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Full text of "The Loom Of Language"

Introduction                          29
able, depends chiefly on the individual. People who are good mimics will
make more progress in speaking with the same expenditure of effort
Individuals of the visual or motor types, i e those who learn best by
eye or touch, will get on better at writing For many of us the choice is
limited by whether we can find a willing correspondent or an accessible
acquaintance through business connexions, or through some such
organization as the educational department of the International Ladies'
Garment Workers in New York No teacher can supply the stimulus
that comes from communication which is spontaneously gratifying,
because novel, to both parties
We may sum up the essential differences between the skill required
for wide reading and the skill required for proficient self-expression in
this way To express ourselves correctly we need to have a ready
knowledge of a relatively small number of words—fifteen hundred or
two thousand at most—and a precise knowledge of the essential gram-
matical conventions of straightforward statement To read widely
without a dictionary, we need a nodding acquaintance with a relatively
large vocabulary (fifteen thousand words may be given as a rough
estimate), and a general familiarity with a wide range of grammatical
conventions, which we can recognize at sight, if meaningful We can
waste an immense amount of time, if we are not clear at the outset
about what this distinction implies, or if we proceed on the assump-
tion that learning how to read is the same job as learning to express
ourselves,
TIIE BASIC VOCABULARY
When we arc reading a thriller or a historical novel, we continually
meet unfamiliar words for articles of clothing and inaccessible items
of a menu list We also meet forbidding technical terms for architectural
features, nautical expressions, hayseed dialects, and military slang The
fact that we should hesitate to attempt a precise definition of them does
not bother us We do not keep a dictionary at the bedside, and rarely ask
a friend the meaning of a word which we have not met before If we do
meet a word for the first time, we often notice it several times during
the course of the ensuing week Sooner or later the context in which we
meet it will reveal its meaning. In this way, the vocabulary of our
home language continually grows without deliberate effort In the same
way we can acquire a good reading knowledge of a foreign language
when we have mastered a few essentials It is discouraging and wasteful
to torture the meaning of every word of a foreign novel page by page,