Memorizing vocabulary, what a pain!

Tom   Fri Jan 08, 2010 5:47 pm GMT
@wolf727: Thanks for posting your thoughts on Spanish learners in the UK. I'm going to post an extensive quote from your message on my blog.

I second the last Patroclus post. I would add that you should focus on structures and phrases that you want to use in your own utterances. When adding stuff to your spaced repetition software, these structures should have priority.
wolf727   Fri Jan 08, 2010 7:03 pm GMT
Thanks to all of you for the above posts.

I just got back in to return to my laptop to find your posts - yeah I know, if it's a laptop why didn't you have it with you?

I want to try write this post quickly so that I can stop procrastinating and do some French reading!

To reply to "daveyboy",

Yes, sorry if I didn't make it clear, I don't remember what I actually wrote. I am pressed for time so I don't want to bother looking back at what I wrote, but I believe you are correct about Byki. Just looked at it and it does say that you can: "Add new items to the included lists. Make your own lists to study, or to share with others on List Central." But you have to upgrade it to a Deluxe, obviously.

But if I was going to go in the direction of flash cards then I would rather do one of these systems: SuperMemo, Mnemosyne or Anki. Because they are geared specifically to making your own lists – they don’t have premade lists. Premade listed programmes that also provide making your own lists, sound more like an after-thought, a bonus. Whereas programmes that were made only for making your own lists, without premade lists, seem more serious to me. I could be wrong but that’s my preference. Heck, even “a method” agrees with me about premade lists.

< Is reading in your target language really that good to get your self on the road to fluency wolf727, a method ..?>

"daveyboy", I agree totally with “a method” and with Tomasz P. Szynalski at

At the above link you will see the face of the guy who created this site and you can hear how perfect his American accent is. Heck, it sounds so good I feel like giving up my Canadian accent and start learning the American one! No, just kidding.

I have been to university in Canada reading French but I was doing all the wrong things, as far as I was concerned. Yes, I got my degree in French but, my French was still “crap”!

I had the same problem as you. I thought in English and I had to translate it into French, my mind was always stumbling around searching for the right French expressions and words. We stumble around because we do not have enough INPUT! You get THAT from reading.

You must read these links by Tomasz:

At that time and for many years afterwards, I was concentrating far too much on perfecting grammar and not enough time on reading and building up vocabulary. You won’t believe the number of years I wasted on trying to be perfect with grammar.

Tomasz and “a method” are right about reading, it is the way to go forward. And yes throw in the other “stuff” like doing some writing practice – as “Patroclus” mentioned in the above posts, listening to a beautiful girl etc – I’m going to get a bad name here soon!

Even with native English speaking individuals, you can always pick out the ones who read a lot, because they are the ones who have a larger command of the English language than the average Joe who makes abusive comments on YouTube. The ones who read a lot of English books are the ones who use English words that the average person in the street has to look up. And because they have read a lot they are able to be more concise and express themselves better.

Bloody hell! I’ve done it again haven’t I? This was meant to be a short post.

Don’t know what “a method” will say here, but personally, I would start reading Spanish novels that are easier to understand, that are interesting and fun to read. Forget about reading out loud. Your goal here is to increase your vocabulary, words and phrases, this is INPUT.

You need a large reservoir of input that your mind can turn to. When you are in Spain and you find yourself hesitating, stumbling, searching for Spanish words and expressions, it means that you do not have at your disposal enough words in your reservoir, your input. Because the Spanish word or phrase does not readily pop into your mind, you then have to resort to thinking it out in English first, and then you start the laborious process of translating it out into Spanish.

For example, in my case with the French language, I find myself with a French person who looks at me in a puzzled manner, for instance, and without doing any mental translations in my head, the French expression, “Qu’est-ce qu’il y a?” or “Qu’est-ce qui ne va pas?” which means “What’s the matter?” springs immediately to mind. There is no hesitation. Because these are expressions that I have come across in reading quite often and/or I have written them down in my Vocab list to be remembered later. It is now input for me to use.

If for example I was a complete beginner in French, my mind would be racing around for words or expressions that corresponded to the meaning “What is the matter?”. Finding no input, my mind being a complete blank, would then start searching for words in French that corresponded with “What”, “is”, “the” - is that a masculine “the” or a feminine “the”?, and the word “matter”. All of this would be very literal and therefore sounding wrong in French. In the English expression, “What is the matter?”, there is no word “matter” in the French expression, “Qu’est-ce qu’il y a?”.

< 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..>

I can’t wait for “a method” to help me out here! Only joking. But actually I like his philosophy and methods. His method of adding word lists to the Word document and occasionally hitting the search button in Word to find that word, I thought was a good simple idea.

Start with novels, stories that are more simple to understand, so that it isn’t too laborious that you have to keep looking up every single word – that’s rich coming from me! Nothing heavy like classic literature or novels that are too difficult. Read the Spanish translation to the Harry Potter’s books, for instance.

By reading sentences that are a more basic, not using too many hard words, you are able to notice the peculiar word orders and what prepositions are being used etc.

This introduces another step to follow. This time when reading, read the sentences slowly and critically. Try to make a conscious effort at NOTICING what preposition is being used after that Spanish infinitive. Notice the word order of the sentence and how it differs to English. Did the adjective come before the noun or after it? Why was that adjective spelt with an extra “e” at the end? I didn’t see any feminine nouns! Oh yeah, right, that noun there is feminine! I thought it was masculine. And so on.

Read the sentences slowly and deliberately, mentally keep yourself alert to what is happening in those sentences. Come up to a verbal expression you don’t know. Look it up in the dictionary – the biggest one you can find! Not those tiny ones. You need large dictionaries that have example sentences. Or use electronic dictionaries. I’m told they are better but I haven’t got one yet. I’ll probably get one when I return to England in the Spring/Summer. Bye bye Italy. When you look the word up, have it written down somewhere, lists as in SRS, Word document vocab, notebook, whichever works for you. Then continue reading to the next sentence and you will find another word you do not know. Look that word up. Add it to your list. Later, at another time, you can devote a bit of time to writing out the new words with their expressions that you may have added as examples. Write it out a few times in order to get it into your memory. Later, when you start reading again, you may come across that same word and you will have probably forgotten it, search it again to see if you did in fact write it up in your Word document by pressing the “search” button, then read it again. You can even write it out a few more times and then you return to your reading. Find out which method works for you in keeping track of words you do not know. “a method” has already explained in one of his posts above the method he uses for writing out vocab lists to his Word document.

By the way, I told you to read sentences slowly and deliberately. I just want to add here that yes, there are going to be times when you are tired and you couldn’t give a damn about reading it slowly and you just want to enjoy yourself. My answer to that is fine. Do it if you feel tired and not in the mood. But it is important that you know about slow reading for content. Please check it out with the above links, Tomasz explains it better.

When reading for the sake of gaining input, I wouldn’t bother with reading it out loud. That’s just my opinion. Just concentrate on reading it quietly to yourself, enjoying the book, looking up words, and noticing the constructions of those sentences.

You’re probably not reading enough. Okay so, just read more.

On the question of how often or how long? Well obviously the more the better. But consistency is probably more important. If you are able to set aside reading at least half an hour a day with conscious effort then that is a good thing. Obviously, if you can stretch it to an hour, the more the better. Because at least you got yourself sitting there reading and not procrastinating as I am doing right now! Joke. When I finish this post I am going to get something to eat and then I shall return to my room to read!

I have always said this to other people. The hardest part in learning a language is NOT so much learning the language;, the hardest part is getting yourself to sit down to learn it!

If you want to practice pronunciation, then set a different time to just practicing vowel sounds etc. Do it in the morning when you first get up for instance. I use to do that myself when I was at university in Canada. I had trouble pronouncing the French “u” or rather I just wanted to be perfect and sound like a real French native.

