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How to count the words you know?

 Language Learning Forum : Learning Techniques, Methods & Strategies Post Reply
alexraasch
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Germany
alexraasch.de
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52 posts - 52 votes 
Speaks: German*, EnglishC1
Studies: Spanish, Mandarin

 
 Message 1 of 7
03 December 2007 at 4:01am | IP Logged 
I am thinking about an effective method of measuring my active vocabulary in English and German. I want to know how many words I know in these two languages. Has anyone ever done this? If yes, how did you do it?

Of course the first thing that came to my mind was to use a dictionary. But the problems are 1) you see the definition of each word that you look up and 2) by going through the words you might remember some words that you had learnt before but forgotten. Words like these are but not in your active vocabulary. So I figured this method was rather inaccurate and very boring.

I don't want to know the exact number but an accuracy of 100 words more or less would be desirable. I have been thinking about writing a program that you can load texts into, read them and mark every unknown word. The program should be able to count the remaining words. This bares problems also: You need many texts that differ in style and topic, which may not be available in plain text. Also the program would count different morphological variations of the same lemma as distinct words, whereas this is not what I want.

Using such a method only measures the words that you understand which can be quite different from the vocabulary that you actively use. I don't know yet how the measure this.

Edited by alexraasch on 03 December 2007 at 4:03am

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alexraasch
Diglot
Groupie
Germany
alexraasch.de
Joined 4860 days ago

52 posts - 52 votes 
Speaks: German*, EnglishC1
Studies: Spanish, Mandarin

 
 Message 3 of 7
03 December 2007 at 7:53am | IP Logged 
Ok, ok, I don't need it that accurate. Actually, I don't NEED it at all, I'm just curious. A fast test can probably not narrow it down to a couple of thousand words. But if you take a frequency list for example, why shouldn't it be possible to come up with a more precise number??

Where did you do the test? And why do you think it misses you by some 10,000 words (pretty much)?

What about your active vocabulary as opposed to passive?
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Volte
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Switzerland
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 Message 4 of 7
03 December 2007 at 10:41am | IP Logged 
alexraasch wrote:
I am thinking about an effective method of measuring my active vocabulary in English and German. I want to know how many words I know in these two languages. Has anyone ever done this? If yes, how did you do it?

Of course the first thing that came to my mind was to use a dictionary. But the problems are 1) you see the definition of each word that you look up and 2) by going through the words you might remember some words that you had learnt before but forgotten. Words like these are but not in your active vocabulary. So I figured this method was rather inaccurate and very boring.

I don't want to know the exact number but an accuracy of 100 words more or less would be desirable. I have been thinking about writing a program that you can load texts into, read them and mark every unknown word. The program should be able to count the remaining words. This bares problems also: You need many texts that differ in style and topic, which may not be available in plain text. Also the program would count different morphological variations of the same lemma as distinct words, whereas this is not what I want.

Using such a method only measures the words that you understand which can be quite different from the vocabulary that you actively use. I don't know yet how the measure this.


LingQ sounds a lot like what you're looking for, though it does count variations of a word as distinct, as far as I know.

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Zhuangzi
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 Message 6 of 7
03 December 2007 at 2:55pm | IP Logged 
LingQ will figure out how many words you know but only after you have read a lot of content on the system. At first it assumes that all words are unknown. When you read an item, all words that are not looked up in a dictionary and saved are assumed to be known. This is, of course, not accurate, but over time it is a good indicator. If you went into LingQ and read and updated all the content in the English content Store, saving unknown words, you would eventually know now many words you know.

In time we intend to have a cloze test to judge word level. The learner will be able to test for a given list of words. This could be the first 1,000, second 1,000, 10th 1,000 word level or medical terms, words needed for TOEFL or whatever list the user wanted. Then the person taking the test should score very high, i.e. at least 19 out of 20, or 95% in order to claim that they knew those words or that level.

I think it is enough to measure the passive vocabulary. We will also measure the "richness" of vocabulary used in writing comparing it to these frequency levels, but it is not something we do now.

I am interested to hear other ways of doing this.

At LingQ we use words count mostly as a reco rd of progress and a motivator, rather than an truly accurate measurement of word power.Given the varying degrees of mastery one can have over vocabulary, I think this is good enough.
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Iversen
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berejst.dk
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 Message 7 of 7
04 December 2007 at 3:33am | IP Logged 
I have written a lot about counting passive vocabulary in other threads, and I'm not going to repeat it here. Counting active vocabulary is even more difficult. The obvious method would be to count lexemes in the utterances of the test person (both written and spoken). However few of us have a lexicographer around 24x7 to collect every single new word we utter. However I did an experiment after approx. 3 months at this forum: I collected all my own posts (in English), put them in a spreadsheet and made a unique list of around 4000 different word forms, which I cut down to around 2500 lexemes (using some rather harsh criteria). So is that my active vocabulary in English? Of course not, I know a lot of words in English that I haven't used here, - not even after one more year here. But compared to my passive word counts 2500 words in 3 months is not very much. Besides counting words doesn't say much of the level of idiomatic use of the language - how many expressions with "get" do I know? I dunno, I have never counted that. Besides the theme of this forum is language acquisition. So I won't get any credit for knowing hundreds of bird species by name.

If counting words used isn't a trustworthy method then there is the alternative of making a subjective estimate while counting passive vocabulary, and ironically I think this comes closer to the true number (but on a totally unscientific basis). I have noticed that the more fluent I am in a language, the large the proportion of passive words that I also could see myself using in practice if a suitable opportunity presented itself. In my native Danish it would be a rare word indeed that I couldn't see myself using, and in English I would also be able to mobilize a large proportion of my vocabulary. From there it goes downhill right down to for instance Greek and Russian, where I doubt that I have more than a few thousand active words at my disposal.


Edited by Iversen on 04 December 2007 at 8:02am



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