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Super-fast vocabulary learning techniques

 Language Learning Forum : Learning Techniques, Methods & Strategies Post Reply
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Vlad
Trilingual Super Polyglot
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Czechoslovakia
foreverastudent.com
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 Message 57 of 255
14 March 2007 at 11:03am | IP Logged 
Iversen,

I was thinking about your method. I am also a fan of wordlists and I feel that in order to jumpstart language learning a list of the correct 3000 words is of great help, but to me it seems like using your method, it has to take an enormous amount of time to get through the entire dictionary, write down those words into the three columns, and learn them by heart, that could’ve been used for something else. Not to mention the great ballast of the huge amount of words you'll have at your disposition, that have similar meanings and that haven't got solid associations in your brain yet, which from my point of view can lead to quite some confusion. I know this confusion passes with some time and the more experienced the language learner you are the shorter the period, but I feel there are ways to avoid this situation.

Why not concentrate on the 3000-5000 most common words and expressions present in regular language at the beginning, and not worry too much about the passive knowledge of other 10 000 words in the early stage?

Maybe a division of your system into two sections would be an option, but I’m only guessing. To concentrate for the first 2-3 weeks on the 3000-5000 words that can get you going and then go heavy on the rest.

I wanted to ask you:

How do you choose which words to learn, when you read the dictionary?

Do you feel that thematic wordlists are good or bad in the end?

I am a great enemy of thematic wordlists. Yes, they do keep words neatly organized, but for me, that is the only advantage.

I've had this experience and many of my friends as well, that words in these lists tend to mix up. Especially words like: never, sometimes, often, frequently, rarely, always, usually...

For instance in Italian, when I was a beginner, it took me 2-3 weeks to completely shake the habit of having to think a bit before using di solito or spesso. It's not that I didn't know which one to use, it's just that I didn't know which one to use right away. All because of the thematic wordlist in my opinion. No list, no confusion :-)

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Iversen
Super Polyglot
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Denmark
berejst.dk
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9078 posts - 16473 votes 
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 Message 58 of 255
14 March 2007 at 11:59am | IP Logged 
When I speak of thematic word lists the theme could for instance be fruits, railways, birds, but it could also be common adjectives paired with their antonyms (small, big, low, high et cetera). It could even be a list of temporal adverbs (never, sometimes..). I have the opposite experience of yours: for me such lists serve to bring order in a certain area.

They could also serve as an antidote against the tendency to choose too rare and strange words for the alphabetical dictionary based lists. I do recognize the danger that you waste enormous amounts of time on learning dictionary words you would never ever meet in real texts. But the point is, you don't write ALL words from the dictionary on your lists. I personally choose the words that I could see myself using, and they may indeed be low frequency words that just appeal to me for some unfathomable reason. But the bulk of the words I choose to include in my lists are just ordinary words that could pop up in for instance a newspaper article.

As you can see in my last post I think there is a limit to the number of words it is worth learning by these methods. We have in other threads discussed what it takes to claim basic fluency, and one of the demands is that you should be able to read ordinary texts without looking too many words up in the dictionary. When you have reached that level, then it is time to shift the attention to idiomatic uses of the words you find there.

However I still do the occasional word list in even my best languages, and I have not yet reached the point where it feels totally absurd to do so. Some day I might even sit down and learn all the Danish names of the strange items in an ordinary toolbox, or the names of the flowers in my mothers garden (I think I have mentioned that a couple of times).

frenkeld wrote:

On a few occasions, I wondered if certain learning styles may be faster, but leave long-lasting or even permanent "damage", and so far I haven't found any reliable answers. ...


If somebody thinks that you can learn a language only by learning isolated words then please don't blame me. I see word acquisition as a tool that makes it possible for the language learner to access real texts and real native speech faster than otherwise possible. I know from several of my own languages how much the sudden increase in vocabulary means, and I don't think I could have achieved the same progress in any other way, including trying to read too difficult texts or listening in vain to incomprehensible TV programs.

I don't think it would spoil your chances of ever learning a language if you try to learn a lot of words even before you read real texts or listen to native speakers, otherwise I wouldn't do the experiment with Russian. However I do think that that phase should only last a very short time, and after that oral material and real texts MUST be included in the curriculum to avoid bad habits.

But let everybody find their own methods. For me it is not a problem to sit down and have fun with a dictionary for a couple of hours. I may be in a minority there, and those who crave real content to remember anything will have to use methods that emphasize real texts. We are all different.



