Memorizing vocabulary, what a pain!
<<The "natural" way we learn in life, is by experiential USE of the words and concepts we learn. THAT is how we don't forget them. Set aside your copying-notebook, and try to find opportunities to USE the words you learn, in coversations or better yet in real life interactions. (That is, actually asking for and handling a lugnut wrench or a cup of coffee, as opposed to sitting in a classroom talking about it.) >>
Learning a second language is NOT "natural" in that sense. Learning a second language (efficiently) is an artificial process that in no way resembles the "natural" way we learn our first language. I don't want to spend 20 years to get a big vocabulary (what it takes a native speaker), I want to accelerate that process and get a big vocabulary in 5 years. To do that you have to learn in an "artificial" way.
I don't know what a lugnut wrench is. Now I am going to look it up.... Ok, done. Now I know what a lugnut wrench is without ever having used one. That was easy. It took 1 minute. Now I will go find out how to say it in Portuguese... Well, I couldn't find it immediately, but if it were necessary I could easily find out with a more careful search, or asking on a forum.
A cup of coffee? Well, now I will look it up and find out how to say it in Spanish... Una taza de café... That was easy. Didn't even need to drink anything! What about Portuguese?... uma xícara de café! Nice!
Thank you "fraz", "Timothy" and "a method" for your posts.
"a method", oh, well done, you're learning Italian! My mother is Italian and my grandfather Argentinian. But I was born in Canada and now I am right here on the coast of Italy near Ferrara. I have been here for over three years now. I shall be returning to the UK in April/May 2010.
I think my level is about in between. I would have been higher but laziness is what kept me behind, nothing else.
“My method described above sort of acts in a similar way, ie, you keep meeting a word at more or less regular intervals until eventually you know it”.
Your statement about your method is precisely what I thought as well. Yesterday I was doing all the heavy reading on SRS and at the end of it I was comparing it to your method. It then struck me that your method was a little similar. You were keeping a list in Word document and when you came across the word or phrase in the book you would hit the search button to have a quick glance at it.
Your advice “a method”, is always reasonable and I appreciate it. Thanks.
Thank you for your post. I appreciate it.
Actually both you and “a method” do come up with some good advice. It is really up to me now to sort myself out and find the right method that works best.
Your recommendation to ease off by trying not to think that you must memorize every new word is appreciated. I need that kind of advice.
My trouble is I tend to be a perfectionist so in terms of languages I end up by doing silly things like writing everything down or trying too hard to learn all the words I do not know. I usually end up feeling frustrated seeing a lot of words I failed to memorize. So eventually I put too much pressure on myself. So your advice, similar to “a method”, to be easy on myself and not try to write everything down is appreciated.
About dictionaries, thanks, I do understand what you mean. I think both you and “a method” were really saying the same thing, it all depends on what you are looking for.
On a final note, Tom, I have to say you are the first person I have known who has pointed out the myth “the best way to learn a foreign language is to go to a foreign country”. Your other six myths are all equally true. I thought I was alone with such beliefs until I came upon your site.
When I used to be in England I used to say to my clients who were moving to Spain at the time, if you really want to learn Spanish do it now. Don’t wait till you get to Spain. Because if you are serious about it, really serious, you would start now.
Doing it later means you do not intend to do it. You have to sit in your room, do some basic grammar since you are a beginner, but the most important thing is to read, read, and read. Reading is where you get your input from. Everything else takes second place; they’re just a bonuses.
They got depressed when I told them that. They didn’t like me telling them that nor did they want to believe me. Because it meant it needed effort. They used to look at me as if I was nuts.
The same goes for taking adult evening courses in Spanish. They think that by deciding to take a Spanish course at college means that automatically as if by magic at the end of the course they would be able to speak “good” Spanish. I used to tell them the real effort is when you are in your room reading Spanish.
They sit in the classroom for two hours and do no further study at home during the rest of the week. The only time they do some Spanish is when they are in the classroom and again there, they just read a passage out loud, write a few words in their notebook and that’s it.
I used to say to them you’d be better off just staying at home reading for two hours looking up words in a large dictionary. Putting your name down for evening classes was just an excuse not to do the real study.
I read up something similar once. A course was held for those who wanted to learn how to write a novel. The author walked into the classroom and asked: “How many of you here want to learn to write a novel?” They all put up their hands. Then he asked: “What the hell are you doing here, then? Why aren’t you at home writing?” With that, he turned around and walked out.
I am talking about learning in general, as a psychological activity. I wasn't talking about "learning a language." So most of your post is non-sequiter.
As far as looking things up: If you'll read this whole thread, you'll see that the problem is how the original poster can retain the many words he wants to know. The idea of copying them to a notebook isn't helping him retain them, and it's taking up his time.
Your "look it up" suggestion doesn't answer his question, which is, How can we better retain the words we learn?
