As I teach English and learn Hungarian I am increasingly convinced that “less is more.” This is primarily true for beginner language students. A student can only acquire a “second” language through “learning by doing.” Learning huge sets of vocabulary and conjugations leads to a wonderful passive knowledge of the language. But active knowledge comes through use alone, and this requires a different approach to learning. “Less is more” and using a small set of new phrases rather than memorizing a large set of new words will lead to fluency and a “feel” for the language.
So how does this impact my vocabulary notebook? Well, during each Hungarian class I get around 30-50 new words. I still write down all 30-50 new words, and I’m also trying to select 10 on which to focus. In my notebook I try to use these 10 new words in 10 appropriate and grammatically correct sentences. And then I try to use five of these sentences in my conversations during the week. It doesn’t always happen, but it’s a nice idea.
Some words I “know,” but I can’t recall them. I only recognize them when I hear them. Some words I “know,” and I can call them to mind. But these words I can’t use in a sentence very well. And some words I “know” and can easily use them in sentences and daily life.
So what does it mean “to know” a language? Is it to know lots and lots of words and grammitical rules? Nope. I guess the main point is to learn by doing/using/experiencing. And interestingly, this is sort of a life principle…for career, for university, for parenting, for marriage, for faith.