Edited by Iversen on 15 March 2007 at 4:13pm

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slucido
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 Message 59 of 255
14 March 2007 at 12:31pm | IP Logged 
frenkeld wrote:
Take the reading only issue. People will just read for a year, then find that they don't understand spoken speech, and will claim that by not doing both at once, they have done a lot of damage, which will now take a long time to undo. My question is then, if someone reads for a year and then just listens for a year, will his comprehension be really hopelessly behind someone who's been evenly dividing the same daily study time between reading and listening for two years?

One can ask many questions of this sort on various skills and aspects of language learning, including vocabulary acquisition.


I have been learning english the last 6 years and the 4 or 5 first ones only reading. My interest was the contents and learning english was a side effect. Two years ago I started hearing some audio and my goal was the contents as well. It was after finding this forum, I started with Assimil, Pimsleur...

For me, only reading english for 4 or 5 years was the best method, because I tried to learn english several times before and without any success.

An interesting thing was that when I began with audio (about subjects I like), my understanding was much better than 4 years before. My understanding is bad with movies (slang..), but I am improving quickly.

Edited by slucido on 14 March 2007 at 12:34pm

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frenkeld
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 Message 60 of 255
14 March 2007 at 1:56pm | IP Logged 
Iversen wrote:
I don't think it would spoil your chances of ever learning a language if you try to learn a lot of words even before you read real texts or listen to native speakers ...


If a method works for someone, the burden of proof is on the researchers to demonstrate why it shouldn't be done.

The whole acquisition versus learning idea, that objections to more mechanical learning techniques are ultimately based on, is probably not entirely unassailable when adult learners are involved.

There have been MRI studies that show that languages learned in adulthood are processed in a different part of the brain than the native one(s). The most extreme result would be to show that some language study methods result in the language being eventually processed in a different area of the brain from other methods. Until something like that is discovered, there is probably no need to worry - there may be some "learning" involved no matter how one does it as an adult.


Edited by frenkeld on 14 March 2007 at 2:07pm

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ChristopherTL
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 Message 61 of 255
15 March 2007 at 9:43am | IP Logged 
There is some interesting new research to suggest that semantically-oriented lists can depress the brain's ability to retain and produce new words. So for example having a list that includes 1 color, 1 animal, 1 utensil, 1 vehicle and 1 article of clothing would be more effective than any list that contained only items in one category.

Ha! I have always had that problem with utensil names in Spanish. Maybe because i learned them all at once, 'fork' 'knife' and 'spoon' are all jumbled together in there making it harder for me to pick them out.

I'm also interested in putting lists together in order of usefulness, perhaps drawing from Brown's Corpus or similar work. Thoughts?
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Kanalanka
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 Message 62 of 255
15 March 2007 at 9:50am | IP Logged 
frenkeld wrote:

There have been MRI studies that show that languages learned in adulthood are processed in a different part of the brain than the native one(s). The most extreme result would be to show that some language study methods result in the language being eventually processed in a different area of the brain from other methods. Until something like that is discovered, there is probably no need to worry - there may be some "learning" involved no matter how one does it as an adult.


There are also cases of accident victims who have lost the ability to communicate either in their native or learned languages - they exist in different part of the brain. :)
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frenkeld
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 Message 63 of 255
15 March 2007 at 10:11am | IP Logged 
ChristopherTL wrote:
So for example having a list that includes 1 color, 1 animal, 1 utensil, 1 vehicle and 1 article of clothing would be more effective than any list that contained only items in one category.


I see a problem with this list too - it's all nouns!

Maybe throwing in some verbs could relieve the monotony and aid memorization. Even a single-topic list of nouns, but sprinkled with a few verbs on the same subject ("eat", "cut", next to "fork", "spoon"), or even short phrases ("cut with a knife", "eat spagetti with a fork", etc.) could be more easily memorizable. And then there are picture dictionaries for simple everyday objects, which can be fun to leaf through when one is starting out in a new language.

Kanalanka wrote:
There are also cases of accident victims who have lost the ability to communicate either in their native or learned languages - they exist in different part of the brain. :)


Thanks!

Do you know if they have they been able to extract any additional information from these studies on possible differences in the nature of knowledge of the native versus second language?

P.S. Come to think of it, have there been any Assimil or FSI users among those victims? :)


Edited by frenkeld on 15 March 2007 at 10:16am

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ChristopherTL
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 Message 64 of 255
15 March 2007 at 10:16am | IP Logged 
Frenkeld-

Intuitively I would imagine that not only would that solve the problem, but perhaps linking declarative items with actions could *improve* our ability to digest and retain language.

Maybe semantically-linked lists of 'processes' (drinking from a cup, driving in a car, riding on a bike) could provide a benefit, whereas semantically-linked lists of just nouns could confuse us.


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