And the best way to do that is to experience and interact with the real-life objects etc that those words refer to. Next best, is to engage in conversation about them.
You're not going to look up 500 words and phrases, and then be able to use them all after that one intellectual exposure.
Just to say thanks for trying to help me on this subject.
You are quite right in saying and pointing out that my main concern was that I was not able to retain the words I was reading up. This is true.
Actually... I have to admit that I understood what Benjamin Franklin was "driving at" really. It too was my intial response. Because, I cannot set aside vocabulary learning just to go out there and try experiencing in all weathers and in all circumstances what I have in my vocabulary. It would be just impossible and impractical.
I agree with Benjamin that I couldn't know what a lug nut wrench is in French unless I look it up. It would just be easier and practical to do it that way.
For me to know that word, I couldn't very well wait for the experience to come to me. So how many words do I have in my vocabulary and therefore by your argument how many experiences do I actually have to have in order to remember those words? In the meantime it would be better that I do the reading, look up the words repeatedly, occasionally look them up again to try to put it to memory.
Just for that one word for lug nut wrench, I would have to wait for the experience to come to me. I would have to be in a garage somwhere in France with a French mechanic who just happens to know English and he just happens to have a lug nut wrench in his hands and he would point out to me and say this is a "clé à écrous" (sorry not sure if this is the correct word). I have actually experienced the word and so I will remember it. You are right about this.
So Timothy, you are right in saying that we would retain words if we actually experienced them. This is true.
But Benjamin is also right in pointing out that it would be impractical to wait for 20 or so years to get the experience that cover every word we have written down in our vocabulary so that we remember them.
So really you are BOTH right.
But for practical purposes in learning a language I have to resort to reading and memorizing. And if an experience comes to me where I actually experience that word in one of my notebooks well then that is a bonus, and yes because it was a personal experience I will remember it.
So you are right too. Your point in your last post is correct and perhaps we missed the fine distinction.
You are right in saying: "And the best way to do that is to experience and interact with the real-life objects etc that those words refer to. Next best, is to engage in conversation about them".
But unfortunately, I cannot experience and have real-life objects with every word that I want to remember in my list. And yes you are right too about using it in conversation as the next best. But I cannot in practice do those things. It is more practical for me to use a list and review it and keep on reading and reading.
Anyway, you are both right. Thanks for your input Timothy.
< It is more practical for me to use a list and review it and keep on reading and reading. >
Instead of reading and reading, you might try writing and writing.
If you practise writing, the reading and vocab retention will look after itself.
The best teacher is the desire to impress. Find a friendly forum in the 2nd language, where they talk about something you like; or keep an L2 diary and ask an attractive native speaker to check it for you from time to time.
<<Instead of reading and reading, you might try writing and writing.
If you practise writing, the reading and vocab retention will look after itself. >>
Interesting, I think the opposite. If you practice reading the writing will look after itself, well, at least if you're trying to go from an upper intermediate to an advanced level.
I find reading a lot leads to good writing even without practising very much. For a period of 2 years I read continually, and hardly wrote (or spoke for that matter) anything. After that period I was able to write and speak with hardly any mistakes compared to before, though my speaking was somewhat bookish, but that is easier to correct than ingrained grammar mistakes. The thing is reading develops an indispensable "feel" for the language, which allows you for the most part to tell what is correct and incorrect yourself without correction. It's the exposure. You can only write at the level you can read (though in reality probably much lower than you can read. So if you want to write at a high intermediate level, you need to be able to read at a lowish advanced level etc), and in order to express something you should try to only use structures that you've seen before, or are somewhat familiar. Writing at an intermediate level often tempts students to take "leaps of faith", which are very hit and miss and can have unfortunate consequences!
Though yes, writing/speaking is the best for vocab retention, but not necessarily for vocab acquisition (you can't write about everything, and talking about lugnut wrenches may not be everyone's cup of tea).
Anyway, that's my opinion at least, everybody sees it a little differently and all points of view are valuable.
<<But I was born in Canada and now I am right here on the coast of Italy near Ferrara. I have been here for over three years now.>>
Wow, how lucky! It's a beautiful area indeed!
An interesting comment you made there. I'm hoping you see my post so that you can elaborate on it more.
There may be some truth in what you say.
Your comment reminded me of an occasion when I had to write in French and I thought to myself this seemed a good exercise in forcing me to find the right words and expressions. I had the impression then I was able to retain the French vocabulary I was learning as a result of writing it all down.
So in writing as an exercise to aid memory, you mean having to write down in French something I want to say. If I get stuck I turn to my large "Collins Robert French Dictionary" looking up French verbs or expressions and writing them down the best I can.
By looking up words in the dictionary and trying to figure out how to write it out in good French is good exercise for aiding me in vocab retention. I am really chewing into the very structure of the French language, so to speak.
