Struggling to reach C1 (problems with increasing active vocabulary)

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Struggling to reach C1 (problems with increasing active vocabulary)

Postby АмериканскийДурак » Mon Dec 04, 2017 6:45 pm

I've been at B2 for well over a year by now, and I have to say I'm really struggling to improve my vocabulary. I can get through basically any situation without a problem, but my vocab limits my ability to read literature, and my ability to speak eloquently. I have also noticed that while my passive knowledge continues to grow, my active* vocabulary seems to be more or less stagnating. The reason for this seems to be that now when I study words, they are rare enough, that I don't use them often enough for me to remember them actively.

If anyone has any advice on how I can improve my active vocabulary, I would really appreciate it.

*by active vocabulary, I'm referring to words that I not only passively recognize, but also can use in daily conversation on my own.
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Re: Struggling to reach C1 (problems with increasing active vocabulary)

Postby LinguaPony » Mon Dec 04, 2017 6:50 pm

Try writing. Then you just will have to look up words you don't know, and the next time you read a book you'll find it easier to do.

I used to write book reviews, but then I got rid of that blog.
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Re: Struggling to reach C1 (problems with increasing active vocabulary)

Postby garyb » Tue Dec 05, 2017 12:16 pm

I don't have much advice to offer as I've been in the same situation for a very long time, but I'll just say that 1 year is a very short amount of time in B2-to-C1 terms, unless perhaps you're studying full-time and/or in immersion.

I reckon that for me to really reach C1 in a language I'd need to be using it a significant amount every day for a long period, which would be hard to do without living in the country and working and socialising in the language. Others have reached that level and beyond just with spare-time study, so it's not impossible, but I do observe that many learners get stuck in a plateau at the high-B2 point, even if they're using the language at home with their partner. By C1 here I mean fulfilling most of the criteria in the official CEFR descriptions and checklists; passing the exam is a whole different subject and that's probably possible with enough specific study.
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Re: Struggling to reach C1 (problems with increasing active vocabulary)

Postby Cavesa » Tue Dec 05, 2017 1:03 pm

Edit:changing a few things. The first time, I thought you were a Russian native learning English :-D

I agree with Garyb. 1 year is not that long, the path from B2 to C1 is simply longer than from B1 to B2.

A few tips:

SRS is an easy way to solve your grievance about learning (and needing) rarer words but not encountering them often enough for active learning. Put them into Anki or Memrise or another SRS, and you'll review them as much as you need.

Reading and listening are great for active vocabulary too. Trust me, I'm a proof. I usually don't stick to srs for long enough to really profit from it, it is just a complement to other things. Vast majority of my active vocabulary in all my languages comes from exposure. The key: you need a lot of input. That is what people usually fail to understand. Extensive doesn't mean lazy, extensive means consuming a huge amount of material. How many thousand pages have you read since reaching B2? How many hundred hours have you spent with tv series and movies?

If you want to use intensive methods, which work well, if you can stick to them. I recommend readlang. Readlang (or learning with text, that is another alternative) is a website. You import an epub, get translations with one click on the word, and save the word for later review at the same time. You can review the words on the website, if I remember correctly, or you can export the list as an anki file.

One of the ways to discover your personal gaps: carry a notebook with you and write down stuff you couldn't say in Russian. Stuff you are thinking about, buying in a shop, talking about with friends, studying, doing at work, and so on. Don't rely on your memory, you will not remember vast majority of the list by the time you get home. Write it down and look it up. It's not just about the vocabulary you need (but it is great for it, as noone else knows your needs better than you do). You can also make other notes to direct your studies such as grammar you are not sure about, a phrase you say and it doesn't feel natural, or a nice sentence you hear from a native.


The C1 and C2 level vocabulary consists of various categories. I like to sort it into three groups:

1.Stuff that is considered advanced. It may seem rather academic (subjects like politics or ethics or biology) or it may be colloquial to an extreme (there tends to be some really weird stuff in some coursebooks and some teachers love it. Especially the older ones who forgot to notice that the language has changed a bit during the last thirty years). It is likely to be useful in standartized exams. The "academic" vocabulary can be found in some CEFR exams, it depends on the kind of exam and your luck. The "overly colloquial" stuff is present, for example, in the obligatory tests for Erasmus students. Phrases that are probably colloquial correct, but I have never encountered them and I've spent a few thousands of hours with the langauge, including lots of time with natives. For the academic stuff, I recommend reading non fiction. Popular science or humanities magazines, highschool textbooks, wikipedia articles, longer newspaper articles. That's approximately the vocab level expected from a learner at C1 or C2, and from natives with average education (usually people with highschool without a university degree)

2.Stuff that is too rare for most courses and frequency lists, but every native knows the word and is able to use it actively whenever the need arises, even if it happens twice per decade. In this category, there are many things people use daily (but usually not everyone. For example things you need to describe to a plumber in case of a problem, or cooking utensiles beyond the basic ones, or driving terminology you could need to talk with police or your insurance company in time of need), or stuff people talk about occassionaly in a pub. Or things most people talk about but it somehow doesn't get to coursebooks or frequency lists in much detail for various reasons (impolite stuff (like various degrees of complaining or gossiping or arguing), political correctness (you are not being equiped for the whole spectrum of opinions, which you need at least passively), the fear that the content would be boring (for example everyday bureaucracy), or stuff that doesn't belong to the world of the cheesy photos in coursebooks (for example being old tends to be a topic almost untouched).
Content by natives for natives (as ajatt calls it and you should really read that log, if you haven't already) is extremely helpful here.

3.Stuff YOU need. Noone will test you on it, your life will. This is about your job, your hobbies, your flaws, your daily life.

