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Your best vocabulary learning methods?

 Language Learning Forum : Learning Techniques, Methods & Strategies Post Reply
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Senior Member
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 Message 25 of 58
05 June 2015 at 2:38pm | IP Logged 
Lucie Tellier wrote:
I have a question which might seem a bit weird.

For various reasons, I was forced by my old university teachers to learn lists of not-so-useful words, mostly
related to fauna and flora.
Unfortunately, there are many basic words which I don't know in English. I can't even recognize them in a text.

I still have most of the flashcards I made over the years, but I feel like they're not useful to me anymore at the
moment. I mean, I'm sure most of them could be useful down the line, but right now I need to (re)learn the
basics, so having that many words on flashcards is overwhelming.

I'm torn between working my way through rarer words which I may still need at some point and thus not
having to make new flashcards, and wasting more time making cards for easier words...

Moreover, I'm not exactly sure what the best learning method is for easier words.
I have a collection of monolingual vocabulary books in mind and I have access to them, but I'd rather not use the
dictionary all the time to make my flashcards.

This is a good observation here and points to a trap something that language learners, including myself, fall into:
learning lots of interesting and exotic words that are not commonly used. This is not a problem per se but does
become one if you neglect the more basic words and grammatical knowledge that are much more useful.

Although the term "easier words" is used here, I think it is more in the sense of "more common words". If the
word is easy, then there is no problem. The problem stems more from the fact that the word may be used in a
certain way or with a different shade of meaning. That is precisely why certain words are so common; they have
many uses or meanings.

One strategy to deal with this question is to carefully choose one's sources of words. It's important here to use
up-to-date materials. For example, avoid books over 20 years old, read current magazines and look at very
recent television and movie programs. This is not to say that older sources are not good; it's just that the
language is changing and for translators it is very important to be aware of the contemporary language.

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 Message 26 of 58
05 June 2015 at 3:25pm | IP Logged 
I'm still not clear on exactly what your goal is: improving knowledge of more common vocabulary, or learning less common vocabulary specifically for translation. I suppose you're not sure either and that's one of your questions. I think s_allard's advice above about preferring modern sources is great for most learners, but depending on the type of translating/interpreting you plan on doing there could well also be a valid argument for learning more uncommon and specialised words. The subject of vocabulary learning in general has already been discussed to death on here, including in a very long and painful recent thread, and I'm not keen on this turning into another of those. Better to address the original poster's specific needs.

Edited by garyb on 05 June 2015 at 3:29pm

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 Message 27 of 58
06 June 2015 at 12:06am | IP Logged 
It depends on your goals. Many translators these days are specialised in one field or another (some translate novels, other technical stuff, medicine textbooks, bureaucracy stuff etc.). If you wish to translate in a particular field, than getting to know the really rare stuff is good. So, if you are a biologist wishing to translate textbooks in zoology/botanics, those old lists might come helpful, otherwise probably not so much. If your dream is to make a new and better translation of Shakespeare, than the old literature will be much more helpful than keeping up with the modern trends. If you want to interpret live meetings, than spoken and colloquial language will be necessary.

What kind of vocabulary is important, that has been one of the explosive questions on the htlal recently. Some oversimplifications like frequent=important are pretty shortsighted, in my opinion. I'd say you are the best judge of the vocabulary you are likely to need, it tends to be the same you need in your native language. Not all the important words are on the frequency lists or in the novels. And not everything in the vocabulary books is important, true.

I'd recommend using native sources related to your interests, both professional and personal. Yes, modern novels (especially of the "lower" genres) will help you with modern language, including the colloquial kind. The classics will get you deeper in the literary language (high literature authors these days may have much more in common with the older classics than with many contemporary lower genres' writers). Scientific language (which doesn't mean only the vocabulary but as well the style of writing and the habits important to acquire) can be learnt the best from reading science books and articles.

