The limited vocabulary problem



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My life forced limitations

I received an email the other day and I often have similar discussions with friends. Does it help you to have an increased vocabulary under your belt when it comes to Tango and does it limit you to not have a limited one? As you may have understood from my post about the endless possibilities of simple steps I don’t believe a small vocabulary is necessarily limiting. so you can stop reading here if you like. But for the sake of the argument we can agree that for a tango dance, there are two main options. On the one side, you can say I am satisfied with the basic vocabulary and on the other side you can say I want to be able to do as much as possible when I dance so I will learn as much vocabulary as possible. Both options are correct and depending on the person and their goals from Tango they are both paths one can follow and there is no right or wrong choice. In this post, however, I just want to explain why I think that limiting your vocabulary is not necessarily a bad thing.

My personal tango journey started with 2 years of weekly group classes in Thessaloniki. During my second year, I was also attending a weekly milonga regularly. Up to that point, I was decent but not a really good dancer. I mean, I could have a flow in my dance using the common simple vocabulary like walking, giros, ochos, and some sacadas so my vocabulary was limited to those basic “words”. The next year brought me to Frankfurt. Initially, I was told it would be only for 9 months so I thought… “Ok… I will pause the classes for a year and come back.”. Obviously, this never happened and I didn’t attempt to take regular classes in Germany because of the language barrier (I could not speak German and thought I would have problems communicating) and time restrictions.

Since then, I took a few classes in seminars on some techniques I wasn’t really used to like colgadas for example, but I never managed to apply them seriously in my dance. After starting digging into musicality, I can say I lost most of my interest in developing my vocabulary. So one can say that I forced a strong limitation on me. However, I see it completely differently.

Shakespeare and moving songs

One of the authors with the richest English vocabulary is Shakespeare. It is calculated that he used about 15000 words in his works, which of course allowed him to be as precise as possible using the right word for what he wanted to express. However, how many of us have tried to read his works in their original form? How many understood them fully? And who are these people? I would assume, most probably a very small amount of academics and maybe actors that devoted their life to Shakespeare’s work are able to do so. The rest of us usually are satisfied with consuming a simplified adapted version to understand and relate with them better.

Now, think about a song that moves you. Songs are an art form that has very limited time to tell us a whole story. Think about its language. What kind of vocabulary is it using? Would you say it is complex or advanced? Probably not. Why does it move you? Probably because of the music and the singer’s performance. The way they change their voice, their speed, their tonality, their volume, etc. to express emotions. If there was a song with Shakespeare’s complex vocabulary, how easy would it be to move you to make you remember its lyrics?

A bit of science

Linguists support that a person needs about 800 words for a basic conversation and 8000 in order to reach a native speaker level. In addition, Albert Mechrabian who was a psychologist at the University of California in Los Angeles suggested in his research that around 7% of our communication happens based on the actual language we use. The rest 55% is based on our body language and the 38% is based on our voice (e.g. our tone, speed volume, etc.). What do all these tell us? It is not what you say that matters most. It is how you say it. That is why I don’t see limiting my vocabulary as a necessarily bad thing. I paid attention to the rest 93% of the communication during my dance and I tried to develop my communication skills in general, not just in the vocabulary dimension. So, I managed to learn those 800 words I need for a basic conversation in my first years and then I focused on making them more expressive by working on other aspects which still have a huge impact on the dance as they have on communication.

On the other hand, I often notice that the need for constant learning of new vocabulary is pursued at the expense of this other 93% of the communication in the dance. So in the end you might be able to write a theater play like Shakespeare’s but when you play it on stage… when you dance in a milonga… it feels… pointless and meh! My approach is to better try and write a song with simple words and find a good singer to express them properly rather than striving to write a Shakespeare’s theater play. Remember… songs are easier to understand and definitely more memorable!

Tonight’s Goodnight Tango

Tonight’s Goodnight Tango comes from Fransisco Canaro and is sung by Ada Falcon. The title is translated as “Nothing else”. You could say that when you apply vocabulary limitations to yourself it’s like you say … “I want nothing else”. However, I think the expressiveness in Ada Falcon’s voice in this song makes the point of the whole post. She wants nothing else but him and expresses it using simple words… basic vocabulary… but she certainly breaks your heart when you hear it from her like this.

What about you? Is your vocabulary limited? Is it so by choice or by other factors? Does it make you feel limited in any way or not? Do you want to extend it or not? Why? Let me know with a comment below, an email, or a PM on Facebook… oh… and if you liked it… don’t forget to share it with your friends.


One response to “The limited vocabulary problem”

  1. […] about how Tango is like a language. How dancing is like speaking a foreign language. What are my vocabulary limitations and how I kind of worked around them. