Category Archives: Language Learning

What should I do to increase my vocabulary in English?

Answer by Anne W Zahra:

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When you study English, you have to learn a lot of words (vocabulary breadth).  You also must understand how to use the words you know.  (vocabulary depth).

Vocabulary breadth comes from word study.  You take courses and you learn lists of words and take tests.  You may buy a book or use software to study vocabulary words on your own.  You should do these things because you need to know 10,000 words or more to use academic English.

Vocabulary depth comes from reading and writing with feedbackVery few English students are taught in a way that builds vocabulary depth.  Materials that develop depth are uncommon.  Teachers are not trained to teach this way, but this is needed, very badly needed especially if you speak Arabic, Russian, Chinese or any language very, very different from English.

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A page from the Oxford series Words in Use, and a rare example of a textbook that teaches vocabulary depth.  Students must learn how to use vocabulary words (vocabulary depth), but few textbooks, courses of studies or individual teachers focus on this.  This is one of the major weaknesses in language teaching in general.

How do you overcome this problem?

Reading teaches you to understand the ways words are used.  If you don’t read a lot you will not know how to use the words because you will not understand how they are used.

Writing in the language for a class gives you feedback— important information about what is correct and what is wrong.  You need this feedback, and you must correct your mistakes and you must understand why what you wrote is a mistake.  That does not happen quickly.  It is not easy.  It takes years.

I speak three foreign languages.  I learned them mostly in school or studying them by myself.  I study specific texts and I collect words from them that I don’t understand.  I practice verbs a lot because these cause the most errors.  I use dictionaries a lot and I use the Internet to find what words mean.

What should I do to increase my vocabulary in English?

If you learn a foreign language, what is the most efficient and fast way to improve your vocabulary?

Answer by Mikkel Ramzuiv Pittmann Wilson:

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When I moved to Denmark a little over a year ago, I only had one mission: To learn Danish, and to learn it as well as I could, before returning home for summer vacation. A year is both an extremely long amount of time, as well as an extremely short amount of time; Whenever I meet new people, they are always extremely impressed with my skill in Danish, especially given that I’ve only lived here a year. Why? Well, I was well equipped with the experience of multiple failed language learning projects in my life – I had wasted 3 years of study trying to learn Japanese, and I had a hobby project learning Latin – And while I can’t even understand the most vital of sentences in those languages, I was left with something even more valuable: The experience needed to create a battle plan so my next language learning expedition would not just succeed, but succeed Brilliantly. So what was my plan?

Well, first off, obviously, the first step is obviously to become familiar with the phonology and grammar of the language, but since that’s not what the question is asking, I’m assuming you already have control over those (If you don’t, focus on those first. If you try to build vocabulary without knowing a language’s pronunciation or inflection patterns, you’ll end up making many silly errors despite having a strong vocabulary)

The past year, I was always seen using my two tools that I used to build vocabulary: Reading and Spaced Repitition Software.

Reading seems pretty self-explanatory, however there are a few caveats here. Here, all that you want is text in your target language. It doesn’t matter if it’s something you know by the back of your hand, or if it’s something that you’ve never read before. The only important thing is that you have a text which has many words in it. I’d then slowly read over it, translating each sentence in my head, making sure I knew that I understood what it meant exactly, and if I came across any word or phrase that made no sense to me, I’d highlight it (Or later, simply write down the word on my iPad). I’d probably spend about an hour every day just reading.

Once I was finished reading, I’d then proceed to open Notepad, and go to Den Danske Ordbog (A very good dictionary for Danish – If you are learning a large language like English French or German, I’d advise Wiktionary – otherwise, use your favorite dictionary for your language – or use Google Translate!). I’d then look up each word, and write down the word and it’s meaning in a .txt file.

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You’ll notice I also notated how the word is pronounced, and whether it inflects with -en or -et  – That’s why it’s so important that you know a languages phonology and grammar before you try building a vocabulary – otherwise you won’t know what details are important to inflect, and which aren’t. Also note that every 25 words, I seperate the words with a line – this’ll be important later.

