Wednesday, November 21, 2007

"When" "a little" "is" "not" "okay"

I read recently that average English speakers actively use 15,000 - 50,000 words, and have up to 100,000 more in their passive vocabularies. It's easy to take this for granted, unless maybe you're currently involved in some activity like editing, learning another language, or teaching, or you happen to be a particularly reflective or grateful person.

For comparison, there are 1145 words in my Italian children's dictionary. Most of these are common objects, people, feelings, or actions, the most complicated of which include "lever," "armor," and "to extinguish." Though you can't fairly compare the number of words in different languages (I heard once the ratio of English to Spanish words was 2:1), I am still astounded by how many words there are to know.

Lately I've also been alternately amazed and dismayed by how much and how little I'm able to communicate with my meager Italian vocabulary. The words "okay," "a little," "everything," "now," "thank you," "when," "is," "understand," and "not" can be combined into a amazing number of ideas, if not always complete sentences. (Though rarely am I able to conjure these from my brain, of course, especially after long expectant pauses in telephone conversations.) If I could be satisfied with communicating like a caveperson, I could probably stop learning now.

All this is to say that, although I am generally excited by the vast quantities of information available to learn, today I am feeling depressed by it. Guess I'll go work on the remaining 1124 words that every six-year old should know.

1 comment:

jenicrob said...

That's okay; you'll be feeling much better in about six months! Has private tutoring started yet?

What are your neighbors like?