Learn vocabulary in your own language
Today we have a guest post from James in Chile:
I came across this website which helps the hungry as you build your word power and have been playing on it. It’s quite fun (I am at the level 45/46 out of 50 levels) and is the sort of thing I would LOVE to see in Spanish (English has all the best resources). But it made me reflect on the idea of learning words. I have had to do this as I try to get my Spanish up to the level of a PhD in an arts subject (which is who I am linguistically in English), but the idea of learning words in your own language is something that as a Brit I find very weird, though my American friends seem not to. I learn words by reading and reading and looking up sometimes, which means you learn the word and it’s use rather than a list with definitions. Any thoughts on learning words in your own language?
The other thing that the freerice website made me think about was guessing words. If you read a lot you tend to do this as looking everything up is slow and boring, and if you are learning a second language then you do it even more. I am a comfortable 45 on their scale of difficulty and frequently go up to 46, though many of these words I don’t “know” but rather intuit their meaning. Often I use my Greek, Latin, etc to help me, but equally there are words I have no recollection of having seen before but have a gut feeling about: this must be a geographical term or an item of clothing. Do you guess what words mean, or do you always turn to the dictionary?
I got up to level 50 today on the freerice site, but the process is really strange. I have never seen most of these words before and after a few minutes I stopped trying to work out what the words mean (I tend to know or be able to work it out about up to level 46, and I would use in speech many of the words at level 44 and 45). Instead I just looked at the word and the options and went with what felt right. Given that I tend not to know about half the words at level 46 it means I have to intuit 10-15 words in a row to get to level 50, which is no mean feat. It set me thinking about the whole idea of passive and active vocabulary. I’m a native English speaker who lives and works in Spanish, and have studied to a fairly high level Hebrew, Greek, Latin, French, and German. I wonder whether the identity of my other languages help with my English vocab. I can read English as far back as Chaucer and my Germanic vocab is increased by my knowledge of German and Dutch, I studied Latin for 6 years and many Spanish words are strongly Latinate and I had reasonably good French (the third main source of English vocabulary).
Has anyone thought about how “passive” vocabulary works?