Once I have created a list like this with 100 words, I’d then proceed to open Byki – Byki is a program based upon the philosophy of Spaced repetition, and is very powerful – Some people use Anki, which is free, and while I personally prefer Byki, Anki also works really well, and it’s free. Both programs have windows where you can create lists, which is of course, the next step

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Once we have our list created (I always try to keep my lists around 25 words, and I mentally organize them in groups of 4 lists for 100 words), we then get to the really fun part, where we get to train our new words, which I think is fairly self-explanatory. Once we have trained our words, and are able to recall all of them from memory, both going from the target word to the concepts they represent (Recognition), and from the concept to the word (Reproduction), you might think we are finished, but really, we’ve only just begun. While we can indeed recall all of them from our memory now, in a few days, after learning a lot more about other things, many of the words we learned today will be forgotten, but the good news is, that once you learn something once, it is really easy to learn it again, so Byki and Anki have a special function where you can refresh the words you just learned, and every time you refresh a word, you can now go an even longer time without seeing that word, and still remember it when you need to, until eventually you forget that you ever had to learn that word.

The system is very efficient with regards to your investment in time in regards to most of the other answers on this page (Looking at all of you who say “Just consume media and you’ll learn” – yes, you will, but only very slowly – Especially in the begining ;] ) – It’s also more efficient than Duolingo, which is all the rage these days (I’ve been able to learn 100 lemmas (unique uninflected words) in 1 day multiple times using my method, while Duolingo, especially after the first few lessons, is extremely grueling and slow – 6 or 7 words (Including variations of the same word – e.g. “Tasche” and “Taschen” are counted as 2 words, while you’d only ever learn “Tasche” with my method) in an hours worth of trying to pass a lesson without making any mistakes; That’s one of the huge drawbacks of DL – it’s way too unforgiving) – There are definitely many points where I’d say it is in want of a better way to do it (especially making lists- I’ve wasted way too much time converting my notebooks and .txt files into lists, if I could just make a .txt or an Excel spreadsheet, and then train with that, I’d have saved so much time), but despite its flaws, it is still the best, most efficient way of learning vocabulary I have ever tried.

If you learn a foreign language, what is the most efficient and fast way to improve your vocabulary?

My take aways from this answer:

– Answer represent possible application of spaced repetition approach to vocabulary building, tried by author.

– Importance of learning a language’s pronunciation or inflection patterns, before starting with vocabulary building, as you’ll end up making many silly errors despite having a strong vocabulary in this scenario

Recognition and Reproduction – these technical terms seems to be obvious when you read definitions, but it is important to be aware about these 2 distinct operation we need to perform when handling vocabulary. So: going from the target word to the concepts they represent called Recognition, and when we go from the concept to the word it is called Reproduction. My guess it that the latter requires more time to acquire – you quickly starting recognize words in text, especially given the hints from the context, but reproduction in writing, or more important in speech doesn’t come equally fast (it should be trained separately/additionally).

Prendre – “le verbe magique”

In French verb prendre (to take) is so versatile that it deserves separate blog post by itself 🙂 Well in a way it is very close to its English counterpart, sounds very differently but, as you will see if you read on, very similar in usage/meaning. So prendre in French can have more than 30 different meanings, that’s why it sometimes called “la verbe magique“.

As in french conjugation is by fare more complex/varied and depends on number and gender the firs thing to know about any verb is its conjugation. So her it is:

infinitive: prendre

Indicatif Présent Actif

je prends     nous prenons

tu preneds   vous prenez

il prend        ils prennent

Key thing to remember is double “n” in ils prennent, which is here for pronunciation/sound purposes (it just sounds batter with double “n”, though for non native speaker difference is subtle).

Participle Passe: pris, prise, prises

Once you know conjugation for prendre you also know how to congugate 3 other verbs which are sharing the same root: apprendre (to learn), comprendre (to understand), reprendre (review, reopen, reconsider, resume).

