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Super-fast vocabulary learning techniques

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frenkeld
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 Message 89 of 255
16 March 2007 at 6:36pm | IP Logged 
Linguamor wrote:
I see no reason why it should do harm. I do know that most people can learn to understand 2000 words from comprehensible input a lot faster than they can memorize 2000 words from a wordlist.


Oh, I wasn't advocating word lists for myself. The closest I ever came to them was through buying two brochures from Dover, something along the lines of "1001 Most Common Words in Spanish", and a similar one for French. They looked nice, each entry had a translation or two, and a sample sentence. I got sorely sick of it after less than 100 words, and the thought of doing nothing but reading that thing for 10 days straight to cover 1001 words was the closing one for that experiment. It could've been efficient, but that was no longer the point.

Speaking of speed, I didn't mean to say that what I find congenial is necessarily the fastest way - it has to be merely tolerably speedy for my needs, but its main advantage is that it does not slow me down due to boredom.

Linguamor wrote:
frenkeld wrote:
The main reason I am so keen on this question is because while I like learning from context at the intermediate stage, I found courses based on "comprehensible input" anything but congenial in the early stages of learning a new language.

How did you go about using courses "based on comprehensible input"?


Talking about them being based on "comprehensible input" was a bow in your direction - I normally think of them as "phrased-based", where you have target language on the left, English translation on the right, some amount of grammar explanations, and possibly some exercises. Assimil is not the only such course, although it may be the only one with recordings.

I indeed did not conduct a clean experiment with such courses while getting into German - the thrashing is documented in my thread called "Study log". Looking back, if one wants to try something new, one ought to designate one new language for trying out such and such method, and stick with it for a while. Instead, I raced through Duff's "German for Beginners", grasping enough grammar to make Assimil (used in a reader mode) feel like just an overload of vocabulary on top regurgitating already familiar grammar in the context not based on authentic sources.

In addition, I tried several other textbooks in Assimil-like format, the idea being to do half of each at first, reinforcing the same vocubulary from different sources. For me, this proved not to work well - I had no patience for this, and had finally concluded that reviewing the same text over and over was more efficient, if one can stand it.

Chaotic as this process was, I did come out with a fairly certain feeling that anything preceeding working with authentic materials will feel boring. Since the fastest route to opening my first novel seems to be a conventional grammar-rich textbook, followed by an abridged reader, followed by one's first novel, that's pretty much my method of breaking into a language.

All this is not really terribly relevant in my case any more - the list of languages you see under my name is the end of the line for me (at least I hope so!), and Hindi is the only one left that I haven't yet dabbled in at least to some extent. I have "Le Hindi sans Peine" from Assimil, but I am not sure I will be able to stand it whenever I start on Hindi, although I haven't made the final decision yet, which won't be needed for at least another 6 months, and possibly more.

P.S. The area where I've seen the most warnings that not doing things a certain way is liable to cause hard-to-correct habits is that of pronunciation. I am indeed quite bad in that area, but I never really tried to acquire a good accent in any foreign language, so I don't know how "correctable" it may be in my case.


Edited by frenkeld on 17 March 2007 at 2:12pm

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leosmith
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 Message 90 of 255
16 March 2007 at 9:30pm | IP Logged 
Linguamor wrote:
I have used language learning materials as resources for comprehensible input.

Interesting method. Could you give examples of language learning materials that you would consider good for comprehensible input?

Linguamor wrote:
the way I do it is faster and more effective than the way I have described here

How do you do that?
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frenkeld
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 Message 91 of 255
16 March 2007 at 10:57pm | IP Logged 
Linguamor wrote:
I do know that most people can learn to understand 2000 words from comprehensible input a lot faster than they can memorize 2000 words from a wordlist.


I had an interesting reminder just this week how strange some people can be at memorization. In order to promote interest in math among schoolchilren, they had a "pi week" at my older daughter's school, which included a competition to memorize the most digits of pi, with the winner getting to stick a cream pie in the school principal's face in front of all the 6th graders. A rather strange idea, but my daughter told me she was going for it. I shrugged my shoulders and said it was about rote memorization, so why bother. She actually won, at 200 digits of pi, but the interesting part was to see it unfold. She came in one day, saying how she already knew 120, but Katie so-and-so knew 140, and she would like to have some margin against Katie. I said something in the uh-huh category and went back to reading this forum. She came out of her room fairly soon and said, OK, now I am at 160, do you think it will be enough? I don't think I said anything at that point. In the end she was reciting pi before the class and her teacher simply stopped her at the 200th digit.

So, you know, I have no idea what that kid could do with a 2000-word list of French words, if I could ever get her interested in looking at it - too bad her French teacher isn't interested in cream pies, or at least a good creme brulee.


Coming back to word lists, take something like "Teach Yourself Hindi", which is probably similar in format to some other TY courses. It has 18 lessons, with about an 80-word vocabulary list at the end of each one. Would it actually waste or save time to try to memorize those 80 words before each lesson? I have to say, now that I think of it, I am not so sure - at the very least, it would allow one to focus on the lesson itself and not have a lot of one's attention sapped by the vocabulary.

Again looking at something non-drastic, if one can get into some traditional textbook/workbook format, where you have short lessons with some amount of vocabulary in each lesson. Is it that inefficient to keep recording that vocabulary in a list and go over it once in a while?

Basically, once we accept that memorization doesn't do any intrinsic harm to your ability to master a given language, so long as it does not serve as a motivation-killer, one can start playing any number of games with vocabulary to find what works best. One still needs tons of input to develop a proper feel for the language, but that is not in dispute - vocabulary memorization will just be there to help those who like to do it that way.





Edited by frenkeld on 18 March 2007 at 4:23pm

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luke
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 Message 92 of 255
16 March 2007 at 11:15pm | IP Logged 
frenkeld wrote:
It has 18 lessons, with about an 80-word vocabulary list at the end of each one. Would it actually waste or save time to try to memorize those 80 words before each lesson?

That's an interesting question. The pdf on language learning student success secrets calls this tactic "stockpiling". Some of the successful students felt stockpiling was an important weapon in their language learning arsenal. Other successful students liked context and real life situations for acquiring vocabulary.

The most fascinating aspect of this thread to me are those who talk about learning a lot of words (by their preferred technique) by not trying to learn every word. Although it's not in this thread, I believe fanatic talked about an approach that involved studying 100 words quickly to get a 60% retention rate, which was 3 times more effective and perhaps faster than the approach of learning 20 words at 100% accuracy.

Edited by luke on 17 March 2007 at 5:09pm

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frenkeld
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 Message 93 of 255
17 March 2007 at 10:39am | IP Logged 
luke wrote:
Other successful students liked context and real life situations for acquiring vocabulary.


I recently tried something that combines context with visual cues, which I found surprisingly helpful so far. It's not much different from using a highlighter in a book or a newspaper article, but it may be more flexible. Here is the quote:


"I would like to mention my first foray into using a pop-up dictionary on the OCR'd version of the first chapter of the novel I've been reading. It seems so obvious now, but it never occurred to me in the past even to just cut and paste a web page (say, a newspaper article) into a Word document. I found that doing so allows one to play interesting games.

First I highlighted all the unknown words in a paragraph in yellow, while highlighting in green those that seemed not simply lexical, but related to unfamiliar grammatical features. Then I looked up unknown words, underlining those already covered, so they had both the yellow background and the underline. Then I reread the paragraph in the hard copy of the book, then went back and removed the color, while leaving the underlining, on the words that now seemed familiar - this should probably have been done a day or two later, to check how much has been retained and provide an opportunity for a refresh.

There is really no end to the games one can play - I wonder if one could even create some sort of pop-up entries/annotations for individual words."


If one chooses reading matter with enough unknown words per page, one can review quite efficiently by rereading, with words to focus on being highlighted or underlined, and then quickly look-up forgotten words in a pop-up dictionary. One or two novels worked through in this fashion might even be enough to get one's reading skills out of the beginner stage.

luke wrote:
... I believe fanatic talked about an approach that involved studying 100 words quickly to get a 60% retention rate, which was 3 times more effective and perhaps faster than the approach of learning 20 words at 100% accuracy.


This is one reason I never found one particular argument for flashcards versus notebooks very convincing. The worry is that some of the words aren't really remembered, but are remembered only by association with their position on the page. If we don't care about each and every word, however, then it doesn't matter if a few won't be recalled for a while outside the context of a particular notebook page.


