In this post I describe a great way to understand your own language usage and how to apply it as a tool for learning.
Pretty, isn't it? This word cloud represents the Spanish vocabulary that I use the most, and therefore couldn't live without! It's essentially an elaborate word frequency chart; the larger the word in the graphic, the more I use it.
After English, Spanish is probably the language that I most identify with. Some of my closest friends are from the Canary Islands and Argentina, although unfortunately I've never actually been able to spend more than a few months living there. (What I wouldn't give to go back to Buenos Aires and Mendoza…!!!)
Having used Spanish extensively over the last 10 years or so I've built up a large bank of emails written in the language. I went back through 100 or so emails that I sent and received over the last 10 years and copy-and-pasted the text into Microsoft Word. I then used the ‘replace' function to remove all the most common grammatical words: prepositions (a, en), personal and possessive pronouns (yo, él, su), articles (un, una) numbers etc. After that, the remaining text was pasted into Wordle, which then calculates the word frequency and generates these visual treats.
If you're a visual person, graphics like this can be really stimulating and bring language to life. You will almost certainly find that the language you use the most is pretty basic and should reinforce the fact that, in language learning, a few (well-chosen) words can go a long way. In this case: bien (good/well), saber (know), espero (hope), voy (go), beso (kiss). Note that if I hadn't filtered the language at all the list would be made up mostly of the very dull: a (“to”), que (“that”), tú (you), en (in) and so on.
What could be more relevant to you than the words you use day in day out? Let's do it now.
We're going to use emails in your mother tongue. Go into your email and pull up a nice wad of emails you've sent to your friends in the past couple of years. The more the better – at least 50. (If your learning aims are business-related, open work emails instead).
Open up Wordle and click “Create” on the home page. Copy and paste all your emails into the box and click “Go”. It's as simple as that. If you want to narrow down the field you can do it in Word first and remove certain words.
The word cloud that comes up is an extremely powerful message. It shows the language that exists in your world. Prioritise this vocabulary in the language you're learning before you do anything else.
Because this is based on emails, we should remember that we're dealing with written language, which is usually quite different from spoken. However, given that personal emails are often written in an informal style it should still be highly relevant. Looking back at my emails to friends, I know that I certainly write ‘as I speak' (for better or for worse!).
Leave a comment below with the link to your word cloud! I'd love to see it! What words came up that you'll prioritise in your language learning?
1) bien (well, adv.) – Ya sabía que iba a resultar bien 2) beso (kiss, n.) – Te envío un beso enorme y algunas- bastantes- fotos de este verano pasado 3) saber (know, vb.) – Me gustaría saber cómo estás 4) vos (you, pron.) – Que bueno saber de vos… 5) espero (hope, vb.) – Dicen q maniana llegara…y espero q sea cierto xq no tengo mas ropa q la puesta… 6) mando (send, vb.) – Te lo mando en un par de días 7) voy (go, vb.) – También te voy a mandar el libreto del disco 8) casa (house, n.) – Por acá estamos todo bien, a punto de estrenar una casa nueva 9) hola (hello, expres.) – Hola, como andas? 10) grande (big, adj.) – Sabía que era una grande aventura
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