A great resource for English learners is MacMillan English Dictionary for Advanced Learners. It is monolingual and all the definitions are made of very small set of words (100 000 references explained with 2500 common words). The most common words are in bold letters and with a star (or even with two or three stars, depends on how necessary the word is). It has never failed me so far, it is really huge and comfortable to use.

What vocabulary books do you have on mind? The in Use series or something else? And are they still enough of a challenge for you?

You can acquire vocabulary without flashcards as well, if you devour enough input. The progress is just harder to quantify and preview, so the already proposed method to read a lot and make flashcards with difficult words, that sounds good, in my opinion.
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 Message 28 of 58
06 June 2015 at 12:10am | IP Logged 
chaotic_thought wrote:
rtickner wrote:
I've found the opposite to be true - memorising
from an SRS / Iverson List / Goldlist /
Leitner box / etc., has been MUCH more efficient for me, judging on my own results.

Please distinguish what you mean by efficiency. For example, you may indeed be able to use a
method to efficently memorize a list of 1000 words, along with definitions, translations or
whatever. But whether this also boosts your efficiency to, say, read a novel...?

It may, but it may not. I'm quite sceptical. As I notice myself getting better and better at
reading, I really have the feeling it has not so much to do with "how many words I
remembered." I tend to rate my own efficiency in reading by judging some factors such as
"Can I quickly assess basic information about words on the page (which words are nouns, are
they proper nouns, which ones are verbs, etc.)" or "Can I understand this sentence without
looking up any words?" or "Is the meaning of word X in this sentence clear to me?".

Efficiency to me = knowledge gained over a given time period. If I have one hour, I can
either read a few tens of pages of a novel, watch a TV show or two, or do the initial
memorisation of 100 new 'unknown' words and reviews in an SRS like Anki. Though I'm hardly
qualified to offer an opinion on this, I've found through my own studies that the latter
results in gaining more ability in the language in a given period of time, especially when
at the lower and intermediate levels, in terms of improving one's vocabulary. Hence my
recommendation of a paper list or SRS with something like a frequency dictionary.
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 Message 29 of 58
06 June 2015 at 2:46am | IP Logged 
Unless you're on an extremely tight time budget (like before a trip), it doesn't matter how much you improve in one hour. Compare 100, 200, 500 hours. SRS offers a more tangible improvement, but there's more to language than just vocabulary and grammar. No matter whether you create a model in your mind (like me and seemingly also Cavesa, patrickwilken, Bakunin), or practise a lot from the beginning like tarvos and Benny, you still need a lot of experience with real texts and people.
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 Message 30 of 58
06 June 2015 at 4:28am | IP Logged 
Why would you want to take 500 hours to learn what you could learn in 100 hours? The
original poster wants a technique to learn words quickly - anybody can learn words slowly.
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Lucie Tellier
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 Message 31 of 58
06 June 2015 at 10:41am | IP Logged 
Yes, I need methods to learn words quickly and remember them fairly well (90% retention would do, not necessarily 95% for now).
I'm currently testing a method which I think is very similar to Iversen's lists.
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 Message 32 of 58
06 June 2015 at 11:15am | IP Logged 
rtickner wrote:
Why would you want to take 500 hours to learn what you could learn in 100 hours?

This is just begging the question.

The question is whether you can indeed learn words in 100 hours using SRS as well as you can in 500 hours of reading, which comes down to how you define learning, which in turn depends a lot on what you want do do with the words once you've "learnt" them.

To use an extreme example (which has been beaten to death on HTLAL lately) I very much doubt "learning" 8000 words quickly over four months via word lists will somehow allow you to magically be able to use these words properly in speech or writing. And if you can't use them properly what have you really learnt?

That's not to say that learning words via lists doesn't have its uses, but you need to be clear about what you want to achieve before anyone can meaningfully say whether a certain technique is likely to be useful or not.

Saying "I need to learn lots of words now" is too vague a goal to allow people to meaningfully suggest the most appropriate technique(s).

Edited by patrickwilken on 06 June 2015 at 11:16am

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