B2 in eight months at the Defence Language Institute

I bumped into some guys in Russia who had been studying at the Defence Language Institue for some eight months. They have from 6 to 8 lessons a day and are expected to learn 50 words a day. Their vocabulary revolves around military terms but somehow they are lagging behind in daily life vocabulary and are not immedately able to understand sentences related to that. They are able to read complex news items which they start to do almost immediately, first reading English news which they then talk about in Russian. However, they are not able to analyse the news to the same b2 level. They are able to understand exactly what is going on who what where, but it is difficult for them to make their own assessment of the news. This might suggest that a lot of their vocabulary is still passive.

It was quite interesting to hear.

Our Russian teacher at the school mentioned it was inhumane to expect 50 words a day. He had come across quite a few of these students. He was of the opinion that they emphasise military terms too much.

This is level is probably also what one might expect in any immersion environment in that timeframe, would it not?

Students are going to forget most of them after a gap of few days. They learn 50 words today and then again 50 words tomorrow. I mean, they are not going to retain them in their long term memory unless or until they see them many times in a variety of context over a course of time. So, the process of vocabulary acquisition is quite slow in reality, IMHO.

You won’t be surprised to know that I don’t think 50 or 100 words a day is difficult if we expose ourselves to enough content through listening and reading, much like we do at LingQ. Of course this depends on the language we are learning, and the languages we know, and how we count words. I am referring to the passive knowledge of these words, that is the ability to recognize them in context when reading or listening. I prefer to count every appearance of a word as a word which of course inflates the word count in inflected languages like Russian. On the other hand the definition of what constitutes a word family as opposed to just another form of a word is rather arbitrary. But I think we are all free to count words as we please as long as we define our terms.

Yeah, imagine learning any number of (carefully selected) words the first day… after 6-8 lessons you should really know how to use them. The military interpreters around here are said to learn 500 words a week.

Not that I’ve ever tried it myself (nor have any plans to do it in the fear future), but I don’t see why it can’t be done.

Theoretically, it’s possible to go through a Michel Thomas course (8-10 CDs) in one day, and who knows how many words you get there.

just to clarify the 50 words are active ones. You are expected to know them and to be able to use them at an instant. List are handed out as I understood it and there are tests.

Just to be a bit of contrarian, I believe that passive vocabulary is more important than active vocabulary. I believe it is more important to understand, to encounter words often in meaningful, and therefore credible contexts. I find it less useful to produce, with great difficulty a small amount of artificial sentences using my new words. This is time I would rather spend reading and listening. I am only now at the stage in Czech where I can have an intelligent conversation, albeit with gaps and hesitations. But I at least have words, passive words, so I can understand what is said. I am also finding that I am able to retrieve more and more of them when I want to speak. This is after one year.

50 words a day in terms of active vocabulary, every day from the very start is probably verging on an unattainable goal. Having said that as one starts to associate certain pre-fixes, endings and letter patterns with specific types of concepts, meanings etc, it might actually get easier in the long run. But from starting a language from scratch, nobody could learn 50 words for their active vocabulary a day and also constantly retain the previous 50, and the previous and so on, unless it’s all they did. But in terms of what “knowing” words can mean on Lingq, i’m sure they could learn 10,000 a day.

A friend attended the ALS (Army Language School, the predecessor of the DLI) in the early 1950s for Russian, and what he has described to me sounds quite similar. His course was for the Air Force: 6 hours per day, 5 days a week, for 22 weeks. The soldiers were given vocabulary and dialogues to memorize every day, and as is not surprising the classroom work was strictly regimented, with the same activities at the same hour each day. He says that their dialogues were not necessarily memorized and could be read in class, but the vocabulary was to be memorized each evening, and it was used right away in the classroom. He did not mention how many words were given per day.

He agreed very strongly w/ the observation that vocabulary was almost exclusively military. There were only a couple of dialogues that dealt w/ non-military matters: specifically, a young officer returned home for a wedding, which I think involved 2 dialogues from the 22 weeks. Even now, he said, he’ll come across words learned at ALS that he’s surprised to find have a different, “civilian” meaning from what he knows. That “полоса” means more than “landing strip” is an example he mentioned.