second language speaker with
some mistakes and without the unnecessary worship of idiomatic speech as the highest priority, you need much
wider vocabulary than a few hundred words.

I see no reason why "musculation" is a rare word. It is the word that came up in the conversation. The purpose of
the example --I encourage people to visit the site and see the entire example--is to show that a conversation
like this uses repeatedly a small number of very common words and a small number of either technical or very
specific words like the references to locations near Marseille. There are technical words related to bodybuilding
but they are easy to understand, and in the course of a conversation they could be demonstrated.

As Cavesa has pointed, this conversation is not difficult French. The grammar is quite simple. But this is a real
French conversation with all the features typical of the spoken language. The reason most learners are unable to
speak like this is that they simply cannot put everything together spontaneously, idiomatically and correctly with
good pronunciation. Could an A-2 learner of French speak like this? Of course not. Most learners of French will
never come close to speaking like this.

I haven't done the math for the entire conversation in question but I doubt that more than 150 different words
are used. Again, I must emphasize that if we talking in similar fashion about a different topic, there will be some
differences in vocabulary but the bulk of the vocabulary and the grammar will be exactly the same. We know that
just four verbs will make up around 30% of all the verbs here. We see it in the little snippet I gave. This will not
change.

Edited by s_allard on 01 September 2014 at 11:44am

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Medulin
Tetraglot
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 Message 29 of 309
01 September 2014 at 4:59am | IP Logged 
US high school students have a vocabulary size of around 20K words.
So why settle on less than this?
http://testyourvocab.com/blog/

Speak fewer languages, but at a more advanced level
sounds better in my book than speak 100 languages
at a preschooler's level...\
This is a preschooler's level of Portuguese: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5n-hi_TwQbo


Many linguists learn numerous languages until they reach the A2 level, but they don't consider
themselves polyglots at all. So do tourists.

From the blog:

'' We've made two discoveries so far. The first is that, for native speakers age 18+, most people (74%) have a vocabulary size between 20,000 and 35,000 (13% below, and 13% above). Of course, this is for the specific subset of people who are Internet users and have taken our test so far.

Our second discovery is much more interesting, a statistic we haven't come across anywhere before. We calculated average vocabulary sizes for native English speakers for ages 15–32, which is the range of ages for which we have at least 100 respondents per year of birth, and discovered there is a remarkably linear progression from 23,303 words (age 15) to 29,330 words (age 32), which works out to an average increase of 355 words per year, or almost exactly one new word a day (0.97 words to be precise).

Now, this increase could be due to some kind of age-education bias among the test-takers, but we ran an analysis of average self-reported verbal SAT score per age as well in the same range, and it hovers around a constant 700 ±15 points, so the increase in vocabulary with age appears to be quite real—at least for people who originally scored quite well on their high school verbal SAT, who appear to be our main respondents so far.

This is actually quite fascinating—the fact that people don't simply stop learning once they're out of school, but that their vocabulary appears to be growing just as much at age 30 as it was at age 16. ''

Edited by Medulin on 01 September 2014 at 5:10am

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s_allard
Triglot
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Canada
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Studies: Polish

 
 Message 30 of 309
01 September 2014 at 5:00am | IP Logged 
Cavesa wrote:
s_allard wrote:

Your vocabulary will expand with exposure, such as through schooling or technical literature, but to start
speaking idiomatically you only need to master the basics.


There's the trouble:
1.noone said you won't acquire more vocabulary over time (another straw man alert ;-) ). But the same can be
said about speaking idiomatically. You'll improve with exposure and practice. To begin speaking (heh, funny to
watch the switches between "speak", "begin speaking" and "speak idiomatically"), you need neither too wide
vocabulary nor to speak idiomatically. But you will be limited.
2.If your primary goal is to fake being a native for a while(and "speaking idiomatically, that's what the natives
do"), it is a different learning process then if you need to use the language for a wide range of uses in the country
above all.
3.The English Harmony site actually supports the more conservative view represented on this thread:
"Let’s go further – if you know 300 most commonly used English words, you’ll be able to understand 65% of
spoken English. You see – only 300 words comprise nearly two thirds of English vocabulary! Do you start getting
the point I’m trying to make here? Then let’s take it one more step further – the General Service list of English
words consisting of about 2000 words will take you very close to conversational English fluency – 90 to 95%!"

See? 300 words lead only to 65% in their opinion. And as you've been arguing in the comprehension thread, 65%
is not that much and the % may mean various things, based on the methodology of counting. And what the site
calls "conversational English fluency" is probably not so far from what most people in this thread consider
"speaking" and our estimate of 2000 words is the same as the one on the English Harmony site.

...

Let's try to untangle this web of concepts here. As I have said many times, a very small number of words will
suffice to start speaking. When I speak of 300 words in French, it's not my invention. This is a number that a
teachers of French estimate will give a student enough material to get started. Let's call it the baseline.

How does one improve one's speaking ability? Two ways. First, by adding more words. Nobody disputes that.
Second, by improving the use of existing words. Here we are talking specifically about grammar, pronunciation,
usage, in addition to learning nuances of existing words.

The big myth is that more words automatically means better speaking. For example, one cannot think about
speaking German unless one knows at least 2,000 words. What this leads to inevitably is the common excuse: I
can't speak because I don't know enough words. The real problem is that you can't use well the words you
already know.

This emphasis on learning many words leads to wasted time and eternal frustration. I laugh when I see learners
showing off to native speakers all the rare words that native speaker hardly ever use and, at the same time, these
learners cannot carry on a decent fluent conversation.

What's the point of knowing 5,000 words if you are continuously tripping over basic things that you never
mastered properly?

I am not against lots of vocabulary. I have never said that one should only learn 1,500 words and nothing more.
What I'm saying is that starting at 300 and probably more like 500 to 1,000 words in French is a solid foundation
for speaking well and idiomatically.

And when I say speaking idiomatically, I mean exactly that. This is how native speakers would speak. What better
models to follow. In the example I gave, we see idiomatic French. This is what learners should aspire to learn if
they want to speak French.

The same applies to other languages. If your goal is to speak German like Germans do, you would be much better
off studying comparable examples of real German conversations than continuously reading German novels and
newspapers to expand your vocabulary. Actually both are good to do.

In Spanish I have wasted considerable time learning obscure literary vocabulary when I should have been learning
how to speak by studying people speaking.


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s_allard
Triglot
Senior Member
Canada
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Speaks: French*, English, Spanish
Studies: Polish

 
 Message 31 of 309
01 September 2014 at 5:06am | IP Logged 
Medulin wrote:
US high school students have a vocabulary size of around 20K words.
So why settle on less than this?
http://testyourvocab.com/blog/

Speak fewer languages, but at a more advanced level
sounds better in my book than speak 100 languages
at a preschooler's level...
Many linguists learn numerous languages until they reach the A2 level, but they don't consider
themselves polyglots at all. So do tourists.


Another fine example of this myth of how many words one needs to be able to speak. No high school student has
ever used 20,000 different words. I won't address the methodology behind this number right now, but I think of
all the frustrated people who are trying to learn 20,000 words in their target language. Good luck.
1 person has voted this message useful



leosmith
Senior Member
United States
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 Message 32 of 309
01 September 2014 at 5:54am | IP Logged 
s_allard wrote:
I won't address the methodology behind this number right now

Why not?


2 persons have voted this message useful



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