Edited by frenkeld on 17 March 2007 at 12:35pm

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Iversen
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 Message 94 of 255
18 March 2007 at 12:27pm | IP Logged 
I do like the idea of stockpiling. When I do my wordlists iI cannot foresee with absolutely certainty which words will be useful later, but if I don't have at least 5-10.000 words stockpiled in some hidden storage room then I will be in trouble any time I want to read any normal book without a dictionary. In the case of a text book where the authors have promised me to write the words used in each lesson in a separate list, I could just learn those words, - it would be like playing in a lottery where you have been told which numbers are going to come out. But most authors aren't that considerate.

In principle it must be an advantage to know as many words as possible, and the 5-10.000 I mentioned above are definitively not enough. But there is a trade-off: as soon as you can read real texts you should prioritize that (dealing with real language is unconditionally necessary in order to become actively fluent), and time spent on learning words from a dictionary of course can't be used on reading Shakespeare.

But the more I work with word lists the more certain I become of the usefulness of perpetual active word collecting. I can see that there are lots of useful words even in my best languages that I don't know, but they might come in handy if I chose to read some kind of texts.

Luckily this is not a thing that will take as much time as this level as a beginner would need. There is one aspect of vocabulary acquisition that has struck me: the more you already know, the easier it will be to learn just a bit more. Yesterday I did a word list in French, which is one of my better languages, and even though I honestly did try to select unknown words, I could grosso modo write down a block of words (5-7), write their translation without rereading the dictionary, cover the French words and without further ado write the original words again. Now compare that to the amounts of rechecking and memorization I have to do in languages like Greek and Russian, where I don't have the same background... the difference is dramatic.



Edited by Iversen on 18 March 2007 at 12:50pm

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frenkeld
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 Message 95 of 255
18 March 2007 at 5:08pm | IP Logged 
Iversen wrote:
There is one aspect of vocabulary acquisition that has struck me: the more you already know, the easier it will be to learn just a bit more.


That was the point I made in the thread on Sitnikov, when you were surprised that he recommended starting out with a fairly low rate of new words per day and ramping it up as one progresses.

I ran into an example of the phenomenon you mention playing with either Lesson 1 or 2 of TY Hindi. It had a word "airy" (in "airy aparment"). A strange word to have in the first lesson, but they had it, so I figured, OK, I'll memorize it. However, it just wasn't sinking in, along with a couple of other words that proved difficult for whatever reason, even after I wasted some time trying to make them stick. Later, once I remembered the Hindi word for "air", the derivative "airy" instantly sank into place, likely to stay there forever.

So, is your method actually the most efficient one - how do you avoid wasting too much time on words that prove hard to memorize in the "pre-learning" mode, but might have come much more more easily if you were already familiar with the basics of the language?


Edited by frenkeld on 18 March 2007 at 5:15pm

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Iversen
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 Message 96 of 255
19 March 2007 at 12:13am | IP Logged 
frenkeld wrote:

So, is your method actually the most efficient one - how do you avoid wasting too much time on words that prove hard to memorize in the "pre-learning" mode, but might have come much more more easily if you were already familiar with the basics of the language?


I still think that it is important to get as large vocabulary as possible as early as possible, even if it would have been easier for an advanced learner to learn the same number of words. The point is you won't become an advanced learner without that initial heap of hard work and subsequent experience with a lot of genuine stuff. The easy life of the advanced learner is built upon the toils of the poor sweating beginner.

The question then is, should you use the fact that you learn faster to step up the number of words you learn progressively? That's a tricky one, but in my opinion the important thing to learn so many words (plus grammar) that you can start working with lots of real language instead of just a few short texts in a text book. Postponing this by slacking on word acquisition in the initial hard phase will just postpone the time where you can really reap the fruits of your labour.

One detail: if you have trouble with a particular word, then you can try to rememember that this was the word that irritated you in that particular case and that may solve the problem. Otherwise skip the word. If it is really important then you will meet it later (this principle probably does not apply to morphology, where you have to learn all forms of a word, even the irregular ones). I agree with Fanatic*: learning 60 words out of 100 is better than learning 20 out of 20 if it can be done in the same timespan.

* as quoted by Luke

Edited by Iversen on 19 March 2007 at 3:06am



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