Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Native speaker language input

Pre-teen to young adult yearly language input estimate:

TV 4.5 HRS 27,000 words per day, 9,828,000 words per year
The equivalent of 98 books.

Other screen time: 4 hours

2 hrs reading, movies, surfing, working etc. Counted as reading @ 150 wpm 18,000 words per day, 6,552,000 words in a year.

Two hours subtracted for video games and other non-productive screen time and accounting for the fact that some videogames do contain spoken language etc. This is fair especially since the remaining two hours are counted as reading. Pre-Teens play computer and video games 3 hours per day, more than teens (2 hours per day) or young adults (1 hour per day). Screens are also used for viewing pictures etc.

Studying 2 hours @ 150 wpm 18,000 WORDS 6,552,000 words in a year

VERBAL COMMUNICATION 30,000 words per day 11,000,000 words per year (your daily life is 5 hours of sitcom)

Total: Approximately 90,000 - 100,000 words per day or 34-36 million words of input per year

Approximate native learning path through input

YRS 1-3 10,000,000 words (max. 30,000,000)

YRS 4-7
TV 35,000,000 words
verbal communication 15,000,000 words
Total: 50,000,000 words

YRS 8-10
TV 26,208,000 words
reading 5,000,000 words (assuming that 5th-grade children actually do read about 5,300 words per day)
verbal communication 10,000,000
Total: 41,000,000 words

Yrs 1-10 easily over 100,000,000 words (1,000 books)

YRS 11-17 250,000,000 words

Total 350,000,000 words (the running text of 3,500 average books)


Anonymous said...

35 The great blessing of being a grown-up

If one suggests to people that they should learn foreign vocabulary in the same way as they learned their own as children, many will protest that that took so very long, and that they simply haven't got time to do it that way.

It is quite true, of course, that children take many years to develop their vocabulary. But adults can acquire a far larger vocabulary in a foreign language, and far more quickly, than a child learning her own language, for the reason that adults 'know' the world already, while children do not. Before a child can grasp a new meaning she has to learn about the reality that the new word refers to. She thus has to do two things for each new meaning. Adults have to do only one. They already know the reality the word refers to. All they have to do is recognise it. If a child of six is presented with a newspaper article on politics, say, she will neither understand it nor learn its vocabulary, however good a reader she is otherwise, simply because she has no experience, either direct or indirect, of the things the words are about. She will have to wait some years before she can master such meanings.

Adults have an enormous advantage. They can get down straight away to mastering the meanings of a foreign language, many of them far more sophisticated than a native child could grasp. To sum up: a child has to learn about the world and a language; an adult only has to learn about a language.

(Learning about a language does, of course, a lot of the time involve far more than learning words and how to put them together. Learning a foreign language inevitably mean, to a greater or lesser extent, learning about a foreign culture, and that may often mean learning new experiences just as children do.)

Extract from The Art and Science of Learning Languages, by Amorey Gethin and Erik V. Gunnemark

"To sum up: a child has to learn about the world and a language; an adult only has to learn about a language."

So, native speaker language input doesn't have to mean anything for a grown up second language learner.



cathy said...

since you asked, here are my thoughts on learning german! warning, very long, but a truncated version wouldn't make much sense.

first off, I'm taking it at a community college (much much much cheaper). so i'm back in a setting with a few 16-19 year olds in high school. but I know that the prof "dumbs down" a lot of his lectures and repeats tons of things for the people starting out.

there is also very little speaking and writing practice. however, i am not sure if it's because that is his style, or if because he only has 5.5 weeks to teach 1 semester's worth of stuff, so speaking and writing are put on the back burner. but it's frustrating for me because being able to form my own sentences and thoughts are what really make me feel as if I understand the language.

he spends a lot of time going over vocabulary - which i think is a waste of class time because that should be the student's responsibility to learn on their own time since we have the audio and definitions. time i feel is more valuable for speaking and writing. but then again, I understand that he knows that most of the class won't look at it if he doesn't cover it in class.

i am also a visual learner. i need to see the word and how it's spelled out. so a lot of time he talks, and since I am not sure what the word looks like, it doesn't get ingrained as deeply as it should, or i start thinking something is right when it is actually wrong. but this problem is gradually going away as I am being exposed to more and more german words. at first it was nuts because I had a hard time making sure that the word I was writing down was what the word he was actually saying.

he also doesn't listen very well. and likes to dominate conversations. for example, if i ask a question, he'll completely make up a a new question, answer that, and then start talking about something else... so not only am I still confused, but am stuck listening to a somewhat related story.

he attempts to teach us "life lessons." Which i don't mind, and in fact adore in all of my past professors. But this one does it with an "I'm older, I know this, things were better back then, I've been there and done that, and...." - I just feel as if he talks down,, rather than connecting with us equally as a mentor. it's a very subtle difference - there is a way to pass down your knowledge and life experience to a student, but it has to be done as a mentor rather than a lecturer. does that make sense? i want to be mentored, not lectured.