Now how/when you can use this verb.

To talk about transport you use (the same as take in English): Je prendre metro/le bus/la voiture/un avion/le train.

To make an appointment: Prendre rendez-vous avec le médicin (or somebody else)

To take a photo: prendre des photos

Take classes: prendre cours de français

To suggest something, like “Would you like a dessert?”: Vouz prenez un dessert?

To attack somebody: s’en prendre à quelqu’un

Get down to something: s’y prendre: Ce travail – je vais m’y prendre. This job – I’m going to get down to it.

To be conscious/aware about something: prendre conscience de quelque chose

To freeze/catch a cold: prendre froid

To be afraid of/to get scared: prendre peur

To take over the ball (in a football game): prendre possession de ballon

To take a seat (e.g. in transport): prendre place. You may also use this to politely offer somebody to take a seat in transport, prendre place in such situation is much better than something like “Asseois-toi, madame!”

To sunbathe, to lie in the sun, to tan: prendre un bain de soleil, Or to describe result of this activity: predendre de belles couleurs. J’ai pris des belles couleurs.

In shop, when you buying something: Je prends cette veste.

To care about somebody: prendre soin de. Je prends soin de toi. “Le soin” is a noun which means “care”.

Take your time: prendre son temps (almost exact match with English).

 To put on the weight: prendre du poids. “Le poids” means “weight/load/burden”. Je prends du poids.

To take/accept something good/bad: prendre quelque chose bien/mal. Je l’ai mal pris.

To take offence/umbrage (at): prendre la mouche (leteral translation “to take the fly” 🙂 ).

To take care / to be careful: prendre garde

To grow old, age; advance in age / years: prendre de la bouteille/barbe

To fall flat on one’s face (familiar; figurative), to come a cropper: se prendre une gamelle

gamelle [gamɛl] – means dixie/dixy (which according to the Lingvo dictionary military slang for large copper/cauldron for cooking, though I wasn’t able to find this in M-W) or colloquial word for fall.

To bother (harass, nag, plague, worry) the life out of smb.; bluff smb.: prendre la tête

To be high/stoned: prendre son pied

This post is largely based on the below’s YouTube video (all the explanations in Russian). This entire channel worth including in French learning resources as it allows you both learn something and have some fun, but like I said these videos explain everything in Russian.

\nhttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LCHy_2HdW8E\n

French Vocabulary: Saisons – Météo

SAISONS ET MÉTÉO – SEASONS AND WEATHER

Climat

climat [klima] – climate

doux [du] – soft/warm

clément [klemɑ̃] – soft/warm (about weather and temperature)

rude [ʀyd] – harsh/severe/inclement (origin – early 17th century from French inclément or Latin inclement-, from in- ‘not’ + clement- ‘clement’)

humide [ymid] – humid (also: moist, damp, dewy)

sec [sɛk] – dry/arid

pluvieux [plyvjø] – rainy (showery/wet)

temps [tɑ̃] – weather

temps couvert [kuːˈvɛː] (chargé, gris) – the weather is dull/cloudy/overcast

gros temps – storm on sea

il fait beau/mauvais temps – good/bad weather

un temps de saison – normal/usual weather (for particular season)

le temps est à la pluie, à l’orage – It is going to rain/it looks like rain/thunderstorm

le temps est au dégel – thaw is about to start

le temps se met au beau — the weather is improving/becomes fine

Le temps est agréable – The weather is good

Il fait [fɛ] beau [bo] – The weather is good

Il fait du soleil / Il y a du soleil – It is sunny

Il fait doux – It is soft/warm

Il fait chaud [ʃo] /  Il fait bon [bɔ̃] – It is hot / warm.

chaleur (f) [ʃalœʀ] – heat; heat wave; hot weather

Il fait frais [fʀɛ] – It is fresh/cool

Il fait un temps magnifique [maɲifik] / splendide [splɑ̃did] – The weather is splendid

