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About thistle

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    Language Newbie


  • Currently studying
    Latin, Old English, Irish, French, German
  • Native tongue
  1. The Economist actually had a really interesting article on this a while back and apparently the vocabulary size for native English speakers was only about 20,000-35,000 words, so I would guess that a vocabulary of 15,000 would be well on the way to proficiency in a language....although it also depends on the language. In Latin, for example, one scholar rather famously found that knowing a list of only 1500 words (including all the conjugations, etc.) would let you understand about 85% of any classical or medieval Latin text. It's the last 15% which gets much harder.
  2. It's always possible to start to learn a language outside of school as well. Maybe you could encourage her to join a student club or get interested in music written in another language? I wish I had started learning languages earlier, because it gets slightly harder as you get older and it can be difficult to start it at university with no previous experience, but music and art is important too! If her high school is anything like mine was, you can also switch in later years, and there is often more time in later years to choose more electives.
  3. thistle


    TV will certainly help with your ability to understand English but a lot of actually using a language is the ability to quickly respond back, and (unless you talk to the TV while you watch it!) you can't get that without actually practicing the language with other speakers. For example, I can still understand some French a few years after I stopped taking classes in it, because I still watch French movies (with subtitles), but I can't speak it or write it at all anymore because I haven't practiced that with other French speakers.
  4. Hi all! One of the things I really like for learning languages (and especially Latin because it's so text-oriented) is reading a translation where the left-hand side of the book is in the original language and the right-hand side is an English translation. Doe anyone have good recommendations for this in Latin? I'm thinking of picking up Peter Green's bilingual edition of Catullus's poems and I have David Ferry's bilingual translations of Horace, but some other recommendations would be awesome!
  5. The technology also isn't quite as good as a paperback yet. There's still eye strain, the difficulty of making legible notes (styluses are getting better and better but they aren't quite the same as pen on paper yet), battery life, availability of rare titles, and so on... I like having a large collection of paperback books and the feel of one in my hand, but I also recognize that in the next 10 to 20 years ebook technology is going to make such advances that it'll almost certainly replace a lot of my library. When they have a device with 48+ hours of battery life, a natural-looking screen that doesn't cause extra eye strain, the ability to easily take and save legible notes, OCR and text search, every book available in digital format, and the ability to easily cross-reference a thousand other titles....that sounds like a dream to me as an academic. We're not quite there yet, but it's going to happen sooner rather than later.
  6. One possible explanation, too, is that if you're used to having complete native fluency of a language, and then your skills get rusty after years away, maybe this can feel like forgetting your native tongue. If you have memories of being perfect in your first language and suddenly find yourself forgetting words, stumbling over syntax, and so on, I would imagine this feels a lot like "not being able to speak" the language anymore even if in reality you are still very proficient. This hasn't happened to me with languages but it has with other skills!
  7. "Should" can also be used to express likelihood in the future rather than just the possibility of "could." For example: if I don't know the weather forecast, I might say "it could rain tomorrow." But it might not! Saying "it should rain tonight" on the other hand means that I have a reason to believe it will, like I've seen the clouds or heard the forecast. You can also use could for possibilities in the present as well: "That could be him over there, but I'm not sure." Or "You're coughing, you could have a cold."
  8. One way that helped me think about the subjunctive while in other intro language classes, which applies to English as well, was that the subjunctive is a "counterfactual" mood. This is a broad category you can put all the other things people have mentioned: wishes, hypothetical situations, and also hopes and desires (although was/were usually doesn't apply to that, that's found in other uses of the subjunctive.) English is the only language I know of where there's only one word where there's still a difference between the past indicative and the past subjunctive: was/were is the only place that distinction still exists. (This distinction also exists in the present subjunctive too, when talking about commands and desires: I asked that he be ready at twelve...) However, all of this is fast fading out of many people's writing styles and the distinction is almost never made properly in speech, at least in the parts of the US where I've spent time. In some contexts the proper usage may even sound old-fashioned or overly formal.
  9. There's a saying in Italian, apparently: "traduttore, traditore." Fittingly enough, it loses the pun in translation , but the literal meaning is something like "translator traitor." A translation of a work from another language is its own form of art, and it will never be exactly the same as reading it in the original language -- something will always get lost, and there will always be subtle differences. That being said, I don't think it means we should give up on translation entirely. No one can learn every language in the world, although I'm sure some of us on the forum are trying, so it'd be a shame to miss out on certain works entirely. Reading something in translation is a shadow of the real thing but it's better than nothing! Although in fact the reasons I'm trying to pick up a little French and German is so I can read Baudelaire and Rilke, respectively, in the original.
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