[Haskell-cafe] Re: Is Haskell a Good Choice for Web Applications? (ANN: Vocabulink)

Chris Forno jekor chris at forno.us
Mon May 4 13:25:47 EDT 2009

Daniel Carrera <daniel.carrera at theingots.org> writes:

> 1) You say that grammar doesn't matter. Well, for some languages it matters
> more than others. German, for example, has a very particular word order that
> takes some effort to learn, and if you get it wrong people really won't
> understand you. In German it's ok if you conjugate wrong, but it's not ok if
> you put words in the wrong place. Second, some people actually enjoy grammar
> better and find that grammar helps them understand the language. I am one of
> those people. Different people learn differently. I learn rules more easily
> than disconnected words. When I learn vocabulary I do better by learning word
> families, and so on. The Germanic languages rely heavily in word derivation
> (not so much English) so that can be important for learners like me.

I haven't taken German into consideration. Perhaps I need to re-evaluate
or restate my conviction. Maybe you can help me find a better way of
putting it.

The idea is that I spent years studying different languages, generally
with a textbook. The textbooks tend to focus on teaching rules and
grammar, with a little bit of vocabulary and dialog each chapter. I
think the focus should be reversed.

Obviously grammar is very important. But is reading about it effective
for everyone? I know that some people enjoy studying formal grammars,
myself included. I consider myself to be a highly logically-oriented
(audio-digital?) learning type, as I expect many programmers are.
However, I still don't remember most grammar lessons. The only way I
successfully became fluent in a language (Esperanto) was through
immersion, and that wouldn't have been possible without a decent
vocabulary to start with. Fortunately Esperanto has a lot of English
cognates and you can build a large vocabulary with it pretty quickly.
And of course it has very forgiving sentence and a rather simple
grammar, but I'm finding the experience to be very similar with Japanese
so far.

That being said, Esperanto, and even Japanese sentence structure perhaps
is not as different as an agglutinative language like German. I'll need
to study it more to find out.

> 2) Your analysis of word count is flawed. Sure, most of the words you read come
> from a very small vocabulary set, but most of the *meaning* in a sentence comes
> from the more obscure words. Imagine that you read this sentence: "In the
> newspaper I read that the __________ said that the problem is that the river
> has too much ________ ".  In this sentence you can understand 90% of the words,
> but you have almost no idea of what's happening. What your word count test
> really shows is that human languages have a lot of redundancy. You could omit
> the word "the" from the above sentence and you would understand it almost as
> well. The word "the" is common and contains very little information.

Absolutely. I'm not trying to claim that you only need 1,000 words to
become fluent, like some courses claim. I do think though that if you
focus on particles, common verbs, etc. up front you'll get to immersive
learning much faster. Again, this has been my personal experience.

The idea is that once you can begin to read with a dictionary by your
side you'll begin learning much faster because you can focus on reading
what *you* are interested in rather than some contrived dialog from a

> That said, do you have any stories in German? I can't figure out where to get
> the stories.

So far I've been focusing on Japanese. I only have 15 or so stories
currently. They take a bit of time to create ;) For now, the navigation
is basically to click the "Latest Links" link in the header bar or in
the "Latest Links" box.

Thank you very much for the feedback. I appreciate it, and I'll take
what you've said into consideration when I rewrite the front page.

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