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Super-fast vocabulary learning techniques

 Language Learning Forum : Learning Techniques, Methods & Strategies Post Reply
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leosmith
Senior Member
United States
Joined 5509 days ago

2365 posts - 3803 votes 
Speaks: English*
Studies: Tagalog

 
 Message 1 of 255
09 March 2007 at 8:40pm | IP Logged 
leosmith wrote:
I'm trying to get familiar with as many of the super-fast vocabulary learning techniques that I can find.

Beginning May, I want to learn about 1000 Japanese words per month for about 6 months. I'm going to experiment with various methods, and try to figure out what works best for me.


I'd like this thread to be for vocabulary learning techniques of 20+ words per day, sustainable, and proven successful for at least one person. No need to focus on Japanese; techniques for all languages are welcome. Hopefully this will become a thread with all the best methods; your one stop vocabulary method shop:)
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leosmith
Senior Member
United States
Joined 5509 days ago

2365 posts - 3803 votes 
Speaks: English*
Studies: Tagalog

 
 Message 2 of 255
09 March 2007 at 8:55pm | IP Logged 
kinoko wrote:
This is my advice, based on my current Japanese studies. As you may guess lack of vocabulary is the main obstacle in a language so very far from my native one, thus my studies tend to be heavily vocabs oriented.

I remember starting with mnemonics too at the very beginning. It stops working after you pass a certain line, let's say after 1000 or so words.

Then I got into kanji and study of vocabulary became a pleasure and an easy thing as well. Now I can memorize more than 50 words a day out of the 100 or so I jot down every day. This is how I do.

words are not a casual line of letters. They have an origin and a root. Only the most basic of the vocab a foreigner learns may look completely unrelated, but you are well after those first few hundreds words you had to acquire at the beginning of your studies. After that words build up like bricks. Studying kanji this becomes very obvious and allows me not to think about a word in terms of a simple foreign sound anymore. Thus if I come across let's say the word "seish*tsu" which means "nature" as referred to human character, like in "a good-natured person". In that word "sei"stands for something you have from your birth, while "sh*tsu" is "quality". This way it becomes very easy to remember and develops a deeper understanding of the language from the inside rather than rote memorization. Doing this word analisys word for word before trying to memorize it makes it stick it better in my experience.
For example: let's say I'm studying English and come across those words: approximately, streamline, globalization. I would try to understand the words before memorizing them. ap is sort of a prefix which conveys the idea of dragging something close- come to mind approach, apparatus, apparition, appear, append, applause, appoint, appraise, approve... in a way related. Just look at how many different words of almost completely different meanings start making more sense. from the latin proximus you have proximal, proximity, proxy... all convey a sense of vicinity. then you do your language math, and while doing this your vocabulary will expand like the branches of a tree.
Streamline:stream plus line, with the same reasoning you end up understanding it very well and learn at least other 20 words in the process.
Same goes for glob, global, globe, and all the final -tion words to indicate certain phenomena.
You write a list of all this world both side and try to memorize them right afterwards. much easier and effective. After that you put everything in your Supermemo or Mnemosyne to make sure they come up all randomly for random review. That's the method I use. It's not as long as it looks. Once you get better at your "language math" you start seeing inner meanings in every new word almost immediately to the point they stick without even making any attempt to memorize them.

link
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leosmith
Senior Member
United States
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Studies: Tagalog

 
 Message 3 of 255
09 March 2007 at 9:03pm | IP Logged 
Iversen wrote:
To do this I have invented a more efficient way of using wordlists. Earlier when I had to learn a list of words I did the usual mistake of looking at each word pair (target - translation) in isolation, repeating it in my head X times until I thought I knew it - but that's wrong. Now I look at 5-7 word pairs at a time. I first write the target words in a column and run mentally through them to learn the translations. Only when I'm sure I know the translations for all the words I add a second column for the translations. Then I study this short list until I'm sure that I could write the original words from the translations, - and then I test this by covering the first column. Only when I actually do remember all the original words I proceed to writing the third column with the original words once again. With this method I can get through (and learn) around 100 new words in an hour. Then a couple of days later I read (and sometimes even write) the list through once more to fixate the words in my long-term memory.

I spend 2-3 hours every day on word lists of the two kinds I have described, so I get through (and learn) at least 200-300 words daily (in 2-3 languages). But the real number is far higher, partly because of derivations, but more importantly because of positive effect the memory training has on my intake of new words from reading and listening. I may sound like a preacher man when speaking about word lists, but I know that I wasted years on inefficient rote learning methods earlier in my life because nobody taught me to use word lists efficiently.

link
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leosmith
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United States
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 Message 4 of 255
09 March 2007 at 9:12pm | IP Logged 
This one is a whole reading system, which alows the learner to avoid studying isolated vocabulary completely.
Ardaschir wrote:
I generally try to avoid using a dictionary at all until I am quite advanced in a language. As I've written before, I get to that point either by transferring skills from other languages in the family, or by spending requisite years reading "readers," bilingual texts, children's literature, and with a translated text at hand.

One way or another, I eventually get to the point when I can understand at least 80% of the words in a text, and I mean that literally, i.e., if I take them out of the text, that is, out of their context, I can explain and actively use 4 out of 5 words. The difference between 75% and 80% doesn't sound great when you write them as percentages, but when you do it this way, you will find that 75% means only 3 out of 4, which is not enough, so you have to cross this barrier first.

If you know 4 words out of 5, the meaning of the fifth word is generally provided by the context. So, when you get to this point, the trick is to read as much as you can for a while, as swiftly as you can, tolerating the ambiguity of not understanding everything, fighting the impulse to look up every single word that you do not know. If you just read, read, read like this for several hours a day, every day for a few weeks or months depending on the difficulty of the language, you will find that your vocabulary has snowballed and that you have learned many new words from context without ever needing to look them up.

It is only at this point in my enjoyment of a literature (i.e., when I probably already know something like 95% of the words on a page) that I allow myself to begin using a dictionary. As a rule, I only look up two kinds of words: those that truly impede my understanding of a passage, and those that I call "known unknowns," i.e., words with whose form I have become familiar but whose meaning continues to elude me - I often find myself actively wondering whether they mean this, that, or the other thing, and perhaps musing on them in odd moments, as when I am in the shower, thinking "...now just what the hell could that damn word possibly mean? It's not... maybe it's..." When I do finally look up such words, I only need to do so once, for I remember them forever without needing to write them down.

For the most part, though, I generally continue to absorb the meaning of words from their context. As a general principle of learning, I think that you know and understand better by figuring things out for yourself than by having them explained to you.

I love dictionaries (especially etymological ones) and I even spent many years of my life compiling an extensive English-French-Spanish-German-Russian-Korean one that is now hopefully soon finally going to see publication, alas with only the first four. However, I truly feel that a dictionary used too early is not a help to a language learner, it is a hinderance.

link
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leosmith
Senior Member
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 Message 5 of 255
09 March 2007 at 9:16pm | IP Logged 
Ardaschir wrote:
Souley, you yourself and others have already largely answered your second pointed question. Yes, the main problem with using a dictionary to read is that it slows you down so much that the entire process becomes discouraging. While electronic dictionaries may speed up the process to a certain degree when you are reading electronic texts, it still remains, and there is also the fact that most electronic dictionaries are not yet anywhere near as thorough and reliable as printed ones. Guillaume also righly points out that it is not desirable to translate words into your native tongue, as a dictionary forces you to do. Yet another reason that has not been mentioned is the fact that most words are polyvalent, and if you are so uncertain in a text that you need to use a dictionary to hack your way through it, you are probably not in a position to select the desired meaning from among the options.


Ardaschir wrote:
There is a time and a place for both monolingual and bilingual dictionaries. For the kind of advanced reading of literature that we are talking about here, certainly a monolingual dictionary is preferable. However, if you have to keep looking up chains of words in order to understand things, then there is no point in using one. Bilingual pocket dictionaries are most useful when you first travel about in a land where a foreign language is spoken. Larger bilingual dictionaries are always useful as office reference tools for checking the accuracy of translations and for those moments when you for some reason want to know how to say X in such and such a language.


Ardaschir wrote:
Czech, I am very sorry for the delayed response. You can start with a paragraph, or even a sentence, at a time, and work up to a chapter and then a whole book. As I wrote before, eventually you should read the translation and then rest for a while before reading the original to strenthen your memory. Initially, however, you should read the translated paragaph or sentence, then immediately afterwards the original one. You should definitely read the original aloud, and it may help to do this with the English as well. Likewise, it may very likely be helpful to read with your hands as well as your voice, i.e., by following the lines with your fingers. I am not sure what you mean by not having any luck remembering the meaning of the words, but I don't think you should be making any conscious effort to do this at this point.

link
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leosmith
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Speaks: English*
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 Message 6 of 255
09 March 2007 at 9:22pm | IP Logged 
Ardaschir wrote:
Since you find this helpful, I will give some more details of the way that I have gone about learning to read literature in Russian and other foreign languages.

The first step is to use actual bilingual texts, with the target language on one page and a translation on the facing page. I keep one index finger under one sentence, the other under its counterpart, and I slowly and carefully compare everything. I am not really "reading" at this point, but rather analyzing the language using interesting reading matter.

The second step is to use "readers," i.e., books that contain annotated excerpts of literature with explanatory notes and, most importantly, vocabulary and an index that is specially keyed to these texts so that finding the meaning of unknown words is much easier than it is by using a regular dictionary. I usually make enlarged photocopies of the text first and then write the meaning of all new words directly in the space underneath them. I then read and reread these texts many times.

The third step is begin reading "easy" literature unaided, i.e., material for native children or adolescents.

The fourth step is what I described in an earlier post, namely using not bilingual texts but an original text and a translation in tandem, reading first a portion of the translation, then the original itself. What portion? If all I can handle is a paragraph or a page at a time, then it is better to keep working with actual bilingual texts. At this stage, as I wrote before, it is initially best to read a full chapter at a time. At first I may have to read them back to back, but I find that it is better not to do so, but rather to read the original later in the day.   Eventually, I read the entire translated work first, then the original. I never use a dictionary at this stage, but just keep on reading. With Russian, I went through most of Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, Turgenev, and Checkov this way, as well as some Oblomov and Gogol. I then passed the "airplane test," as I call it, taking a novel that I had not read in translation before with me as my sole companion on an intercontinental flight, and reading it with interest, enjoyment, and understanding the whole time.

I cannot stress strongly enough how important it is to avoid using a dictionary until you have gotten past these stages. Doing so harms you more than it helps you, for it slows you down too much and breaks your concentration. I have always found that using a dictionary is only profitable after I have gotten past this fourth step. Again, I generally try to look up only "known unknowns," i.e., words that I have seen often enough to recognize them ("there's that damn word again--what the hell does it mean?") or even better actually remember them and say to myself, not necessarily while reading, but simply while ruminating, "I know that I don't know what X means--it seems like it means such and such, but I wonder..." When I finally look it up, I never forget it, whereas if I use a dictionary too early, I find myself looking up the same word repeatedly.


Ardaschir wrote:
You're welcome, both of you. Heartburn, your question is not at all off the mark. Indeed, using unabridged audiobooks is an important component in this whole process -- so important that I cannot believe I have forgotten it until now. When I have been able to obtain tapes to an accompanying text, I shadow them in exactly the same fashion that I shadow to begin learning a language (i.e., listen through earphones, echoing aloud the second I hear any sound, and reading the text with my eyes at the same time, all the while preferably while walking rather than while sitting down).

With Spanish, you should have an extremely wide range of choices. With Russian, there are fewer, or at least there where when I was there five or six years ago. The situation may have changed, but there were no commercially available audiobooks in the shops there and no one had heard of such a thing, so I almost left without acquiring any. Thankfully, it dawned on me that such audiobooks were originally produced for the blind before they were put on the general market, so I found an association for the blind, and indeed was able to get a good selection--tales of Belkin by Pushkin and the novella Kazaki by Tolstoy among others. I am in my office right now looking at these as I write, but unfortunately they do not have any identifying address that I can pass along.


Ardaschir wrote:
The biggest mistake I myself made throughout the first decade or so of my language learning life was to think that the dictionary was my friend as I was learning a language. A dictionary is not a learner's tool; a dictionary is a means for clarity and advancement for those who already know a language.


link
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MeshGearFox
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United States
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Studies: German, Russian

 
 Message 7 of 255
10 March 2007 at 2:29am | IP Logged 
Hm. If you don't mind me doing so, I'm going to try to rewrite Iversen's method in a bulleted list:

1. Write a short list of 5-7 words in your target language.

2. Read through them until you are confident you know the translation.

3. Write a second list consisting of the translation for these words.

4. Read through it till you're confident that you know the original words.

5. Reread the original words.

6. To solidify the knowledge, rewrite the original words in a third column.

After this, you pick a new 5-7 words, I'm guessing?
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solidsnake
Diglot
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China
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Speaks: English*, Mandarin

 
 Message 8 of 255
10 March 2007 at 3:27am | IP Logged 
I believe there are two methods of learning vocabulary.
One is by usage and one is by relation.

With relation, you buy a categorized dictionary, take one section like "living room" or "car engine" and write/type out everything into flashcard form and drill it constantly for 2-3 weeks. This works best for general "noun" type vocab.

Then there is usage. This is where you look up one word, and learn it's every possible usage and various idiomatic collucations. This is exhaustive and is definitely a "quality over quantity" pursuit. Works best for verbs, adjs.



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