Counting your words

I’m reading a collection of essays by David Sedaris called Me Talk Pretty One Day. Some of the essays, including the title one, are about his struggles as an American visiting a small town in France and trying to pick up some of the language (there, in Paris, and in New York City). His partner speaks French, so that leaves him as the only non-French speaker in the town (something that I can relate to, though not so much with French).

He starts off pretty much only knowing the word for bottle opener, which he uses with all the local merchants. He proceeds to type all of his new words (using an old-fashioned typewriter) onto index cards, which he then keeps in a box. His progress is quite slow, and with example words like exorcism, slaughterhouse, and sea monster, I can sort of see why. However, his choice of vocabulary doesn’t stop him from trying to use it with the locals, which I can respect.

His method of keeping new words together allows him to state that at the end of his sixth trip to France, he had learned 1,564 words, which he held all together in a box. I rather liked this statement, and the concept of knowing precisely what your knowledge was.

I don’t know how many foreign words I know, but I would kind of like to. Do you keep track of your progress in any countable way?

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