Passive vocabulary is more important than active vocabulary.

Just to be a bit of contrarian, I believe that passive vocabulary is more important than active vocabulary. Passive vocabulary is the focus of most of my active language learning. If I have a large vocabulary, the rest will come.

For me, it is more important to understand, to encounter words often in meaningful, and therefore credible contexts. I find it less useful to produce, with great difficulty, a small number of artificial phrases and sentences using my new words, at a stage when I have little familiarity with the language. This is time I would rather spend reading and listening.

I am only now at the stage in Czech where I can have an intelligent conversation, albeit with gaps and hesitations. But I at least have words, passive words, so I can understand what is said. I am also finding that I am able to retrieve more and more of these passive words and phrases when I want to speak. This is after one year.

2 thoughts on “Passive vocabulary is more important than active vocabulary.

  1. I love your approach of reading things you enjoy, since seeing the words in context is the best way to truly understand them, but do you have any advice on how to go about turning the vocabulary active?I don’t have nearly as much experience as you, but I do know what it’s like to try to "master" a language (something which, strangely, some ‘polyglots’ don’t seem to be concerned with), and my thoughts with respect to flashcards are here:http://wp.me/p1Kl4-iaBasically it centers around finding a "catchy" phrase that captures a word, so as to remember it faster and in-context, and strategies one can employ while reviewing to help activate the vocab.However, even still, when I write it seems as though there’s a mental translator from L1 going on, unconsciously, in the background, which imprints my L1 structures onto my L2.

  2. Hi Erik and thanks for commenting. I am not a big user of menomics. I like to flash card in association with a text, or from tagged lists of words or phrases that I have grouped together. I review examples as well. I like to flash card with the word in the target language, and captured phrase and the translation all on the front. For me it is all a matter of exposure. My mind just gets used to it. Eventually I have to use my passive vocabulary, and despite stumbling at first, it I soon am able to speak. We will see how much my five days in Prague will help me.

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