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Do native English speakers often encounter strange words? I mean there are so many vocabularies in English(tens of thousands of words), how can you overcome this? Conversely, in Chinese, there are just a few single words(about 3500 single words). We just put them together to create an easy to remember words. Therefore we seldom encounter some words we don't understand. But in English, I think there are too much vocabularies, and they are unrelated usually(even though there are some etyma). For example, when you are watching The Big Bang Theory, do you get confused when you see some technical terms? No offense, ever since I've been learning English but I'm really curious about English speakers how to adapt to this problem?
Aug 6, 2019 1:01 PM
Answers · 9
May I start with a correction? It's about your use of the word 'vocabulary'. The word 'vocabulary' is not usually plural and it does not mean 'word': it means A SET OF WORDS - usually all the words in a language or subset of a language, or all the words that a person knows. You could say that someone has a large or a small vocabulary (meaning that they know many or few words) or you can talk about advanced or technical vocabulary, for example. We cannot say that a language has 'vocabularies' - a language has words, phrases and expressions. And in answer to your question: Yes, we come across unusual words the whole time, and it usually doesn't worry us. Why? Because, in our daily lives, we come across vocabulary in context. The context will generally give us enough information about the word so that it doesn't cause problems. Even with unknown words, the way that they're used in a sentence usually makes it clear what type of word it is ( a noun, verb, adjective etc ) and more or less what it means (what it refers to, whether it's positive or negative, and so on). Sometimes it's good enough just to have a general idea about the meaning. For example, if a character in The Big Bang Theory uses technical language to do with astrophysics, we know it's technical language to do with astrophysics and that's enough for our needs - we don't need to actually understand the scientific terms (and probably wouldn't understand the concepts even if someone explained them to us), but that doesn't spoil our enjoyment of the programme. Or, for example, if we're watching a historical drama where people are using unusual language, this doesn't cause a problem, either: if a 17th-century soldier attacks another soldier with a xxx, we infer that it's an old-fashioned weapon; if a Victorian mother tells her children to put on their yyy because it's cold outside, we infer that it's an outdated type of warm clothing. Context is everything.
August 6, 2019
It's true there are many words in English. As a native speaker I seldom encounter words that I don't recognize in modern day TV shows like the Big Bang Theory. I have been using English for 24 years now and from my engineering studies I have learnt many technical terms related to mathematics, physics and engineering. If I were to watch a show that revolves around hospitals and surgery I think there would be many terms which I wouldn't know. Unfortunately it is just one of the confusing parts about English - we have many synonyms. My best advice is just to read as much as possible. I find that English speakers who have a very large vocabulary are the ones who regularly read and look up the words that they don't know.
August 6, 2019
Oh yes. I have quite a large vocabulary but I find many strange and unknown words if I read something which is a little more abstract or philosophical. It depends on what I'm reading. Sometimes I read a word and think "I knew the meaning of that once but now I've forgotten". I misused the word 'nonplussed' for years until I happened upon the correct definition (which was in a tweet by Sarah Silverman actually). Or sometimes I will read a sentence like this..."monism and pluralism are conceptions as proper to cosmology as to ontology"...and I'll have to remind myself what each of these words mean. Read any Cormac McCarthy novel and you'll find many strange and beautiful words. Here is an extract from Suttree... "Along the little ways in the rain and the lightning came a troupe of squalid merrymakers bearing a caged wivern on shoulderpoles and other alchemical game, chimeras and cacodemons skewered up on boarspears and a pharmacopoeia of hellish condiments adorning a trestle and toted by trolls with an eldern gnome for guidon who shouted foul oaths from his mouthhole and a piper who piped a pipe of ploverbone and wore on his hip a glass flasket of some smoking fuel that yawned within viscid as quicksilver...Nemoral halfworld inhabitants, figures in buffoon's motley, a gross and blueblack foetus clopping in brogues and toga." English is wonderful and beautiful and flexible and you can paint a phrase as easily as a picture. But every language has something similar. Aren't Cantonese and Mandarin "tonal" languages? You can change the meaning of a word just by changing the tone and pitch, correct?
August 6, 2019
I'm not a native English speaker, but I wanted to reply to your question anyways, I hope you don't mind. One cannot possibly know every word of a language. One of the reasons is because there are so many of them and the other reason is because new words or neologisms are being created all the time and being used by specific groups of people. Therefore, if the language is not a dead language like Latin, it'll continue to be updated with new vocabulary, so it's normal to come across strange words every now and then.
August 7, 2019
Hi Duo, The key fact here is that there are different levels, or “registers”, of English. The level of common speech includes the 3,000 or so most common words, the ones learners should focus on studying and using first. Many of these words are based on the Germanic origins of English, like “house”, “daughter”, and the verb “to get”. The “higher” level or more formal register is full of words that largely came into English from aristocrats, scholars, and scientists. These words are from a form of French, or Latin, or Greek, and they are more specialized for different areas like medicine, law, and the sciences, and more upper class experiences like having dinner parties instead of raising farm animals. Many Latinate words are very commonly used too, but in general they sound more formal, refined, and educated to speakers. It’s the difference in meaning between “to get” and “to acquire”. Using more aristocratic (which itself comes from Greek and means “of rule by the best people”) words isn’t the best choice in some situations. Native speakers talk about clear writing as something that uses simpler, more common (lower register) words as much as possible. We also say that more common speech, with more Germanic-origin words, sounds more sincere. “I appreciate you” is more formal, more detached, than “I love you”. Native speakers’ vocabularies also differ based on the type of work they do, the amount of education they have, and what class or race they are. Each of these contexts has special vocabulary, and speakers don’t usually know many words outside their own areas. What all this means is that learners should get that common vocabulary first. Then think about what you want and need to do with English. Are you working in IT? You should focus on that vocabulary and not literary terms. Are you going to spend time in an English speaking country? Learn practical language for common tasks and some slang. Etc.
August 6, 2019
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Language Skills
Chinese (Mandarin), Chinese (Cantonese), English
Learning Language