General Question

dumitus's avatar

How many words in the vocabulary in the Times do you find unfamiliar?

Asked by dumitus (634 points ) June 24th, 2012

As a student whose mother tongue is not English,
I find the Times quite confusing, if not frustrating,
largely due to its various use of words and expressions,
leading to frequent references to an English-to-English dictionary
of mine. Maybe this is because I’m not such a passionate readers
of books or magazines written in English, but when reading the main article, reaching out for a dictionary for more than at least 15 or 20 times is a saddening experience.
Should I keep trying really hard like this to be better equipped
as a reader or just relax and take it easy?

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24 Answers

gailcalled's avatar

I started reading the New York Times (if that is the paper you are referring to ) when I was in HS and looked up words all the time. My mother tongue is English, and there are still words I bump into that are new. Thaumaturge, for example.

Don’t despair. Either read more or beat up on yourself less.

We here at fluther love to talk about language and usage, Ask us.

We are often better than an English-to-English dictionary.

What’s your native language?

dumitus's avatar

Ah it was just TIME I was referring to!
My mother tongue is Korean, which is very very different from English.
Do you feel at times that the English’s vocabulary has excessive variety so much so that
you sometimes want to reduce it? I feel that way. It seems to have developed too much sometimes..

gailcalled's avatar

Do you mean TIME magazine?

I think that your command of English is commendable. Since it is my native language, I cannot comment on whether there are too many words or not.

However, I cannot image having command of a language as different as Korean. You should be proud of your skills.

Are you comfortable having casual conversations…both listening and speaking?

dumitus's avatar

Thanks a lot!
English is the ultimate source of great pressure and despair for many Korean students
who just can’t find their way into this extraterrestrial language.
I think I am comfortable, but when the conversation turns into a discussion(as it happens often)
I’m likely to misunderstand a couple of points.

DaphneT's avatar

Hi @dumitus, welcome to fluther. You are to be commended for improving your language skills so diligently. No matter what you read, if you are reaching for the dictionary for the meaning of words with 3 or more syllables, then you are doing the right thing. This is more than most who have English as a native language. Over time you will learn which words are technical jargon and which words have gained a place in a Thesaurus. If you do not have a Thesaurus, you may want to obtain one. A Thesaurus is useful in finding a different word with a meaning similar to the original. Think of it as a different way of memorizing what a word means.

janbb's avatar

When my great uncle – an immigrant from Russia – was learning English, he would read the paper with a dictionary. Reading is a great way to improve your vocabulary and understanding of syntax. Keep up the good work and welcome to Fluther!

wundayatta's avatar

There’s only one way to improve, and that’s to keep on reading and speaking with native speakers of the language. English is supposed to be more difficult than other languages because it comes from two main sources (latinate and germanic roots), and also includes many words from a lot of other languages. There are generally several ways to say the same thing.

English has a larger vocabulary than most other languages. Maybe all other languages. So there’s more to learn. If you want to speak it well, you have to never give up on learning more words. It’s a tough task. It sounds like it’s worth it to you, though.

gailcalled's avatar

I just looked up “bespeak,” which is a word that I might become very fond of.

mattbrowne's avatar

When I was twenty I’d say 1%, i.e. for every 100 words there was one that was unfamiliar. The Times contains high-quality texts. Now 30 years later I’m probably down to one unfamiliar word every 5000. I always keep a dictionary around and also keep a special list for new words which is growing over the years. So what’s needed here is patience and perseverance.

Nimis's avatar

I’m a native English speaker and I grew up reading with a paperback dictionary in one hand. It’s easy to quickly thumb through without having to even put down the book you’re reading.

Kind of nerdy, but a great habit. If you do it often enough, it becomes more second nature and less of a nuisance.

Good luck with your studies!

dumitus's avatar

Thanks everyone.
By the way, English has so many words.. that’s a fact!!

gailcalled's avatar

@dumitus: Aren’t there new words being added to Korean?

I learned this morning, for the first time, that the past tense of “bespeak” is “bespoke.” Now to find a way to use it…

dumitus's avatar

Of course there are, but I have to take into account all the words added to English before 20th century… English has been adopting words from several languages for a long period of time right?

gailcalled's avatar

The origins of English are a mishmash of a lot of things.

Here’s a succinct history, painted with a broad brush in order to be short: Excerpts vvv:

“English is a West Germanic language that originated from the Anglo-Frisian dialects brought to Britain by Germanic invaders and/or settlers from various parts of what is now northwest Germany and the Netherlands..

The English language underwent extensive change in the Middle Ages. Written Old English of AD 1000 is similar in vocabulary and grammar to other old Germanic languages such as Old High German and Old Norse, and completely unintelligible to modern speakers, while the modern language is already largely recognisable in written Middle English of AD 1400. ...

The transformation was caused by two further waves of invasion: the first by speakers of the Scandinavian branch of the Germanic language family…and the second by the Normans in the 11th century….

… A large proportion of the modern English vocabulary comes directly from Anglo-Norman

…English developed into very much a “borrowing” language with an enormously disparate vocabulary.”

dumitus's avatar

Are most English speakers as natives happy with this disparate vocabulary,
or do they feel they could do better with just a little smaller vocabulary?

gailcalled's avatar

That’s an impossible question to answer. People use the vocabulary they use and probably don’t think of its size.

Personally, I enjoy learning new words.

wundayatta's avatar

I suspect it makes for happiness, because we have many more ways of saying things than most people do. We can create subtle differences in meaning that others cannot, or have to do in other ways. Increased subtlety allows for greater distinctions and probably helps us be more inventive and creative.

GracieT's avatar

Thank you for saying that, @Nimis. I actually thought I was the only only one who did that.

Nimis's avatar

@GracieT Nope. You’re not alone. I also would mark a dot next to each word I looked up. That way if a word had more than one mark, I’d make a point to remember it more. Ha. How’s that for nerdy?

gailcalled's avatar

@Nimis: Why be pejorative when there are so many better adjectives? Creative. intelligent, inventive, and clever, for starters.

Nimis's avatar

@gailcalled It’s only perjoative if you intend it that way. :)

gailcalled's avatar

I think that “nerdy” comes with baggage.

Nimis's avatar

@gailcalled Agreed. Probably why I like it. More nuance to it than all the popular well-liked kids words.

GracieT's avatar

I have an iPhone that is always by my side when I read. That way I can record new words and definitions I encounter. Whenever I find a new word, I record it. I think that’s part of my problem- I love new words and enjoy books about them.

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