Read up on how your are meant to place your lips and tongue for that particular sound and just keep on slowly trying to pronounce that sound. The sound is going to be wrong at first. Because your tongue and mouth muscles are not used to being put into that new position. It’s a bit like figure skating practice…hmm…maybe not. Maybe not. I use to love that sport! What I mean is that when you are trying out something new; the muscles have to be forced into a new position, it will feel awkward, and the muscles are slowly and slowly moving over to that new position. Eventually you will make that sound! I used to do this every morning at the university practicing with the French “u” sound. I knew that if I keep at it eventually my muscles will free up and the sound will come out.

Okay, can I go now please? Joke.

Personally, I think reading is important. Many years ago I spent a two week French immersion course in the north of France. The woman who was teaching me French used to be the headmistress of a school. On the final day when I was to return home, she took me to the train station and she told me, now remember, when you go back, you must read, read, read.
Daveyboy   Sat Jan 09, 2010 6:57 pm GMT
wolf727 , A long read is your post..!! but a very good one at that mate, some very good advice you have given me there and its going in to practice as of NOW..!! I read the links you posted above, thats the exact imformation i was looking for..!! [ Thanks to Tom ] i had a deep feeling that grammar grammar grammar would NOT get me fluent..! yeah its ok for the basics but thats it i think... reading is the way, along with listening. Tom i was speaking to one of my polish friends today [ we used to work together in the uk ] my mate pawel but we call him pav..hahaha. His english was very basic when he first came over, he had problems understanding spoken english.. anyway today i asked him what he did to learn the english better.. he said listening [ tv, radio, people ] i asked him if he had learned from grammar books and he said "no" just reading the books and listening..!! that says it all for the grammar books dont you think Tom..? haha.. so my plan as of now is to step up the audio listening [ more hours ] and reading for 1 to 2 hours every day, also looking up the words as i go along and writing them down. What you wrote in the links tom has really opened my eyes as a way to really nail the spanish.!! thank you, and thanks again wolf727.. cheers..
wolf727   Sat Jan 09, 2010 10:21 pm GMT

Yes, I was a little embarrassed by my long post. I thought to myself when I finished finally finished it, "bl**dy hell, that's long! Wonder what the others will make of it?"

In your previous post you started asking questions:

<What ways of reading do you guys recommend ..? how long everyday..? read all out loud or mix it with reading silently..?>

I sensed you really wanted to know precisely how to go about it. So I was trying to give you as much detail as I could. Because I am/was like you, I needed to know precisely what I should be doing to increase my target language input. I was so fed up of getting nowhere and I didn't want to waste time doing the wrong method.

You just mentioned learning grammar. Oh my god! That was the biggest mistake ever that I did. Many years ago during and after university about 90% of my time was trying to perfect my knowledge of French grammar, learning by heart as many rules as I could. I thought that that was the way to go. How wrong I was! I now realize that is not the way to go. As a result my vocabulary was very small at the time.

A small word on this, just to be clear about it. I'm not saying you shouldn't learn any grammar at all. Nothing wrong with doing a little reading on it just to get a "rough idea". When I was tinkering around with Spanish at one time, I would practice writing out the conjugations of some of the Spanish verbs from the book, “501 Spanish Verbs” just so that I would be familiar with them. Not all of them, but just to get a general idea.

If I am learning a completely new foreign language for the very first time, then I will hit the grammar that introduces me to chapters on "The Definite Article", "Indefinite Article", "Pronouns - Direct and Indirect" etc just to get to know quickly what the ground rules are; just to see what those words look like. A bit like knowing what the rules of the game are. The type of book I am relating to were the “Spanish Made Simple” or the “German Made Simple” series. Each chapter would introduce a grammatical rule and then there would be exercises and translations that followed to see if you understood the rule. After going some way through the book, I hit the reading.