Is that what you mean, Patroclus?
Bloody hell " a method"! I had just finished writing to "Patroclus" thinking he had an interesting point and no sooner than I posted my comment I noticed you just "zipped in" with your post to "Patroclus"! By the way, I say this in all good fun (I get fed up with using LOL).
After reading "Patroclus", I was just thinking, yeah...he's got an interesting point there maybe. Then I read your post in answer to "Patroclus" - sheesh what a name! I always misspell it and have to correct it! - and you know, bang, I am back to you.
After the experience you described in your post to Patroclus, I agree with you 100 per cent. Sorry Patroclus.
Your account "a method" rings true to me for two reasons. One, is I have always felt that reading is what does it. Period. Even amongst Anglophones, you can always tell who are well-read. The ones who have read more are the ones who are able to express themselves more, who are more articulate and concise in their language.
Two, I have a brother that many many years ago when he was back in England he was studying Italian. He was reading Italian aswell. When he moved to Italy, I went to visit him. He had been in Italy for over a year at that time. My surprise was that his Italian was actually worse than it was back in England! He too knew why. He confessed to me that yes it's true, his Italian has slipped even though he had been here for over a year. The reason he said to me was that for over a year he had stopped doing any Italian reading whatsoever. He did no reading at all. Whereas back in England, he was reading Italian.
So this example well illustrates that it is not so much being in the country that makes you better at speaking a foreign language but the actual effort you put into it yourself, studying the language, and reading is paramount.
So, okay, "a method" I agree completely with your experience. It relates well to mine or rather my brother.
I love the way you wrote this, it is so true:
"The thing is reading develops an indispensable "feel" for the language, which allows you for the most part to tell what is correct and incorrect yourself without correction. It's the exposure. You can only write at the level you can read (though in reality probably much lower than you can read."
"a method", glad you told us your personal story on how much reading helped you. It really is and inspiration for me.
I feel sorry for Patroclus now. I think I better say something nice to him. Don't worry Patroclus, I promise I will do some writing in the near future.
Yes "a method", I am literally on the coast. The beach or snow is about 100 yards down and I am facing the canal which has a traghetto to carry people across to and fro the two beach resorts. The two beaches still have shops that are opened all year round for those who live here, like myself.
The area is beautiful but I will tell you, the Italian women here are out of this world. I have been to most countries in Europe but Italy is one country where the average woman is very attractive and stylish. They usually have very long thick hair, slightly wavy, and their complexion is slightly tanned - they never look pale or sickly. They usually have dark penetrating eyes, full lips and fuller thighs than most other countries except for Spain. When they walk around, they carry themselves in a more dignified proud manner. When they talk to you it is firm and direct, not shy and overly apologetic.
There is a bar at a resort nearby, that is a little bit way off but it is refined and casual at the same time. I know the people there and they are always very friendly. They play very cool music, like Monte Carlo style, if that means anything, and the tables and chairs are more Caribbean in style, with lighted candles on the bar and tables.
When that bar is open in the summer, well, it's summer time. I used to think that the French were equally as stylish as the Italians, but, after living here I disagree. I am not saying it is necessarily a good thing but just a plain fact. The Italians are concerned with style just as the Germans are concerned with functionality or engineering, I suppose.
I’m sitting at that open bar feeling the warm gentle wind brushing my face, the music low and rhythmic, the beautiful Italian waitress comes up to my table asking me if she can get me another glass of prosecco. And I’m thinking, hell I’ll order a whole case of prosecco just to keep you coming to my table!
I am sitting there munching on my peanuts, crisps, popcorn and olives, washing them down with my prosecco feeling completely relaxed and trying to look…”cool” at the same time.
All of sudden the atmosphere changes. Two men drinking at the bar turn their shoulders round. Marco the bar owner sees them coming in and raises the volume slightly, the evening starts.
One, two, four beautiful women make their entrance followed by their male companions. The women are stunning, unbelievably exotic. Their long hair flowing and bouncing on the middle of their backs in rhythm to the gait. The music beat is now getting stronger. They stroll in like actresses with tanned arms and thighs, molded to beautiful dresses that make "Laura Ashley" look like a frumpy jumble sale.
They don’t enter the bar like a bunch of giggling, screaming, shouting tarts with no thought of self control. These women are Italian, the blood of Sophia Loren run in their veins. They are composed, elegant and self-possessed.
The men, their companions are all sun-tanned wearing sun glasses with dark slick hair, styled suits and jeans, jingling Audi car keys in their hands. They walk in behind the women looking like football stars playing for AC Milan. They shout to the bar owner: “Ciao Franco!”.
I'm sitting there, munching on my popcorn, thinking, gosh, I wish could join their team, even be a goal keeper, I don't mind. Just let me be in the team!
