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Super-fast vocabulary learning techniques

 Language Learning Forum : Learning Techniques, Methods & Strategies Post Reply
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Farley
Triglot
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United States
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 Message 25 of 255
11 March 2007 at 9:45pm | IP Logged 
leosmith wrote:
Is it possible to train your mind to become the other type of learner? And if so, what would be the price? Would it be worth it?


I have had luck with the passive approach. It has its drawbacks, forgetting those pesky verb conjugations or prepositions, but overall it works. Even at that I had to “learn” the passive approach in my twenties after years of grammar-translation. Recently, now in my thirties, I learned how to accommodate the active style. So yes I think you can retrain your brain to learn. But just as you said above, even after massive experimenting, I find myself back to my old habits of passive learning and grammar translation.

Was the experimenting worth it? Yes absolutely.

And what was the price? Time! Lots of it!

I think the value would all depend on your motivation.

John

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frenkeld
Diglot
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 Message 26 of 255
11 March 2007 at 9:55pm | IP Logged 
leosmith wrote:
Who knows. Maybe I'm stuck because I'm 45 and sorta set in my ways.


They say that (biological) evolution produces a workable solution, but does not guarantee the best possible design. Human vertical posture allowed humans to prosper, but also brought a number of health problems with it.

An individual's way of learning languages is basically an evolutionary product, evolved throughout his or her life, where past choices, some of them random, influence what happens in the future.

A reasonably successful learner is likely to think that at least for himself, whatever he's arrived at after a number of years is the best possible approach. In addition, he or she will accumulate a baggage of prejudices, to the point where it can be pretty hard to separate his needs from his wants. At the end, his favorite approach may or may not be the only best possible one, even for himself, so it never hurts to challenge one's assumptions and try something new, realizing that it may result in some amount of wasted time, but may also lead to a better approach.

I almost suspect that if a moderately successful language learner, who's put in enough time to have a clue about what's involved in language learning, were to drop all his accumulated prejudices and adopt any one serious polyglot's approach in its entirety, he would likely do better than with his own prior techniques, but with one important proviso, that he has enough hours in his day for language study - by the time they hit 45, for many people the schedule doesn't look anything like it did at 15 or 25, and this limits their choice of viable techniques.


Edited by frenkeld on 12 March 2007 at 10:29am

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Iversen
Super Polyglot
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 Message 27 of 255
12 March 2007 at 8:06am | IP Logged 
Farley wrote:
Iversen,

Just curious, do you make any distinction between active and passive vocabulary, or any special concessions for commonly used words and phrases?

Thanks,

John


Yes, I do make that distinction. The passive vocabulary are primarily those foreign words or expressions whose meaning you remember when you see them. It is not important whether you come up with a translation or a mental image or something else. However there is another group of passive words, namely those whose meaning you can guess on the basis of your knowledge of other words in the same language or in other languages. Even though you may never have seen them you would still be able to understand them if you saw them somewhere in a text.

The active vocabulary are those words that you could muster if you needed them. However this definition is so vague and situation dependent that it is useless in practice. Therefore it is simpler to say that it consists of all the words that you can recall if you are presented with a suitable clue in the form of either a translation (into any language you know), an image or a context formulated in the target language. If you take the translation column (the middle one) in the word lists I have described above, then you should in principle be able to recall all the corresponding original foreign words, - but I doubt that anybody would be able to do that, especially with 'weak' languages where you don't have a vast experience to help you.

The percentage that the active vocabulary constitute out of the passive vocabulary will in all likely be very high, maybe almost 100%, in your native language, but much smaller in weaker languages, maybe as low as 10% if you are an absolute novice in a language unrelated to those that you already know, maybe fifty-fifty when you approach basical fluency (I'm just guessing now).

By the way I did notice earlier in this thread that Sprachprofi only works from native language to target language when she makes her word lists. The effect of this would probably be that you get a higher percentage of active words*. On the other hand the total number of words learnt may be lower because it is harder to go from translations to foreign words than it is to begin with the foreign word.

It should be possible to combine this concept with the division in blocks of 5-7 and postponement of writing that I have advocated above. The main difference will probably be that there won't be any need for a third column because (as Sprachprofi mentions) you probably always will remember the translation back to your own language, if you have learnt the translation the other way round first.

And this leads me to the second of Farley's questions: should there be any special concessions for commonly used words? The risk with any dictionary based method is that you end up knowing thousands of rare words, while the most common words completely drown and may even be forgotten in the process. That's why I have stressed that targeted thematic wordlists and notes from active reading should be used as sources for new words alongside with dictionaries. And of course ordinary extensive reading will automatically take you through the most common words.