So nothing wrong with some read up on the rules of grammar. But definitely it would be wrong to put all your effort on grammar and doing practically nothing with reading. Writing, listening, speaking, going to the target country are all helpful, they are bonuses. But to me reading is the most important.

Sorry, I’m doing it again. My post is getting too long! Anyway thanks for your reply “daveyboy” and I wish you every success.

P.S. I may too have to study Spanish in the future.
daveyboy   Sat Jan 09, 2010 11:07 pm GMT
wolf727.. no problems about the long posts, there all welcome mate..!! like you say grammar is important but not as much as the input of reading and listening. I am convinced this is the way to go also you say verbs..? well i think they are very important to learn at the start, so you know the first person, second person, and so on, as well as the present, past, and future, as well as the other tenses. I have a very very good program for the verbs, its called "Verbarrator" [ only for spanish i think..] i have learned so many verbs with it since i bought it, maybe 300 or more verbs..!! which is great.!!.. but then comes the time to construct them in a phrase or conversation, guess what happens..? haha.. blublable blubble.. the verbs are there but the grammar is not..!! dont get me wrong i can speak quite alot of spanish, more than i can understand, but i am constantly translating english / spanish .. spanish / english before i open my mouth, its a complete ball pain..!! With my new tips and and good advice, i look forward to speaking and understanding better..!! You mite study spanish soon wolf727..? you thinking of moving to spain..? besides the frustrations of learning the language you would love it here its all good..!! es muy parecido el pais italia.. por supuesto..!! cheers wolf727..
a method   Sun Jan 10, 2010 12:25 am GMT
wolf727, thanks for the posts on your experiences. This is turning into a good, meaty thread.

Quickly about reading aloud:

I wouldn't do it UNLESS you have an audiobook and can hear how it's supposed to sound. Why? Because unless you know you are reading it correctly, with the right intonation etc, you could be enforcing errors. Well, maybe it wouldn't hurt to practice pronouncing individual words, but it seems to me there are more effective, less interfering (with the reading of a book) ways of practising pronunciation. As wolf727 said you can practice when you get up each morning. That seems much more to-the-point and less of a distraction from your reading.

In fact, even with the audio, I'd still prefer to imitate radio reports/ tv shows over an audiobook as the speech there is more natural. You don't want to sound like some weird, over-expressive storyteller all the time.

Oh yeah, when reading,make sure to think in the foreign language, don't translate in your head, even if you have to imagine the story in your head in pictures.

As for grammar, I think you should have a rather advanced foundation before you start reading novels. Not exhaustive of course, but you should not have problems with basic things like conjugations for example. When reading, if you see some structure you find strange, try to understand WHY it is written like that, WHY is the subjunctive used here, WHY is the word order inverted, etc... it's hardly ever random, there will be some reason!
Daveyboy   Sun Jan 10, 2010 5:50 pm GMT
a method, thanks for your advice mate, i think it will be a better idea to just read, instead of reading out loud all of the time. I am going to try and read 2 hours every day, and maybe another 30 - 45 minutes at a different time during the day for reading out loud, and audio.. [radio,tv,audio books..] i need to put more hours in to the audio listening to speed up my comprehention as well. I will still do some grammar but not very much..!! thanks again a method.
Daveyboy   Tue Jan 12, 2010 2:39 pm GMT
wolf727, a method, What do you guys think to my new plan..?
wofl727   Tue Jan 12, 2010 5:18 pm GMT

I see no problem with the plan, as long as you keep the reading out loud separate. Do the reading and the vocab list and keep at it. If you can do the radio, TV, audio books as well, they are bonuses. Reading comes first in my opinion.

Don't get too "all heavy about it" though, I have a tendancy to do this myself. Like I said in my earlier post, the hardest part is not learning the target language, the hardest part is getting to sit down and do it.

Out of curiosity, how is the recession affecting the people of Madrid now? I know Spain got hit pretty bad, there were news of shopkeepers having difficulty selling their stock. I know what France was like because I went through it last it year.

All the best.
Daveyboy   Wed Jan 13, 2010 4:42 pm GMT
wofl727. Cheers for the reply, well i am going to stick to my plan and not slack I have kept my reading outloud seperate, its better that way because after an hour of pure reading my eyes start going and driffting around the page..haha.. I put more effort on the in between words now eg.. la,el,los,las,que,como,se,les,unas,unos plus lots more.. because i realise i miss some of these out when i am talking I do the reading first then the audio after, as well as the verbs and a little grammar.!! The crisis in spain is not much better wofl727, there are still thousands waiting outside the emloyment offices everyday from 7.30 in the morning [ to make sure there first ] its no better at all really, its worse..!!


You said in your other post you mite learn spanish wofl727, is it for maybe moving to spain later or ..?
Emmanuel   Wed Jan 13, 2010 6:47 pm GMT
Wow, very useful information! Thanks!
wolf727   Thu Jan 14, 2010 12:21 am GMT
I am in Italy till around about Spring time. Somewhere in April or May 2010 I will be returning to England after having spent over 3 years in Italy.

I go back to England in order to set something up. If after one or two years I feel that I want to return to the continent then it will probably be Spain, but I don't know yet. I can't see into the future.

England for me creates the right conditions to do business. Italy, forget it. Too many taxes, too many expenses, too many restrictions, too many bureaucracies. European countries are good for the social aspect, but when it comes to business opportunities, England it will have to be; it feels more secure and better organized

If eventually I feel I want to get out of England, then it may very well be Spain. But this is looking a few years ahead.
wolf727   Thu Jan 14, 2010 12:22 am GMT
Your welcome Emmanuel! LOL
Franco   Thu Jan 14, 2010 12:45 am GMT
<<England for me creates the right conditions to do business. Italy, forget it. Too many taxes, too many expenses, too many restrictions, too many bureaucracies

And you plan to go to Spain? This country is the same than Italy in that aspect, probably bureaucracy is a bit less heavy. I hope you earn a lot of money in England and don't need to start a business in Spain.
wolf727   Thu Jan 14, 2010 6:14 am GMT

Thanks for your post.

Spain is similar to Italy in some respect, this is true. Italy is nevertheless more bureaucratic than Spain. Business-wise I have been to Spain and I do understand what it is all about. I am under no illusion with Spain. When I went to Spain in the past it wasn’t for the sun.

I know Italians living in Spain, and they all agree that Spain is less of a headache when it comes to expenses, taxes and bureaucracy which is abundant in Italy. That is why they moved to Spain in the first place. If Spain was like Italy in terms of stress, taxes, expenses and bureaucracy, they would’nt have bothered going there would they.

I know many here in my region of Italy who want to go to Spain. Some have already lived in Spain a few years back and now want to go back because they are “fed up” with the system here. The Italian owner of the gelateria bar around the corner, for example, whom I knew for several years, he was living in Spain but returned to Italy because of his daughter. Now he desperately wants to go back to Spain. He just loves it there because for him it gives him less stress. Italy for him is stress.

I am not being alarmist about it, but it is simply what people around me are saying. One of my tenants for example, goes to Brazil every year and wants to live there to get away from the bureaucracy in italy.

You have to ask the question what makes an Italian want to move to Spain if it is already similar to Italy?

The answer is it is similar in some respect but not in all. In terms of stress and the amount of taxes and expenses that one has to pay here, it is incredible. Last year I heard a group of Germans complaining to an Italian about the very same argument the amount of taxes and expenses they have to pay in Italy.

I did not say that I “will” be going to Spain. But should one day after a few years I feel the need to leave the grey skies of England again, then naturally Spain comes to my mind more so than Italy.

By the way, what part of England are you living in, Franco? Tu sei italiano, sì?