The idea (fallacy) that certain vocabulary gaps (be they “shoelace”, “octopus” or “hovercraft”) are indicative of the lack of functional fluency
Interesting video, thanks for sharing (and thanks AnthonyLauder for posting it!)
I’ve heard the same argument for the word “peacock”. I too have had a similar experience, where my peers may know more words, but don’t have the same level of fluency in speaking and writing.
Also, it all depends on what you’re interested in and what your goals are in learning the language. If you’re doing academic research then the word “shoelace” is meaningless, but if you’re working with kids or interacting with relatives then it may be more relevant.
Thanks for posting a link to my video, polyglot2. Reading through the comments written by viewers, I have been surprised how strong people’s feeling are - not so much about the topic of the video - but about the man behind the shoelace test.
@FluentCzech: “…Reading through the comments written by viewers, I have been surprised how strong people’s feeling are - not so much about the topic of the video - but about the man behind the shoelace test…”
Ah, now I think I get it: this weird “shoelace test” is the brainchild of the skinroid from Planet Clug, am I right?
Passed the shoelace test in Norwegian, English, French, Chinese, failed in Spanish.
Wait, all I need to do is learn the word for shoelace and I am fluent??? Why did nobody tell me this before?
Respect! I would probably fail for German. The word “Stiefelschnur” seems to be ringing a bell - but it would pretty much be a blind guess.
Aha, laut dem Wörterbuch sollte es “Schuhschnüre” heißen - plural also. Aber “Stiefelschnüre” müsste eigentlich auch gehen, oder? (Ich trage doch keine Schuhe - ich trage immer Haix BW Kampfstiefel!)
Das mit den BW Kampfstiefeln ist übrigens kein Witz - ich tue es wirklich, weil…naja…weil sie eben sehr gute Stiefel sind.
Ich kenne eigentlich nur “Schnürsenkel”, Schuhschnüre wird wohl verstanden aber klingt für mich ungewohnt.
“Schnürsenkel” also…muss ich mir merken.
Ah well, I was almost fluent!
Ich würde ‘lange Schuhdinge’ sagen. Vielleicht hab ich viel Deutsch zu lernen.
Well, the shoelace test does probe the relative proficiency in different foreign languages and gives an accurate ranking, at least it does for me.
@Friedemann: “…Well, the shoelace test does probe the relative proficiency in different foreign languages and gives an accurate ranking, at least it does for me…”
Friedemann you are kidding right? Seriously, knowing or not knowing the word for “shoelace” means almost nothing!
Okay, so I didn’t know the darned word for “shoelace” in German. Tell you what, though, I know the word “Treppensackkarre” because I once saw one in a store and thought it looked kind of interesting. So does that make me “fluent” - or do I need to know the words for “skirting board”, “tin tacks” and “masking tape”? (Actually I’m pretty sure I used to know the first one of those, but it escapes me just now.)
So I guess I’m not “fluent” after all. Oh dear. What a shame. Never mind.
@IT: “…and germanophiles (or it is teutophobes?;)…”
Well, to be honest it can be a pretty fine line which divides the two! We always love the thing we hate and hate the thing we love - and I guess our buddy Friedemann exists as the living proof of that!
After reading the title of this thread and with the picture of a shoelace in mind I tried to remember the word for shoelace in Portuguese (my native language), it took me about five seconds until I finally got it. And yet, here I was, thinking I was fluent in Portuguese.
“Schuhschnüre” habe ich auch noch nie gehört, aber ich würde sofort verstehen, worum es geht. In Österreich sagen wir “Schuhbänder”. “Schnürsenkel” verstehen zwar die meisten, aber es wird kaum verwendet. Im Alltag sag ich ohnehin “das Schuhbandl”. Based on that test, I’m “fluent” in my working languages but failed in most of the other languages I study. However, I think I would have managed in all these languages to explain to people what I mean and that to me is enough. “Communication skills” are more important to me than that vague concept of “fluency”. Knowing tons of words and lacking the ability to explain what you mean in case you cannot come up with the right word right away to me is not really fluent either. Being able to give explanations and to understand the relevant answers, that is what I am aiming for. After all, I’m not a walking dictionary
(…) Well, the shoelace test does probe the relative proficiency in different foreign languages and gives an accurate ranking, at least it does for me…" (…)
I’m sure Friedemann was kidding. Pleeease tell me you were, Friedemann
ad Robert “…Schuhschnüre” habe ich auch noch nie gehört…
Tja, ich sollte dieses Wörterbuch wohl verbrennen! :-0
Aber “Schnurstiefel” - das wäre schon ein Begriff, oder? Ich bin fast sicher, ich habe das in Deutschland gehört. (Und es kann gut sein, ich hatte eigentlich dieses Wort im Kopf, als ich gestern das Wort “Stiefelschnur” erfunden habe…?)
Aber wie auch immer. I’m going to have to start hitting Anki, I guess!
Ich würde “Schnürstiefel” sagen, also “ü” statt “u”. Ich sage verkürzt auch “Schnürer” im Gegensatz zu “Schlüpfern”. “Schnürer” sind Schuhe für die man “Schuhbänder” (Schnürsenkel) benötigt und in “Schlüpfer” schlüpft man einfach hinein.
So, “Schnürstiefel” is fine in my opinion, while I have to admit, as I mentioned above, that I have never heard “Schuhschnüre”. Maybe the Swiss use that term even though they probably would say something like “Schnürli” We should ask Jolanda.
ad Robert: “…“Schnürer” sind Schuhe für die man “Schuhbänder” (Schnürsenkel) benötigt und in “Schlüpfer” schlüpft man einfach hinein…”
“Schlüpfer” müssten bei uns “Chelsea boots” heißen, glaube ich.
(Also in England heißen sie das. Ich könnte mir aber vorstellen, die Amerikaner haben einen andern Namen dafür?)
If I were to pick a word to use as a ridiculously simplified (but pretty amusing) way to gauge fluency, I would choose a verb instead of a noun.
Knowing the word for shoelace has never been considered a milestone in anyone’s native language, but the act of tying your shoes (up) is a rite of passage worldwide. Maybe the test should reflect that accomplishment:
In how many languages can you answer the question (repeating the question in your answer) ‘Do you know how to tie your shoes (up)?’
Je crois que je sais lacer mes chaussures !
Now in Spanish: Er…
I am not saying that without the knowledge of the word “shoelace” one cannot be functional or fluent in another language. All I was trying to say is that the more of these words that are maybe a bit more obscure but are by no means exotic or overly technical like for example shoelace, the more of these words you know, the better you probably speak that particular language. So It was no accident that I knew shoelace in my stronger languages but did not know it in one of my weaker ones.
I also found the example given in the YT video of the woman who knows all these words but cannot speak not very typical of language learning at all. As Steve says all the time, the number of words you know and your degree of comprehension is a very accurate measure of your command of that particular language.
Separate words have some sense only for the beginners. To have a good command of a forein language is to be able to use of all these words; it means - to remember them very quickly and to make without some big efforts the word combinations which form our conversations, our speech.
THat’s why: do you know the word “shoelace” or don’t you know? - it doesn’t matter for your profiency in a language.