I throw another popcorn in my mouth.
These women walk like models towards the bar, now smiling, as Franco set them up with their drinks. One of them walks in my direction. She has confident features; flashing eyes brimming with character, lips full, luscious like a tulip. Her flowing, elegant dress tantalizingly reveal tanned thighs. For a brief moment she turns her head towards me, flashing me a smile revealing to me pearly white teeth and for a moment you ask yourself did I forget to brush my teeth this morning? I bloody well hope not!
Her eyes, burning black coals, lock onto mine for an instant filling me with energy and excitement. At that moment I felt like scoring for the team. Hell, forget the team I’ll do it for her! Meanwhile she walks past, leaving me offside.
I throw another popcorn in my mouth.
Sorry…I…er…I think I got carried away here. Off topic. I think this glass of Italian wine I got with me here , is a little too good.
<The thing is reading develops an indispensable "feel" for the language, which allows you for the most part to tell what is correct and incorrect yourself without correction. It's the exposure. You can only write at the level you can read (though in reality probably much lower than you can read." >
You're right about the "feel" for the language. I don't say "don't read"; quite the opposite. I say "write, and you will find reading much easier". Or, "write, and learning vocab will look after itself".
As I said though, you need some validation of your writing by native speakers (e.g. on forums, or one of the attractive L2 natives Wolf mentions).
wolf727. can you only inport lists on the byki lite then..? cant you add your own lists..? i had the lite version years ago and upgraded to the deluxe version, i cant remember if you can make your own lists with the lite version or not..? Well there are others similar to byki [ stated in the other posts ] they work just the same really. Is reading in your target language really that good to get your self on the road to fluency wolf727, a method ..? i do read books in spanish [ maybe not enough though ] but everything i read is outloud for the pronouciation. What ways of reading do you guys recommend ..? how long everyday..? read all out loud or mix it with reading silently..? when i talk in spanish i have problems constructing what i am going to say.! I translate from english first and thus it takes double time.. ha ha.. so does reading in your target language eventually transfer to your spoken target language making it alot more easy for constructing ..?
wolf727. i understand what you mean about the italian women, here in spain [ madrid ] the women are very similar..!! walk round the center of madrid especially in the summer and your eyes will be joining your jaw on the floor..hahaha there very stunning..!!
My German has reached a level which allows me to tackle a popular novel that isn't too complex. Nevertheless, I still meet many new words although I can often guess their meaning from the context of the sentence.
I do tend to look these words up which slows down my reading. I know I should probably just plough on but I am eager to learn new things. I tend to read with my laptop close at hand so I can quickly type a strange word into an electronic dictionary. But it can be VERY frustrating when you research the meaning of a word, only to realise that you have in fact met it before and have forgotten it in the meantime.
I find reading really does help my awareness of the structure of the language.
<So in writing as an exercise to aid memory, you mean having to write down in French something I want to say. If I get stuck I turn to my large "Collins Robert French Dictionary" looking up French verbs or expressions and writing them down the best I can. >
The point to remember is that you have both an active (speaking, writing) and a passive (reading, listening) vocabulary in your target language.
You need to cultivate both; but in different ways. For instance, in your active vocab, you need to know the most frequent 1500 words (and the most common phrases) very well indeed, so that if you read the equivalent in English, you can instantly think of it in your L2.
Writing will fix these words and phrases, as you'll naturally have to use them.
The plus is, if you know a word well enough to use, you will always recognise it when you read it (passive context). That's why I say that the reading will take care of itself.
On the other hand, there are other words that you only need to recognise, and won't ever use (e.g. many of the words you come across in novels). If you can guess the general meaning of these from the context, it may not even be worth looking them up.
Match your investment to frequency. Put a lot of time into learning the most frequent words and phrases very well. Put no time at all into learning the terms for baize, long johns, bass clef, spanner, corncrake, ectoplasm.
So far I like the advice of BOTH "a method" and Patroclus. They are BOTH right.
Also, I see your point -- and now Ben Franklin's point -- that it would take you much longer to seek out and accummulate 500 experiences with 500 words, than it would if you just dealt with them on paper. So I stand corrected.
For me, it seems the FASTEST way I would learn the target language, is if I had a native speaker just walk around the room (and then outside) with me, pointing things out, saying their name, having me repeat it until correct, and then move on to the next. But how could I find someone who really wants to do that?
If I had such a person, I could learn 500 words in only a couple days it seems.
<<For me, it seems the FASTEST way I would learn the target language, is if I had a native speaker just walk around the room (and then outside) with me, pointing things out, saying their name, having me repeat it until correct, and then move on to the next. But how could I find someone who really wants to do that? >>
I think I drove my wife daft, asking "what's German for this" and "what's German for that" but it did help me learn things quickly. Pushed her patience to the limit though.