Words

<<< Strategy

So you want to learn French? Well, starting today you will

  • learn 30 to 50 new words every day
  • check yesterday’s words
  • check the words you learned 7 days ago
  • check the words you learned 30 days ago

You will do this every day, at least 5 days a week. At the end of the week, you will know 150 to 250 new words and at the end of the month 600 to 1000 new words. You will have to continue this regime for at least one year.

Start learning French only if you can allocate time for daily study. Please see below why daily study is not negotiable. For detailed information, download the free PDF of The Word Brain by Bernd Sebastian Kamps and check the GigaFrench Admission pages.

GigaFrench offers you a wide range of word sources:

  1. Texts about God, abortion, climate change etc. (The corresponding word lists will be available within days.)
  2. Jokers (adverbs, conjunctions, prepositions)
  3. Action Words (verbs)
  4. Your own words (coming soon; please check our News frequently)

Learning a second, third or fourth language is a question of time. Wait until you have time before you start learning French.

Challenge #1

What is your major French challenge? The answer is: words!

* * *

It’s 3 o’clock in the morning and you’re profoundly asleep. You don’t hear me when I enter your room and slowly come up to your bed. When I suddenly turn on the lamp and grab your shoulder, you jump out of bed, frightened and panicked. I show you something and bellow one single question: ‘What is this?’

You answer ‘A corkscrew!’; or ‘Ein Korkenzieher!’ if you are German; or ‘Un cavatappo!’ if you are Italian, ‘¡Un sacacorchos!’ if you are Spanish, ‘Un tire-bouchon!’ if you are French, and so on.

‘Good’, I say, and you close your eyes and fall directly, contentedly, back to sleep within seconds.

* * *

Why did I construct this surreal nocturnal encounter? Because it illustrates the way we know words – spontaneously, in the most extreme of situations, and without giving a second thought to it. And that’s the way you’ll have to know French words: intuitively and explosively. To achieve such smooth perfection, you need multiple exposures. Let’s see the details.

Different degrees of knowing

Ask a language novice if he knows this or that word and he’ll answer ‘yes’ or ‘no’ without imagining how horrifyingly imprecise he is. To help him getting a clearer picture ask him, ‘What’s your grade of knowledge of this or that word?’ Now he can be more accurate and answer low, moderate, elevated, high or perfect. The definitions:

 

5 seconds Low Low probability of usefulness
3 seconds Moderate Moderate probability of usefulness
1 second Elevated Elevated probability of usefulness
0.5 seconds High High probability of usefulness
0.2 seconds Perfect Useful degree of knowledge

 

What ressembles the US Homeland Security Advisory System of colour-coded terrorist alert is a lovely demonstration of the ultimate goal of word training and the amazing improvements you can achieve. As a novice it may take you up to 5 or 10 seconds before finding the French equivalent of corkscrew, le tire-bouchon. Months and dozens of bottles later, you’ll do it in less than 0.2 seconds. That’s a spectacular improvement of more than one order of magnitude.

How long does it take?

Equally spectacular, alas!, is the time needed for a word to be irrevocably screwed into your brain. The problem is speed. To read at a normal adult speed of around 6 words per second or listen to your friends who produce speech at three and more words per second, there is little time for reflection. You need ‘zero-point-two-second comprehension’ (‘0.2’). But how?

You’ll soon find out that such intuitive knowledge of words requires usually multiple exposures (or learning sessions). Some words are easy, for example, man, woman, child, water, air, big, small, go, come, do, others are not, like this potpourri from different European languages: Gerichtsvollzieher, jeopardy, abracadabrantesque, zanahoria, sgabuzzino, orçamentário, Bundesverfassungsgericht. You’ll need to see these words many times before attaining ‘0.2’. On average, the multiple exposures add up to an average of several minutes for a single word, depending on your age and other factors influencing your learning speed. If we assume a conservative estimate of 6 minutes per word (you’ll probably need less), 5000 words will require 500 hours. That’s two hours of concentrated study on every weekday during an entire year, all vacations included.

These calculations provide precious information. Based on the number of hours you are ready to study every day (see the left column in Table 2.1), your total study time can be predicted with fairly good accuracy. Are you Spanish, Italian or Portuguese? Then take the 5,000 word column. Are you European from Germany up northwards and down eastwards? Take rather the 10,000 column. Do you know someone from China or Japan who have never learned another language, not even English? Tell them to take the 15,000 column.

 

Table 2.1: Total study time of French words
Number of words to learn
 

Hours/Day

5,000 10,000 15,000
0.5 4 years 8 years 12 years
1 2 years 4 years 6 years
1.5 1.5 years 3 years 4 years
2 1 year 2 years 3 years
3 8 months 16 months 2 years
4 6 months 1 year 1.5 years

* At five days per week; figures are rounded

 

The data are both good and bad news. The bad news: language learning is a concentrated and mostly lonely effort of hundreds of hours. The good news: language learning is not a black hole, but predictable and manageable.

Shame or not shame

Do you feel ashamed that it will take you months and years to learn a new language? Please don’t! Consider that in your own language, you and your friends usually know between 30.000 and 60.000 words and that you didn’t learn these words by simply chatting and babbling at home with your friends and family. Instead, you learned them at school and university, 5 days a week, 40 weeks a year, during 12 to 18 years of formal education. The truly amazing aspect about language learning is not month-long hardship… but the fact that with discipline and perseverance you’ll learn your second language faster than your first native language! You, the bright and dynamic adult, will learn a language faster than the three-, six- or nine-years-olds! In other words, an efficient language course is an awesome exercise of time-compression. Let’s compress together! (I will love compressing you…)

Further reading

Find more information about the importance of words in Chapter 1 of The Word Brain, page 15. Download the free 81-page PDF from www.TheWordBrain.com.