Language learning an up-turned pyramid?

An exchange with @alchemist in the German forum got me thinking:-

He mentioned how he was looking forward to speaking once he was happy with his reading vocab. As I know the danger of this (there are some languages in which I am a fluent reader, but not at all a speaker), I advised him to pare down his extensive vocab when speaking.

I love to give an amazing guy as an example, apart from myself. He was a proper bookworm and read English and Russian to a very high level, the more complex, the better. Unfortunately he could not/would not differentiate between the various registers and used the same elevated language regardless of the situation he found himself in.

My advice to myself and others afflicted with perfectionism is:

In speaking a foreign language, less is more for everyday use.
Let the less be as fluent as you can, but don’t be too flowery.
Think of it as an up-turned pyramid:
The narrow end is the beginning of the language journey and the broad base (at the top) is all that you can learn.
You should be able to move effortlessly up and down the various levels within the pyramid.

P.S. The thread is Ich Kann Es Nicht Übersetzen Auf Englisch: "Faszinierend ...


I am not happy with my reading vocabulary in English, and certainly not happy with it in German. Still, I am glad I did not wait until now to have conversations in German.

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I suppose over time our ‘learning pyramid’ grows in volume and ease of access will improve accordingly.

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My approach is different. I treat the language as one, written, spoken, business, academic, with whatever vocabulary is needed. I don’t consciously change, although the context certainly dictates the use of different words.

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Hallo SanneT, FYI, Ich habe diesen Post nicht gesehen oder gelesen. Warum habe ich es nicht bekommen? Ich wandere mich, wenn ich andere Kommentare fehle. In jedem Fall, sehr interresante Kommentare.

I rarely practice speaking French outside of France or Quebec. I have been told I sound overly academic and robotic in French. I take this as a compliment. I’d rather spend my free time reading Emile in the original than speaking to bored teenagers and twenty somethings on websites like Italki or attic-dwellers on Sharedtalk/Hellolingo.

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