Passive to active vocabualry

what’s the best way to move vocabulary from passive to active ? I’m looking for lots of creative ideas !!!

Don’t know whether this is creative, but what about starting to use your vocab? Producing something through writing, playing, speaking? And what about talking? To self and/or others?

I find that once I have done enough reading, and especially listening, I have words and phrases in my head that just want to be spoken. Then it is time to speak, and to speak a lot. The more we speak the more comfortable we get, although it is not a linear process. There are ups and downs. But always our passive vocabulary remains larger than our active vocabulary, but our large passive vocabulary enables us to understand what is said, as we struggle to express ourselves with the more limited vocabulary that we are able to activate. However, the more we speak, the more we activate this vocabulary.
Intense exposure is especially helpful. After one year of mostly input based learning of Czech, I went to Prague and arranged to speak Czech 5-7 hours a day. I activated a lot of vocabulary, which now has returned to being passive until my next intensive engagement with Czech conversation.

Somehow I have the crazy idea that when one is in the “large amounts of input” mode, it is pointless to force oneself to produce. I do have a language exchange partner, but I feel so stupid when I’m trying to express simple concepts, which I would understand SO EASILY if I heard or read the same things with complex grammatical complex structures ! I want my mind to suddenly wake up and start producing…okay, call it magical thinking.
But maybe talking to myself…

I find that the embarrassment of struggling to say simple things sets me back. My language exchange partner is very supportive…that isn’t the problem. The problem is ME ! I would love to hav a language exchange partner whose level of English is waaaaay down there in beginner-land. !

While I don’t do it for the Skype sessions I have with my French tutors, I know that many swear by preparation. Have you thought of

A. choosing a topic,
B. writing a few statements and questions. (Opinions, hearsay, fact)
C. informing your tutor that for the next time you’d like to go through your list (see point B).


Come to think of it, I might give it a try myself …

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I like this idea. Thank you.

A creative/magical suggestion?

Feel the force :wink: … As you say the big stumbling block is you (or in my case, me!), maybe you worry that you are saying it wrong, or you’re about to try a word or a phrase that you’ve heard a million times before but you’ve never actually used yourself. I’ve found that a big step is just to stop thinking about speaking, worrying about the mechanics. Just go for it, and trust that massive passive vocabulary that you’ve stored up. You might be amazed what starts popping out of your mouth. I feel so often that I need to make a leap of faith and forget that I’ve never used this vocabulary before.

The first time with everything is scary, which is why it’s best to get it out of the way as quickly as possible :slight_smile:

Re: language partners. I feel this is a bit like finding interesting content. You need to find someone who you feel really comfortable chatting with and you have genuine shared interests. Then believe me you’ll forget you’re speaking another language and all you’ll be aware of is the great conversation you’re starting to have.

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It seems simple but I think it’s really good advice re feeling comfortable with your language partner. I haven’t reached fluency yet in my target language but my feeling is that at this stage, about 50% of what I want to say I’ve never said before or I can’t remember specifically what the correct way to say it is. So I just have to make that leap… sometimes it feels like gut instinct, sometimes a wild guess, sometimes like rational deduction. A lot of the time I feel like I’m guessing though. When I then ask my most frequent conversation partner (my husband) whether it was correct, more often than not I’m surprised that it is, which is great because it gives me more confidence to just go with my instinct. But I know if I was talking to someone who I didn’t feel so comfortable with I probably would have stayed quiet or answered differently, to make sure I only kept to what I was sure was correct. In short, I guess when one is still at these early stages of speaking (like me) and the pool of what you can confidently say is still small, I think creating this environment of trusting your subconscious/instinct is really important. I’m lucky that I live with a language partner (and of course he is much more than that!) but I agree too that the first step is most scary. Once you start speaking more you’ll realize the mistakes aren’t actually that mortifying and then the times you do get it right give you enough of a boost to help you keep going!

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I knew I’d found a great language partner when I found myself diving into the past subjunctive! There’s just some things you can only really do in a relaxed conversation. Equally even though my level of Spanish is now quite high I will still come across people who are bad communicators, have thick accents or an unfriendly way of conversing, and this will directly affect my Spanish. With experience you learn to judge your language level by your most positive and friendly encounters and not the negative ones. And when you find someone who you can relax with, cling on to them! Like interesting content, they are language learning gold dust!

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I think I’m at the point now where I need to (for my husband’s sake) loosen my language limpet grip a little, and find some other partners to inflict it upon! But don’t you think that how well you can cope with the challenging/negative encounters is at least just as good a marker of level?

It is certainly a marker of your level - but I think it says more about your ability to deal with challenging encounters rather than your language ability. In my first language I judge my optimal communication skills on how I perform when I am relaxed, talking on a subject I find interesting, with people I get along with. Performing under stress is obviously a skill but I would never expect my English to be as good in such a situation, so I shouldn’t expect my Spanish to be either. I always think this is important to take into account when you have a “bad language day” or “bad conversation” - it is not reflective of your language level but of your mood and the situation.

This is also why I don’t like language tests!


I understand your problem maybe I passed out for some time, but with practice writing and try to talk to myself in any place, even if I sound stupid will you become comfortable by the time, Focus on the idea rather than language .

Writing is really a great activator of vocabulary and is useful at every stage I think. It feels like “owning” the language, if you start a little diary or something like that. Or maybe even just a notebook to jot down nice phrases or grammatical structures that you come across in reading.

Focusing on the idea rather than the language is also a great piece of advice. Remember that people are not listening to see whether you’ve got the right tense or word order, but are listening for meaning.

“Focus on the idea rather than language .” - brilliant, and simple

I had studied Spanish to a pretty confident speaking level in high school and college. Over the years a lot of words had definitely moved to passive vocabulary. Since I found LingQ I started to listen to groups of podcasts in Spanish that are at a beginning level. Spanish isn’t my focus so I just listen and follow along and move onto the next podcast. I can definitely tell that I’m reactivating some some Spanish words.

With Russian I’ve also decided to go over some of the beginning podcasts that I studied months ago. The sense of reactivating words isn’t quite as obvious, but I also think reviewing the beginning podcasts is helpful.

Which Spanish podcasts are you listening?

Where can I find your English LingQ lessons?


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I have one English lesson. I think about adding more. I guess they aren’t easy to find because I’m not a tutor in the system. You can check in the library of any language with usernames… owner:angiemc

Since I re-set my stats, I’ve been listening to the SpanishLingQ lessons. Earlier this year I’d listened many of the radiolistas uploaded by owner:MissTake

At the upper intermediate level, I have attained a lot of passive vocabulary that I recognize but don’t use. I often play the alphabet category game . It may sound simple, but it has worked for me. Take any topic. Write down 6 categories in chart form that deal with that topic. Randomly select a letter from the alphabet. How you do this is up to you. Write down as many words or phrases that start with that letter that matches the category. The categories are all written in the target language (of course.) For example, let’s say the topic is food. Here are some categories that you could use: ingredients, flavors, experiences, presentation styles, cooking techniques, verbs, idiomatic expressions, etc. As you complete the chart FROM MEMORY, you quickly establish your active vocabulary for that topic and can work from there to increase your active vocabulary by incorporating more terms from your passive vocabulary. I have used the same chart many times for the same topic. After awhile, my passive vocab moves into the active vocab category. It’s an active activity and can be “played” with one or more partners. It’s a great activity for a language group.

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