What do you think about this statement that Steve has written about learning languages

By Steve:

“To me a word is like a person you get to know and who is going to help you learn the language. You know lots of people without knowing them in detail. The more often you meet them in different situations the better you get to know them. It is the same with words. The task in language learning is not only meeting words or friends for the first time but also getting to know them through frequent exposure. If you focus your efforts on trying to know a few words very throughly, then you won’t have the time to expose yourself to the words you have already met. We constantly need to see and hear even the most basic words that we are always getting to know better and better”

You can find the original post here: http://www.lingq.com/forum/4/20123/?page=2#post-141152

Mr. Steve: I’m not trying that you receive negative criticism about this issue that I just opened, my only intention is to know the opinion from others. Your learning system from my point of view is amazing and I have learned a lot from your ideas.


I don’t know what is controversial about it except, “If you focus your efforts on trying to know a few words very throughly, then you won’t have the time to expose yourself to the words you have already met.” It’s not like people that want to learn languages to a very high level are staring at the dictionary, trying to know everything about 5 words. People that speak languages at a high level do quality AND quantity in terms of vocabulary. Some people devote many years and from 15,000 to 20,000 hours of study to know a lot about many topics and know each topic in depth. If two identical twins study the same language but one spends 1,000 hours on words but the other twin spends 20,000, you sure as heck would bet on the guy that spends 20 times more hours on learning to have a higher level, although the rate of improvement slows as you get more advanced.

The rest of the quote just said that to learn a word you have to be exposed to it in a lot of distinct situations; most people would agree with that.

No caza, the point of the paragraph, the proposition, is not trivial in my view. It is that devoting time to trying to nail down words, to know the full range of their meaning soon after first discovering them, to trying to use them right away, all of this is, in my view, counterproductive. If you focus on massive input you will achieve a larger vocabulary and better grasp of your vocabulary than by focusing on words when you first encounter them. This is counter to a number of opinions expressed on an earlier thread here about how many words we can learn.

Do you agree or disagree with the proposition?

I never said that soon after discovering a limited number of words, one should want to study them in depth. I agree with you that it is good to know a lot of words and then after knowing the basics, it is good to get more advanced. Personally, I always go for quality and quantity of words in a language, which I can afford since I don’t learn many languages. Other people like to have a basic or intermediate level in a lot of languages, but I prefer spending my time on just one language because I enjoy learning new ways of expressing myself in subtle shades of meaning.

Just for the sake of clarity, the question that started this thread compared two approaches to learning vocabulary. One approach focuses on trying to thoroughly learn words when we come across them, using flashcards, using word list, trying to use the words etc… A second approach advocates massive input without too much concern about how well we know words as we add them to our known words total. This was the subject of a previous thread about how many words we can learn in a day.

If I’m not mistaken more learners follow the first approach than the second approach. I am a proponent of the second approach. The question asked was which approach do other people favor. I am paraphrasing.

I really don’t understand, caza, where you stand on this question. Is it the first proposition or the second proposition? It can’t be both.

It has also not been my experience that people who learn several languages are less capable of expressing themselves in any of those languages. Very often learning two or three languages improves our ability to express ourselves in all of these languages, including handling subtle shades of meaning.

I apologize for the typos. I am using the very handy dictation function on my computer. It sometimes makes mistakes.

To make it very clear: I advocate knowing a LOT of words and knowing them very well. Quality and quantity.

To make an analogy: I don’t know many people that are world-class PhD researchers in math, art, engineering, chemistry, biology and many other disciplines simultaneously. The vast majority of people that specialize in one task are masters in one field while people of similar intelligence and work-ethic that spread themselves thin are not as good in that one field but ok in a bunch.

Somebody (an interpreter?) posted somewhere that companies in general don’t hire interpreters that work in more than three languages because they won’t be as good as the specialist. One thing is trying to reach a native level in one language, or three, or 10. If, for example, Luca had decided to just learn Spanish instead of his 8 (or whatever) languages, are you saying that his knowledge of idioms, vocabulary, and sentence structure in Spanish would be the same as if he had decided to learn 8+ languages like he has?

You are avoiding the question. Do you think that you will end up knowing a lot of words well by focusing on massive input, or by deliberate study of words as you come across them? Which study approach do you recommend?

Wat? I said option 2. Just learning words and not focusing on the minutiae at the start.

"2. "

Steve, what is “massive input”?

Is it basically focusing on learning sentences rather than individual words?

Russian is my second language so coming from English the vocabulary is a huge deal for me. I have to spend time learning individual words. Personally what I do is, learn all the individual words in a sentence, sometimes see them in different contexts and then look at the sentences as whole with disregard for individual words by saying/reading the sentence fast, trying to grasp the meaning of the sentence in its entirety. These days reading a sentence and absorbing it as a whole comes a lot faster and easier to me but at the beginning I absolutely had to break everything down into an individual words.

I have my own system for learning which I never set out to create, it just made itself as I was going along and is centered around me enjoying the learning process. I hate flash cards and 99% of the content on LingQ because it’s boring for me, however it is still an extremely useful/helpful recourse for me to learn new vocab. Personally I love going into Russian chat rooms, watching Russian TV shows, talking to Russian speakers on Skype, reading posts in Russian and learning new words or phrases from all these things. It’s way more fun but still it’s not a good enough way for me to learn on its own. Even though vocab cramming and revising like I do here on LingQ can be super boring it is also super necessary for me. It’s very rewarding when I learn new words here on Ling and then go watch/read some Russian elsewhere and recognize the words I learnt.

Massive input is simply doing a lot of listening and reading.

I am very much against the use of analogies when discussing languages. Other than that, I have no problem with the post; everybody is entitled to his own opinion.

@steve - Massive input is simply doing a lot of listening and reading.
I’ve realised that, with the amount of time I spend LingQing each word, it is going to take me about 4 years to go through all my imported lessons. I’ve decided to follow your advice and not to try and nail down each word but to concentrate on massive input. That way it will probably take about a year to go through the same lessons. My question is how much time on average per week do you spend LingQing and how much time on each language?

I tend to concentrate on one language at a time. I will mostly listen while doing other chores. This can amount to anywhere from half an hour to an hour and a half a day. I usually spend on average half an hour a day reading and/or LingQing either at the computer or with my iPad. I also read in my languages using books and magazines.

I definitely think it is a good idea not to try to nail things down. I think the massive input of many words and phrases and concepts in the target language gradually help you to become familiar with this language and to notice more and more things. I also find it useful to every now and again refer to grammar sources or declension tables and the like. This also helps me to notice when I listen and read. At least I think it does.