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S allard's kernel method

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Despite its simplicity, the suggestion to focus on a small kernel of vocabulary has been a subject of heated debates on HTLAL.

The strategy and the claimsEdit

The basic idea is that it's possible to start speaking a language (specifically French) with about 300 carefully chosen words. Instead of trying to learn several thousand, one would focus on the small amount but master every word well, including its less common/advanced meanings and usage, as well as all the grammar associated with a word.

More controversially, various CEFR-related claims have been made, including passing a C2 exam with a small kernel. While it's true that CEFR doesn't have vocabulary requirements, at the higher levels precision shouldn't be underestimated.

The originator has also repeatedly criticized the idea of counting the words you know, as well as the commonly accepted definition of active vocabulary and the reliability of statistical estimates.

Sociolinguistic backgroundEdit

As a Canadian, the originator has known numerous learners who've been trying to learn one of the official languages for years, often failing due to their attempts to cover more material very superficially. Many of them focused excessively on learning more vocabulary, while continuing to make mistakes in the basic words and structures.

The method allowed them to sound more convincing and handle basic pleasantries well, serving as a solid foundation for future learning.

The general consensus is that the strategy works well when most of the relevant factors are present:

  • a multilingual environment and a "risk" of unnecessary switching to English or another language (in Europe this applies at least to Malta and to practising Swedish in Finland)
  • a transparent language (since the solid base will not be enough for comprehension)
  • a learner who's a false beginner or shaky intermediate, not new to the language

Example kernelsEdit

SpanishEdit

Verbs
abandonar, acabar, aconsejar, acudir, agradecer, alcanzar, analizar, aprender, aprovechar, avanzar, bajar, beneficiar, buscar, caber, cambiar, celebrar, colocar, combinar, comentar, compartir, comunicar, conocer, contar, contribuir, convivir, crear, creer, dar, decir, dedicarse, dejar, demostrar, desarrollar, destacar, elegir, encantar, encontrar, entrar, escoger, establecer, estar, estudiar, explicar, faltar, formar, ganar, gustar, hablar, hacer, imaginar,impactar, interesar, inventar, invitar, involucrar, ir, jugar, llamar, llegar, llevar, lograr, manejar, mejorar, mencionar, merecer, mirar, necesitar, obtener, ocurrir, organizar, pasar, parecer, pedir, pensar, permitir, poder, poner, preguntar, presenciar, presentar, producir, propiciar, proponer, quedar, querer, recibir, recordar, resultar, responder, saber, sacar, salir, satisfacer, seguir, sentir, ser, servir, sorprender, subir, suceder, superar, tener, tocar, tomar, trabajar, traer, tratarse, valer, ver, vivir

Nouns
el acierto, el acuerdo, el adulto, el ámbito, el ánimo, el asunto, el beneficio, el cargo, el caso, el compromiso, el contrario, el debate, el desacuerdo, el desafío, el efecto, el elemento, el miedo, el estudio, el factor, el hecho, el hombre, el lugar, el momento, el mundo, la nada, el objetivo, el papel, el pensamiento, el poder, el problema, el punto, el rato, el respecto, el respeto, el resultado, el reto, el sitio, el sentido, el sistema, el tiempo, el trabajo, la acción, la atención, la calidad, la capacitad, la clase, la comunicación, la condición, la consecuencia, la cosa, la cuenta, la cuestión, la edad, la especie, la estrategia, la expectativa, la falta, la función, la gente, la idea, la imagen, la importancia, la información, la ley, la matiza, la manera, la opinión, la organización, la parte, la perspectiva, la postura, la pregunta, la situación, la suerte, la teoría, la transformación, la verdad, la vez, la vida, la vista, los demás, el antes, el después     

Adjectives
absoluto, anterior, aquel/ll/o/a, básico, capaz, cierto, claro, contrario, convencido, cualquier, definitivo, diferente, difícil, dispuesto, distinto, diverso, envuelto, eso / este, fácil, falso, feliz, fundamental, gordo, grande, igual, importante, interesante, interior, listo, malo, mayor, mismo, otro, pendiente, peor, pequeño, poco, posible, práctico, probable, propio, sano, seguro, serio, siguiente, simple, solo, superior,,tercer, todo, total, útil, verdadero


Adverbs
aun / aún, así, allá, siempre, bien, nunca, jamás, sólo, aquí, allí, más, muy

Pronouns
algo / alguno, aquello, este, lo/a/e/s, otro, ningún, nos, nosotros, vosotros, mi / me, esto / eso, qué, él / ella, cuándo, uno, yo, usted, le/s, la/s, te /ti

Connecting words
a, alrededor, así, como, con, cual, cuando, de, desde, el, en, entonces, entre, hasta, incluso, la, lo, no, o, para, por, pues, que, quien ,sin, sino, tal, tan / tanto, tras, y, ya

FrenchEdit

Verbs

acheter, aider, aimer, aller, arriver, atteindre, avoir, boire,changer, commander ,commencer, comprendre, connaître, continuer, coucher, coûter,  démontrer, dépendre, devenir, dire, donner, dormir, durer, éclater, écouter, entendre, entraîner, essayer, être, expliquer, faire, falloir, finir, habiter, intéresser, laisser, laver, manger, passer, peser, porter, préférer, prendre, préparer, prier, profiter, raconter, regarder, rester, savoir, tenter, trouver, varier, vivre, voir, vouloir

