How to learn to regognize formal and informal style?

I’ve learnt a multitude of words, but now, as I’m student of this language, I have to know which of them are formal or informal, standard or not standard, colloquial, slang or neutral.
What should I do to learn it?

When you are fluent you will know these things naturally. Until then, don’t worry about it. At least that is my experience.

I will worry, because I have 2 months to get this knowledge. I will be having a test in it!

Useless knowledge, in my view. I am not aware of any lists which categorize words inthis way and if there were you would not remember much. I suggest you read widely on all kinds of sibjects , fiction and non-fiction , and then rely on your own best sense of how these words are used.

Then learning by heart will help you to make it out. But it blows, you’ll probably forget all after test.
Or try to create foreign language environment and WORK a lot. There is not miracles, it depends only from you!

Two months it’s quite short amount of time to progress. This site mostly focus to language as pleasure, not for test passing in two months.

Agreed Cheshirsky. It is not the knowledge of how to use words that is useless , but rather the attempt to isolate this " knowledge" from the natural context of the language. At this site you will find all kinds of content but probably little in the way of swear words. Swear words are somewhat universal and not a problem. If you have been exposed to a variety of contexts you will have no trouble on your test.

I can always recognize when Dutch changes register, although I can’t always tell why. Sometimes, I can see the use of pronouns as an indicator but it’s not always so obvious. Formal pronouns can be used in jokey or offensive kind of ways with sarcasm. “Maar u menheer, bent een…”

So, I’m sensing it before coming close being able to use it. What a surprise. :slight_smile:

In English, the use of contractions (isn’t, aren’t, don’t, haven’t) is a marker for a colloquial, informal register, and the chances are that words and phrases used in that register are colloquial.

Markers for formal, written register include joining words like whether, moreover, therefore. Words used in this style are likely to be formal.

It’s not easy to tell the register from just a list of words and phrases. When you learn a word or phrase it is a good idea to add a note (in the LingQ hint, say) of the register it should be used in.

Weel, my test may base on some text in which registers will be mixed up, so I it wouldn’t be good to just assume that all the text is formal because of using “therefore”.

Other thing is that I don’t know the difference between informal and colloquial . :confused:
Can anybody explain it to me?

Informal is the general term for any non-standard language. Colloquial is a type of informal language and is usually limited to a region. In some parts of southern california you can still hear surf lingo used regularly. This is informal and colloquial. In other places there are different sets of colloquial phrases in use.

I think it is a major task to learn to distinguish formal from informal language.

This is where you see that work starts once you are fluid in a language.

“Fluency” just means that you can produce meaningfull and perhaps correct sentences at certain pace. But a language has much to it than just that.

In fact, it is not so difficult to learn the grammar and basic vocabulary of a language. But once you mastered that, you get into the large field of “idiomatics”. Why would a native speaker use this word rather than that? There is no answer to this question: it is just a custom, a tradition. There is no rule to it, you have to learn every single phrase and keep on learning and learning and learning.

Learning to differentiate between different language levels is part of this huge task. It means, in fact, that you have to acquire an “internal dictionnary” and this requires a lot of reading, hearing etc.

This is why I said that language learning requires much effort (or immersion), and cannot be as easy as described here.

Once fluency is acquired, the hard work just begins…

@Ora - I would say that it too depends on our goals in learning a language. If we’re looking to be as good as a native speaker, then it’s certainly going to take time, but not everyone is training for the Olympics :slight_smile:

I am. :slight_smile:

That’s exactely what I was talking about: There is a huuuuuuge gap and soooooo much work between “fluency” and “native speaker level”.

In fact, I studied translating. The student board once did a survey about the progress the students felt they had made since they started studying translating, i.e. languages at a quite high leve. Over 60% said they thought now that they had made “negative progress”, i.e. they felt they spoke their languages worse than when they started.

This, of course, is not true. But when studying translation, you start to aim for “native speaker level” in your active languages. Until they started, they thought they were fluent, and it was OK, it was more than most of their friends knew. But once the started studying, they were told that this was not enough. In fact, once you are fluent, you just start making those “idiomatic” mistakes. And it is quite discouraging to learn an “idiomatic” way of speaking, since there are no rules, it’s just about “no, I don’t think a native would say this like that” … completely subjective and quite encyclopeadic…

Having done a bit of translation in the past, I can certainly attest to the truth of what you say.
I think in translation, it’s so important to keep perpective on your progress, as it’s extremely easy to feel overwhelmed.

Though, what is perhaps more interesting is that translation is a learned skill, where someone who is bad at translating may actually have complete fluency in the two languages (a friend comes to mind who is near native in Chinese and English and completely fluent in Korean, but struggles to translate between the languages).

Yes, definitely, translation is an extra skill you have to learn in addition to the languages. It is very much like a traditional craft (cobbler, taylor, something like this) - you learn how to do it, on the basis of the language, which you should already master…

konsa, I do not know what your school teaches nor what will be on your exam. However, as a general rule, people who teach language have a tendency to unnecessarily complicate things. Language learning is a holistic process and in my experience cannot be broken down into “learning registers”, “learning grammar”, “learning academic, or business, or formal English” etc.

You need to learn the whole language and this is a gradual and continuous process. The more exposure you have to the language the better you will learn it. If you are exposed only to people to who use informal or slangy language, or to TV shows which use such language, that is how you will speak. Therefore it is a good idea, as a learner, to avoid concentrating on such language. You can never be out of place by speaking a little too formally. No one will be offended if you sound a little stiff.

You can control what you read and listen to. Vary the content. If you need to be really strong in business English, read a lot of business related content, or listen to business broadcasts or podcasts. If you want more exposure to British or American informal language, look for radio or TV programs that have this kind of language. The core language, the core vocabulary and your core fluency will continue to improve no matter what you expose yourself to, since over 80% of the vocabulary and phrasing is essentially the same.

I speak 11 languages quite well, and am working on two more, and I can say that never, and I mean never, do I worry about whether a word or phrase is formal or informal. I communicate. Gradually my ability to communicate gets better and better. At an early stage, I search for whatever word I can come up with , formal, informal or whatever, and just make sure I avoid using any slang expressions that some “helpful” language book might have tried to teach me.

I am sure that the best way to prepare for your test is to just listen and read, using a broad range of interesting content, and of course LingQing or reviewing your vocabulary along the way. If you have specific questions about some words, ask here, or get on Skype with one of our tutors, or native speaker members. Good luck.

“that never, and I mean never, do I worry about whether a word or phrase is formal or informal.”

well, this might work up to a certain level - because natives are quite tolerant when non-natives do not know their cultural codes - but from a certain level on, one should know what he is doing, and distinguishing registers is part of it…

For example, not using “Sie” in German might pass up to a certain degree, but people will think you do not know the language well or even will think you are childish…

By the time people expect me to speak better, I usually do.

I should add that I normally delay speaking until I have accumulated a lot of listening and reading experience. The distinction between “Sie” and “du” is not a difficult concept, one that is learned quite early in one’s listening and reading.

In other words the skills, and the expectations seem to grow in step with each other, naturally.