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中国学生口语自学的误区(四)

2005-08-31 00:00

  Misconception Ⅲ

  I need a rich vocabulary before beginning to speak.

  Often I hear students complain that they become tongue tied,meaning that they can't find the right words. Students will attribute it to a lack of vocabulary and memorize more words to compensate. Then they find after a few more thousand words that their English improves only slightly. Why?

  Your memory is a key element to learning a language and no one should minimize its importance. Without a memory,you wouldn't be able to speak. However,it is also true that a lack of vocabulary is not the culprit17 of communication problems in many instances. It is important to look at other issues,before blaming it as the source of these communication difficulties. I have observed a great many CET-6 graduates who still have a great deal of trouble even uttering simple sentences,while other CET-4 students can speak with much greater ease. How can that be,you might ask?

  The English language is composed of a hierarchy of vocabulary in terms of usefulness. Some words have broad and sweeping uses such as “thing”,“get”,“place” or “do”,while others are useful only for a very specific context such as “export”,“endanger”,“identify”,or “interrupt”. Research has shown that with approximately 800 (some have even suggested 500) key words people can communicate very effectively in English,with few instances of getting stuck. In the times when they were stuck,they could easily ask for assistance. Now we know that 800 words is far below the level most beginner students have even before they begin their GET-4 band level. Why can't all CET-4 students communicate with ease?

  We do not need a complicated linguistic answer to this question. When we think about it the answer is simple. The quantity of vocabulary has only an indirect relationship to the quantity and quality of speech. To illustrate,children learning their first language start out with a limited vocabulary,they do not know half of the words that a Chinese CET-6 student knows,but still they are able to make rapid sentences and communicate with ease. This makes common sense,for we all know that in English we can often substitute a simple word for a more complex one. For example,the word “facilitate” can be substituted with “help”. Thus,the key is to learn the most useful functional words in English first and apply them often in a variety of circumstances,before trying to learn words that are more complex and used much less often.

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