Nouns
                         
la baguette, la campagne,la carte,la chambre,la chance,la chanson, la chaussure, la chemise,la cuisine, la
discipline, la face, la famille,la fille, la forme, la gare,la maison,la mère,la nouvelle,la passion,la peau,la personne, la qualité, la raison, la réservation, la robe, la salle, la soeur,la télévision,la tête, la ville, la voie, la voiture,l'accident,l'an, l'année, l'argent, l'autobus, l'aventure, le bain, le billet, le bien, le café, le cas,le centre, le chapeau,le charme, le cinéma, le cours, le crédit,     le début, le déjeuner, le dimanche, le dîner,le fils, le frère,le fruit, le gramme, le haut, le jeudi,    le jour,le jus,     le kilo, le lit, le livre, le lundi, le magasin, le mal, le manteau, le mardi, le matin,le menu, le mercredi, le métier, le métro,le nord, le pain, l'examen, le pantalon ,le parent, le père, le petit-déjeuner,le peu,le problème,le professeur, le programme, le progrès, le quartier, le rapport, le rendez-vous, le repas, le restaurant, le sac, le salon, le samedi,le sport, le sud, le supermarché, le tarif, le tort,le tout,le besoin,le train, le travail,le type, le midi, la vacance, la fois,le voyage, le vélo, le visage,le soir, le vendredi, le vêtement, l'eau, l'enfant,l'est, l'étude, l'exemple, l'extérieur, l'intérieur,l'ouest


Adjectives

absolu,accessible,autre, cent,chaud, cher,cinq, cinquante, clair, dernier,deux, deuxième,dix,douze, efficace,faux,froid, grand, grillé, huit,neuf,onze,particulier, petit,premier, quarante,quatorze, quatre, quatrième, quelque,quinze,récent, seize, sept,six, soixante, ton/ta/tes, treize, trente,trois,troisième,un,vieux, vingt,vrai Adverbs

assez, beaucoup,  bien, finalement, ici, jamais, là, la-bas,la-haut, longtemps,mal, notamment, toujours, très, vite, vraiment      


Pronouns
auquel, ça,ce,ceci,cela,celui, elle,elles,en,eux,il,ils,je,la, le,lequel,lui,moi,nous,on,quelqu'un,soi,te,toi,tu,vous,y 

Connecting words

à, à côté, alors, après, au revoir, avant, bonjour,chez, combien,com me,d'accord,dans,de, depuis, donc,enfin, ensuite,et, hein,la, là,le,mais, même, ne pas, non,ou,oui,plus, puis,quand,qu'est-ce que,quoi,si,vers,voici,voilà

CriticismEdit

General applicabilityEdit

Like many methods, it becomes less useful outside the environment for which it was developed. The most obvious example is that in a less transparent (or nearly opaque) language, one doesn't have the luxury of numerous cognates and effortless comprehension, which in the original context were further amplified by regular exposure to the language, as well as classes, meetups and other attempts to learn.

Furthermore, the method relies on some fairly specific features like phrasal verbs, whereas in many languages it's not only unproductive, but nearly impossible to implement. Similarly, in many cases it can be easier to learn three simple words than three advanced meanings/uses of a common word. Idiomatic usage is generally easier for those who are at least false beginners.

It's also been pointed out that an aversion to grammar, a tendency to obsess over learning more words and a difficulty with idiomatics are taken for granted, whereas many learners aren't like that at all.

Finally, the originator has been criticized for ignoring legitimate concerns and failing to show the real advantages and limits of the strategy. Frequently he's assumed that anyone who doesn't find the strategy useful is not interested in speaking the language they're learning.

Impressing vs communicatingEdit

The method assumes the possibility of switching to a stronger language, often English. It focuses on impressing a native speaker rather than communicating effectively, so that it's less effective for situations where the priority is getting your point across.

CEFREdit

The big debate is between actually meeting all requirements of C1-C2 vs merely being able to pass an exam. The statement about focusing on 300 words in preparation for a C2 exam appears to imply someone who's already taken classes at A1-B2 and knows a lot of vocabulary, but lacks confidence with some common words. This hardly describes most HTLAL'ers who aim for C2, especially those who care only about reaching the level, rather than attaining a certificate.

Furthermore, there's a lot of variation between the different CEFR exams. In some cases the examiner has to do the evaluation as well, in others he/she is a mere interviewer. Some exams require a presentation/debate while others don't. Objectivity also varies, and the standard procedure isn't always followed (for example, when only one examiner is present instead of two). Due to these factors, some exam situations are more likely to expose your gaps than others.

ThreadsEdit

Defining the speaking threshold kernel

300-word high proficiency kernel concept

How many words to speak?

How many words do we actually need?

How many words for conversation?

How much time studying vocabulary?

Article: students fall short on vocabulary

Average Joe/Jose takes a level test

Moving from B2 to C2

Experimenting with French word frequency

Is counting your vocabulary size useless?

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