I know he's a very intelligent guy. He knows his German, he knows life, etc. - but, i am just not used to a teacher who absolutely adores talking. a lot. and i am not a person who likes listening to speeches. especially in a language class, where I think interaction and using the language is more important.

now, what I DO like: he is passionate about german. he is passionate about wanting students to love learning languages for the sake of learning languages, and not for a grade. he goes into etymology. he tries to bring in outside things and relate them to german. he is a wonderful person and I do adore him. he cares about his students - not just about learning, but he's interested in our goals in life and the things we do.

and yes, i agree, i'm definitely gaining a new type of insight. since i'm going to be teaching english in the fall, now I have a better idea of how I want to teach! and i'm learning more about myself as a student and how I learn.

i feel awful for writing this, but it's just my honest criticisms and comments!

sorry if this was more than you asked for :)

have fun with your german class! hope the int one doesn't get canceled.

reineke said...

You're reading too much into my posts. You're also assuming that I actually care :)

Alex has already written a few days ago about David Crystal and the early teenage period at that other site and you've certainly read his post as well.

It's nothing new.

My main concern here was native input from childhood into adulthood. I intend to draw my conclusions later. No need for the preemptive strike. I am not against extensive reading although I do not care much for the science or the people behind it.

You commented before on how children keep encountering certain words that they already know and how this is somehow lost time. This is actually one of the strongest points of learning through exposure and besides any physiological differences in early childhood likely the main reason why "natives" speak better than advanced learners. The common words are also encountered in more numerous contexts. Even after a couple of thousand hours of German TV I don't feel like I've overlearned anything. Obviously several thousand hours of TV time is peanuts when compared to the amount of time any native speaker has had to spend with the language. And this language is also (according to you) "simple, repetitive, colloquial speech" and therefore easier to master.

TV vs reading. Without doubt, the native-speaking seventh-grader would do better to read more and watch less tv (and also to switch channels to more educational programming). However, if he turned it off completely, he would eventually become less proficient in certain situations.

The programs that most native kids/adults overindulge in are also some of the best programs for foreign language learners for the above-stated reasons.

One big point for reading - proficient readers can read at higher speeds. One hour of reading may correspond to several hours of TV programming.

I was thinking of writing something about how children need to figure out the world along with the language and that adults seem to have an important short-term advantage. However if you're comparing children and adults and you want to do it right you also have to take into consideration many other things. For example adults can also focus longer. On the other side an adult learner does have to figure out how a specific culture looks at the world and this is especially important for distant languages. Children absorb this together with the language. Ultimately children have a crucial long-term advantage in that they will all turn into native speakers. They will also develop very early the unmistakably native aura.

Now, assuming I actually wrote this post, which now looks doubtful, I certainly wouldn't be attacking extensive reading that you're defending way too much in advance.

The majority of my own vocabulary in every language that I have ever attempted to learn has been acquired through exposure.

reineke said...


How many students? I don’t believe you’d be satisfied with most beginner classes – except perhaps with a place like Berlitz (they seem to care about speaking etc.). Not that I’m recommending them btw, I’d probably recommend to most smart beginners (and this certainly includes you) to study on their own and to join a more advanced class later. Or perhaps to do like Kato Lomb and join a more advanced class right away :)

“he also doesn't listen very well. and likes to dominate conversations. for example, if i ask a question, he'll completely make up a a new question, answer that, and then start talking about something else... so not only am I still confused, but am stuck listening to a somewhat related story.”

A Mel Brooks situation.

Life lessons – if they were in German… He’d probably be much better in an advanced class.

Anonymous said...

"You're reading too much into my posts. You're also assuming that I actually care :)"


cathy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
cathy said...

about 20 students, give and take.

and today was the start of German II.

And oh my gosh, I have a real teacher now. I spoke more German today in one class than I did the last 5.5 weeks. i actually had to think today! And for the first time, grammar was explained on the board - written out - in colors - clearly.

Essentially, everything I wrote before is now the complete opposite. In this case, it wasn't the fact that it was a beginning class, it was a prof who just didn't -teach-.

But I do agree about him teaching more advanced stuff - he has been teaching german for 44 years. After 44 years, I don't think I'd want to teach beginning German anymore. Especially with the amount of stuff he knows, it can't be fun teaching German I.

But I am happy now, for I'm going to play catch-up, and by mid-aug, I'll be super in German!

cathy said...

definitely not the same teacher, German I ended and German II began with a new teacher. Each session (5.5 weeks) is 1 semester of German. 2.4 hours a day, M-F.

glad you are enjoying your german classes!

i'm enjoying it a lot now that I'm actually learning it.

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