Monday, October 20, 2008

50 words

This article states:
By 24 months, children will usually have a vocabulary of around 50 words and have begun combining those words in two or three word sentences.
At 36 months, the child has a vocabulary of 300 to 1,000 words!

How does the child learn all these words? Does a child look them up in the dictionary? Do the little toddlers ask for a translation? "Now, what would that be in baby talk?" Or perhaps they do a Google search?

They just look, listen, and guess. Can adults learn the same way or do we need a dictionary and must try to memorize lists of words? ALG World has already proven that adults can learn the same way. We don't need translations. We don't need explanations of how the language works. We don't need to think about the language. We just need the exposure to the language. An hour a week is not going to be enough. You're going to have to give it a try, but do not tell me that you tried for 200 hours. That's not enough. With a language close to your own, it should not take as long as a completely different language.

Too bad there are not that many people in the world who are willing to try this. We need more testimonials from those who learned a language without studying. I guess if this type of language acquisition became the norm, a lot of publishers would lose sales.


  1. Dear Keith, I learned to speak and understand English by listening to the radio at three years of age, and it was a pleasant and effective way to learn. After years and years of exposure to the language, I can tell you that as with the mother tongue a dictionary is not at all unnecessary. It serves me well in finding meaning to words with profoundly abstract meaning and in figuring out spelling.
    I know that children learn their first 2000 words without consulting a dictionary, but they do receive explanation. For instance, it is quite common for a child pointing at a soft toy to be instructed: yes, that's a cat, the cat says miauw! Children do need this instruction connecting words to things and other words to each other as is learned from studies with blind children (who do receive the language, but often not the image and learn the language a bit more slowly).
    So, in my opinion, in addition to exposure to the language, explanation in the language is necessary. Please note, that I do not advice learning translations, only explanations. Since we do not always have our mothers present to explain all our whys a dictionary in the language you are learning (and only in that language) comes in handy.

    Of course, my mother tongue is Dutch and I use my Dutch dictionary as often as I use my English dictionary: to look up names of fashion items, historical events and terms of jargon.

    Oh, and of course I also should mention that I learned German by watching 'The Bold and the Beautiful' at age seven, and by watching 'Löwenzahn'. My German is not nearly as good as my English, though, because apart from television I hadn't a dictionary to look up words I had heard but could not make up the meaning of out of the context.

    At the moment I am learning Japanese by watching Naruto (there is a lot of it) and old episodes of HERO and movies. It helps to change the subtitles on and off and from and to different languages.

    What little French I know I learned from watching French movies (one each week on TV5, but the same movie several times during that week, the first time only watching the movie, the second time drawing pictures of the characters (looking at the screen only occasionally) and the third time while ironing, not looking at the screen at all.

    I am learning Spanish by watching Disney films I know from the English version in the multilingual DVD version, and I am learning Italian by watching Italian movies and the X-files in Italian.

    Oh, and then there is my favourite movie: Sa som i Himmelen, which is Swedish, but I cannot help but watch it at least once a month and my Swedish is getting better each time.

    Did I leave anything out? I am almost sure of it. But I know I am not the only one in the Netherlands learning this way. Dutch television has subtitles, no voice overs, so if you do not want to buy a DVD, you are going to watch Derrick in German, Maigret in French, Wallander in Swedish, Brothers & Sisters in American and never give it a second thought until someone like you poses a question..

    Have a nice day!


  2. Of course I meant to say I watched 'The Bold and the Beautiful' in German.. oops!

  3. Thank you for your comment, Nicole. I took your statement about learning German to mean that that soap opera is or was aired in the German language. Here in Japan, Japanese dramas only run for about 12 episodes, and no American ones are shown. There are very few US shows aired here. How many tv stations can you receive in the Netherlands?

  4. Yes, Keith, we had three German stations, two English stations, two Belgian stations and two Dutch stations when I was seven.
    Now we have nine Dutch stations which have shows in Dutch and foreign shows with subtitles, such as American, English, Frisian, Arab, French, German, Swedish and of course Flemish (yes, with subtitles).
    In addition to the 9 Dutch stations, I receive two Belgian ones (with subtitles on Dutch shows), TMF (a Dutch music station), Nickelodeon (which has cartoons with Dutch voice over), National Geographic (shows in English with subs, comments and advertisments in Dutch), EuroSport (which shows sports with Dutch comments), a station from Amsterdam (in Dutch and in the local version of Dutch) and a station from Noord - Holland, which is the province Amsterdam is located in (this is aired in Dutch).
    I also have foreign television stations: in English there are BBC1 and BBC2, MTV, CNN, Animal planet, BBC World and Discovery Channel. In French there is TV5MONDE. The German stations are ARD and ZDF. And then there is ARTE (which is a part German, part French station that tries to facilitate bilingualism for people in France and Germany).

    But now comes the hard part: I am meant to count the stations..:) I guess it would make up for 28 stations on regular television. You can get more stations if you want to, though. That does not cost much more, but can provide with Turkish television or specialised stations showing soccer or classical music or science..

    I am sorry to read you cannot easily get enough input out of your TV in Japan. We should find you some alternative.


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