EDIT: * this passage has been changed after Frenkeld had quoted the original version in his post below


Edited by Iversen on 12 March 2007 at 9:38am

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Serpent
Octoglot
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Russian Federation
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 Message 28 of 255
12 March 2007 at 8:58am | IP Logged 
As for me, the vocabulary learning techniques depend on the language. For Finnish, I use flashcards software and also learn a lot of words without trying to, just from reading and especially from communicating with my friends. I've noticed that creating mental images or looking at a group of photos searching for associations makes going through entries less boring, now it's not unusual for me to go through 300 entries at a time. For Latin I don't learn vocabulary at all, because we never have tests on vocabulary. For German, I do some flashcards occasionally and sometimes just swot, looking at the words in the textbook and repeating them. (I'm not satisfied with the way I'm learning German atm and I'm not paying more attention to them because I'll have to learn them from scratch at the university). For Ukrainian, loads of words are almost the same as their Russian equivalents, so it's boring to learn them the traditional way, so I learn them through reading.
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frenkeld
Diglot
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 Message 29 of 255
12 March 2007 at 9:04am | IP Logged 
Iversen wrote:
By the way I did notice earlier in this thread that Sprachprofi only works from native language to target language when she makes her word lists. The logic behind this is of course to boost the number of active words.


Iversen,

This reminds me of a question I meant to ask for a long time here, what does one do after switching to a monolingual dictionary for a given language?

Suddenly, instead of a couple of translations, you have longer definitions, and above all, no direction is "active" any more.

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Iversen
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 Message 30 of 255
12 March 2007 at 9:24am | IP Logged 
In my opinion monolingual dictionaries are only useful for people who have already learnt a foreign language fairly well. Otherwise they will either not be able to understand the explanations or - even worse - they will misinterpret them.

I have used my monolingual dictionaries for the lists of known, but mostly half forgotten words that I started out making last autumn (not to be confused with the lists of new words that have been mentioned in this thread). But I don't find such dictionaries suitable for systematic acquisition of new words, unless you are already at the advanced level in the target language, and then you probably should concentrate on refining your knowledge of idioms rather than collecting even more obscure and specialized words. Many monolingual dictionaries are in fact brimming with idioms among the examples, but their length is too variable to fit into a rigid 3x3 column format across a sheet of paper. You need a more flexible system for that.

I have a good example of the problems surrounding monolingual dictionaries: my Romanian studies have been seriously hampered by the fact that I have outgrown my small German-Romanian Langenscheidt with less than 15.000 Romanian words, but I'm still not capable of really squeezing all the abundant information out of my one big fat monolingual dictionary with maybe 100.000 words. I have now ordered a mid-size two-ways English-Romanian dictionary to bridge the gap, but until that has arrived my acquisition of new Romanian words is somewhat limited.



Edited by Iversen on 12 March 2007 at 9:57am

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frenkeld
Diglot
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 Message 31 of 255
12 March 2007 at 10:00am | IP Logged 
Iversen wrote:
In my opinion monolingual dictionaries are only useful for people who have already learnt a foreign language fairly well. Otherwise they will either not be able to understand the explanations, or - even worse - they will misinterpret them.


In my limited experience (English, Spanish), different monolingual dictionaries, even of roughly the same size, can noticeably differ in the simplicity of their definitions, so it really pays to try out a few, as well as look at some smaller ones. And some may be purposely made more accessible by being targeted for use in schools (by the natives). Assuming that I have found one that is reasonably understandable even at a relatively early stage in learning, I've always wondered about a good technique for using one to learn vocabulary.

Even just copying sometimes long definitions into a notebook can become tiring. One can solve this particular problem by pasting several chosen definitions from an electronic dictionary into some flashcard software. One can then use it in the direction word->definitions, but not really the other way.

Overall, quite limiting really, and yet you only work with the target language, which some find appealing for whatever reasons, except I am not sure how to acquire vocabulary efficiently in this case. (Perhaps your approach of "blocks of 5-7" can be adapted to the monolingual situation?)


Edited by frenkeld on 12 March 2007 at 11:31pm

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leosmith
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 Message 32 of 255
12 March 2007 at 1:10pm | IP Logged 
frenkeld wrote:
I've always wondered about a good technique for using one to learn vocabulary.

That leads into another vocabulary learning method. This is not exactly what you were asking about, but an interesting technique which involves monolingual dictionaries for input. Actually, it's one of the many possible inputs.

I'm talking about the 10,000 sentence method. The method is essentially drilling entire sentences from target to target.


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