(Before someone brings it on: the standartized exams usually don't count vocabulary of course, they usually don't have separate testing parts on it (even though Use of English in the CAE exams comes close to it, no idea about the Russian exams). But vocabulary is definitely being judged. And you cannot talk freely and with enough nuance without having a large pool of vocabulary to draw from. So, I wish you lots of success and fun learning vocabulary!)
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Re: Struggling to reach C1 (problems with increasing active vocabulary)

Postby whatiftheblog » Tue Dec 05, 2017 5:37 pm

LinguaPony wrote:Try writing. Then you just will have to look up words you don't know, and the next time you read a book you'll find it easier to do.

I used to write book reviews, but then I got rid of that blog.


^^ This, and what I like to call "faux vlogging". Basically, pick a topic that interests you (<-- this part here is super important, it must be something that you find really engaging, otherwise you just won't do it, or else you won't commit to doing it well) and pretend you're recording a vlog about it. This is a fancy way of saying "talk to yourself / your pets". For inspiration, try finding vloggers you like on Youtube (there are apparently plenty of Russian vloggers now, so this should be easy). Within 10 minutes you'll be able to tell where your weak spots are - don't hesitate to stop and look up words to help the flow of things - and if you keep doing this often enough, you'll notice a huge difference.

I'm really passionate about French politics, so I basically faux-vlogged my way through the entire campaign, since I had so many FEELINGS~* about it and there was only so much my (American) friends could take of it before I began noticing their eyes glazing over. (Fun fact: they once timed how long it would take for me to start talking about the election from the moment we met up that evening; I lasted 11 minutes :lol: ... there was an over/under pool as well.) This helped me tremendously, and even now I'm noticing a marked difference between how quickly/elegantly I can express myself on topics related to politics/the election/etc vs. things I've never faux-vlogged about.

Vloggers in general are a very good - and massively underutilized - source of passive-to-active conversion, since they tend to speak a livelier, more down-to-earth form of the language.

Finally, as a relatively recent B2 -> C2 transition...er? ... I'll go with my usual tired advice - just drown yourself in spoken content. It's how you learned to speak English - you were surrounded by it, and you eventually just picked it up and started forming words.

Удачи! Помните, что русский вообще дико сложный язык, на самом-то деле, и тот факт, что вы уже добрались до Б2, говорит о многом, так что не сдавайтесь!
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Re: Struggling to reach C1 (problems with increasing active vocabulary)

Postby LinguaPony » Tue Dec 05, 2017 6:40 pm

Actually, I was talking about a normal blog of the classic type, in which the posts are typed and not recorded as videos. I thought about the book review genre because in order to review a book one has to read it first. And after reviewing one, it's necessary to start reading another to keep it all going. This way the two activities push each other forward, and the vocabulary climbs up very fast.

And it doesn't have to be public, of course. Could be just for family and friends.
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Re: Struggling to reach C1 (problems with increasing active vocabulary)

Postby whatiftheblog » Tue Dec 05, 2017 7:47 pm

LinguaPony wrote:Actually, I was talking about a normal blog of the classic type, in which the posts are typed and not recorded as videos. I thought about the book review genre because in order to review a book one has to read it first. And after reviewing one, it's necessary to start reading another to keep it all going. This way the two activities push each other forward, and the vocabulary climbs up very fast.

And it doesn't have to be public, of course. Could be just for family and friends.


Right, I think the two (blogging + "faux-vlogging") would go together quite well, which is why I quoted you. Each activity would serve slightly different, though complementary, purposes.
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Re: Struggling to reach C1 (problems with increasing active vocabulary)

Postby LinguaPony » Tue Dec 05, 2017 8:03 pm

Ah, with that I agree completely!
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Re: Struggling to reach C1 (problems with increasing active vocabulary)

Postby IronMike » Wed Dec 06, 2017 11:16 am

When my (military) linguists would complain about this same thing (producing L2 while speaking), I'd ask them how they study vocabulary. More often than not, they'd show me their packs or boxes of vocab cards. I'd ask them to show me how they study. Sure enough, in almost every single instance, they'd go through words in L2 to L1 order.

Once I'd get them to study from L1 to L2 (which is what your brain is doing while producing the language, after all), their ability to pull those vocab out of their brain pans increased substantially, and their scores on the test improved.

It hurts! Especially if you've been going L2 to L1 for a while and your "Know" pile is bigger than your "Don't Know" pile of cards. But steady study in the right direction helps.

Beyond that, what my teacher now makes me do is restate in my own words something we'd just read or discussed. That's a great exercise as well, and I'm sure someone above has already mentioned it.
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Re: Struggling to reach C1 (problems with increasing active vocabulary)

Postby АмериканскийДурак » Thu Dec 07, 2017 12:39 pm

IronMike wrote:When my (military) linguists would complain about this same thing (producing L2 while speaking), I'd ask them how they study vocabulary. More often than not, they'd show me their packs or boxes of vocab cards. I'd ask them to show me how they study. Sure enough, in almost every single instance, they'd go through words in L2 to L1 order.

Once I'd get them to study from L1 to L2 (which is what your brain is doing while producing the language, after all), their ability to pull those vocab out of their brain pans increased substantially, and their scores on the test improved.

It hurts! Especially if you've been going L2 to L1 for a while and your "Know" pile is bigger than your "Don't Know" pile of cards. But steady study in the right direction helps.

Beyond that, what my teacher now makes me do is restate in my own words something we'd just read or discussed. That's a great exercise as well, and I'm sure someone above has already mentioned it.


I've always preferred L1 for L2 for the reasons you described. It works much much better. Usually this works for me, but for whatever reason I've felt like my progress has slumped a bit, but maybe I'm just getting impatient. How many words do you think can be learned in a day?
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