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What does English look like if you only understand 80%? Try this exercise and find out.

I recently started a discussion called "What does English sound like if you don't understand English?". Here is the reading version!

You often hear things like "If you know 80% of the vocabulary in a text, you can understand the general meaning". Really? I'm going to tell you a story. As you read the story the quantity of nonsense words will increase, and you will understand less. As you read pay attention to how you feel about this exercise.

98% Understanding (2% nonsense words)

You live and work in Tokyo. Tokyo is a big city. More than 13 million people live around you. You are never borgle, but you are always lonely. Every morning, you get up and take the train to work. Every night, you take the train again to go home. The train is always crowded. When people ask about your work, you tell them, “I move papers around.” It’s a joke, but it’s also true. You don’t like your work. Tonight you are returning home. It’s late at night. No one is shnooling. Sometimes you don’t see a shnool all day. You are tired. You are so tired…

95% Understanding (5% nonsense words)

In the morning, you start again. You shower, get dressed, and walk pocklent. You move slowly, half- awake. Then, suddenly, you stop. Something is different. The streets are fossit. Really fossit. There are no people. No cars. Nothing. “Where is dowargle?” you ask yourself. Suddenly, there is a loud quapen—a police car. It speeds by and almost hits you. It crashes into a store across the street! Then, another police car farfoofles. The police officer sees you. “Off the street!” he shouts. “Go home, lock your door!” “What? Why?” you shout back. But it’s too late. He is gone.

80% Understanding (20% nonsense words)

Bingle for help!” you shout. “This loopity is dying!” You put your fingers on her neck. Nothing. Her flid is not weafling. You take out your joople and bingle 119, the emergency number in Japan. There’s no answer! Then you muchy that you have a new befourn assengle. It’s from your gutring, Evie. She hunwres at Tokyo University. You play the assengle. “…if you get this…” Evie says. “…I can’t vickarn now… the important passit is…” Suddenly, she looks around, dingle. “Oh no, they’re here! Cripett… the frib! Wasple them ON THE FRIB!…” BEEP! the assengle parantles. Then you gratoon something behind you…

How was it ? The first text was quite easy to understand. The second was slower to read, but you probably could guess most of the meaning. But the third? Tiring and very hard to concentrate on. Could you read a whole book like that?

So next time, look for texts that you >90% understand. It's more efficient (and relaxing) to read 500 pages in 100 hours than to read 100 pages in 500 hours.

Sep 25, 2016 6:20 AM
Comments · 35

Haha, very funny text!  But actually I think it proves the 80% theory. If I can ready a text like this, I do have the feeling that I can grab the general meaning. It looks like some alien/zombie/monster story. It is pretty obvious that the person in the third text tries to help a dying woman/girl, feels her pulse, tries to call 91, then realizes that she got a video message by her friend Evie, who studies/works at Tokyo University. Evie wants to warn her friend, is terrified and tries to fight of someone or something and then the message stops. And in the end the person in the story senses something behind her/him. 

My guesses for the words are:

bingle = call, loopity = woman/girl, flid = pulse, weafling = beating, joople = phone, muchy = see, realize, befourn = video, assengle = message, gutring = friend, hunwres = studies, works, vickarn = talk, passit = thing, dingle = terrified, cripett = (a name), damn, watch out, frib = head, wasple = hit, parantles= breaks off, gratoon = sense

Ok, in some cases it is obvious like "bingle" (And I'd be quite happy to have learnt a new word just by context), other words like "cripett" I might have to look up, but on the other hand, if they are not important for the story and not re-occuring, why bother?  

September 25, 2016

Here's a famous example by Lewis Carroll, the 19th-century author who wrote Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass. Although all the content words are nonsense, we can still 'understand' the poem because the structure is standard English:

‘Twas brillig, and the slithy toves 
   Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
   And the mome raths outgrabe.

“Beware the Jabberwock, my son 
   The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun 
   The frumious Bandersnatch!”

He took his vorpal sword in hand; 
   Long time the manxome foe he sought—
So rested he by the Tumtum tree, 
   And stood awhile in thought.

And, as in uffish thought he stood, 
   The Jabberwock, with eyes of flame,
Came whiffling through the tulgey wood, 
   And burbled as it came!

One, two! One, two! And through and through 
   The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!
He left it dead, and with its head 
   He went galumphing back.

“And hast thou slain the Jabberwock? 
   Come to my arms, my beamish boy!
O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!” 
   He chortled in his joy.

‘Twas brillig, and the slithy toves 
   Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
   And the mome raths outgrabe.

September 25, 2016

My source for the texts:

My original discussion on "nonsense listening":

If you like this discussion, please post a comment! This will keep the discussion high up in the italki discussion feed, instead of being drowned out by the constant flood of language partner requests ;-)

September 25, 2016

After reading an article recently on shadowing I went to look for the techniques of Alexander Argüelles and watched this video  The part I found more interesting than shadowing in this was his focus on reading and his preference for finding a book in his target language that he also has a copy of in a language he is fluent in.  Instead of looking up words in a dictionary at all, he learns the word in context by using the book in the language he already knows so he understands the idea of what is being said.

¨Harry Potter and the Sorcerer´s Stone¨ is a particularly good book for this, because it is available in more than 60 languages.

If you have an account, you can get a sample of any e-book in English before buying it.  I always do this before purchasing a book.  When my reading level in Spanish was lower, I started out with a Kindle Unlimited membership so that I could try all the books I could find written at A-1 level and then slowly move up. Because many of those simplified books are very short, the unlimited plan of paying $9.95 per month was a great deal.   I also learned that the easier reading books for adult women could be found just by searching the ¨romance¨ genre- a lot of those books are targeted to women at a less than high school level. 

I still have not read any of the ¨great literary works¨ in Spanish because I think they are less understandable.  I would rather read trash fiction that I can easily understand than great literature that I can´t understand well.  I do think it has built my vocabulary faster than if I worried about my ¨intellectual reputation.¨  I also watch telenovelas, even though sometimes my language partners do not understand why I like them and I don´t like soap operas in English.  I think the overacting and simple everyday language build my skills faster.

September 25, 2016
"I really feel like a cup of coffee."
Since I’m a very uncooperative listener I can’t help wondering what it feels like for somebody to feel they are a cup of coffee.
September 25, 2016
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Chinese (Mandarin), English, French, Persian (Farsi)
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Chinese (Mandarin), Persian (Farsi)