Faster Fluency with Journal Word Clouds

by Dan Walsh

It is vitally important to reduce the time it takes to become self-expressive when learning a foreign language. I have been haphazardly trying to resurrect my French recently and have been studying the top 100, 250, and 500 most frequently used words in French. Theoretically, these should get me 80% of the way to fluency, but these aren’t the words that I use. Because they aren’t my words, they are less useful for self expression. How should I resolve this? What words do I use the most?

I thought about creating an iPhone app that would record all the words I say throughout the day and then parse them by frequency. This would give me a clear understanding of how I talk and the words I need to learn, but the specs for the app quickly become too complex… And I don’t know how to write iPhone apps, so there’s that hurdle as well. Luckily for me, I stumbled onto a breakthrough this morning.

I have been keeping a digital journal of sorts for over a year now. From time to time I plug it into a great little java app called Wordle which creates word clouds from any body of text. I typically use this to weed out bad keywords for marketing purposes, but it’s also a useful assessment tool for writing. For example, by plugging my  copy into Wordle I can see if I use ineffective words like “like” or “really” too often. I do.

But it just hit me like a MAC truck that this is the very database I was trying to achieve with the iPhone app. I have a substantial sample of my own personal word usage that I can now translate into French, and speed up my time to self expression. From the image above, my priority words should be: like, want, need, good, get, think, time, people, way, and also. The next step would be to find a clever way to parse the info into a CSV file and upload to Anki.