Le temps est clair – It is fine/bright/clear

Le temps est désagréable – The weather is bad

Il fait mauvais [mɔvɛ] – The weather is bad

Il fait gris [gʀi] – it is cloudy / overcast / lowering, louring

Il fait lourd [luʀ] –  the weather is heavy

Il fait humide – It is humid

Il fait froid [fʀwa] – It is cold

Il fait du vent – It’s windy

Il fait du brouillard [bʀujaʀ] – It’s foggy

Il fait  nuageux – It’s cloudy

Il fait orageux – It’s stormy

Il pleut des cordes – It’s pouring rain

Il tombe de la grêle – It’s hailing

la grêle – hail

une flaque [flak] – puddle, pool

une mare [maʀ] – large puddle/pool; pond

Il gèle [ʒ(ə)le] – It is freeze (морозит, подмораживает)

Il fait un temps affreux [afʀø]/épouvantable [epuvɑ̃tabl] – The weather is foul/miserable.

Le temps est stable [stabl] – Weather is stable/unchanging

Le temps s’améliore [ameljɔʀe] – The weather is improving

Le temps se dégrade – The weather becomes worse

Le ciel [sjɛl] se dégage – The sky is clearing

Un vent – Wind

fort [fɔʀ] – strong

glacial [glasjal] – ice; icy, ice-cold, chilling, glacial

léger [leʒe]/faible [fɛbl] – weak

orage [ɔʀaʒ] – thunderstorm

tempête [tɑ̃pɛt] – storm/tempest

éclair [eklɛʀ]/foudre [fudʀ] – flash of lightning/lightning with thunder (thunderstorm)

tonnerre [tɔnɛʀ] – thunder

Quelle canicule! / C’est la canicule! [kanikyl] – hot wave

Quel temps fait-il? – How is the weather?

Les températures baissent/sont en baisse – The temperature is falling

Les températures montent / sont en hausse – The temperature is rising

Les températures restent stables – The temperature is unchanging

Il fait 30 à l’ombre – It is 30 degrees in shade.

Slang/Idioms

Il fait un temps de chien – Terrible weather; or as an author of good post about this french idiom puts it “Chicago weather” (they tell that chicagoans live under gray skies for about 70% of the year)

ça caille – it’s very cold

Some related YouTube videos

French Weather Vocabulary:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0TwphFjcLOE]

Learn French – French Weather Vocabulary:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rs75GlQBdU0]

French Lesson 35 – Describe THE WEATHER Common expressions LE TEMPS CLIMAT Il fait froid chaud:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8cWkQ6UxNII]

French lesson 8 – The four seasons in French – Les saisons – Las estaciones Cursos Clases de Frances:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s_d3RIcxC3E]

Merriam-Webster: Words of the Year 2014

Merriam-Webster recently announced top 10 words of the years of 2014 based on look ups frequency in their online dictionary. So this list is data driven (they are using look up frequency and also have temporal distribution of it across the year) and It’s quite interest to see how spikes in interest to certain words are correlate with real world events. It’s interesting to see that French expression “Je ne sais quoi” (“a pleasant quality that is hard to describe”) made its way into this list (guess what made people wondering about this phrase 🙂 ). I can not help but notice that modern technology makes life of modern lexicographers, dictionary editors and comparative linguist much more easier and unbelievable well equipped for their tasks by contrast with such pioneers of that field as James Murray – for those all luxuries of technology were unavailable (though while working on OED James Murray was already employing crowd sourcing techniques using newspaper adverts and postal service).

Here is video of Peter Sokolowski Merriam-Webster’s editor at large talking about Merriam-Webster top 10 Word of the Year look-ups for 2014:

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You may also read about these 10 words on Merriam-Webster web site. Top 10 words are following: Culture, Nostalgia, Insidious, Legacy, Feminism, Je ne sais quoi, Innovation, Surreptitious, Autonomy, Morbidity.

\nReally interesting to see how real world events influence the look up frequency for certain words.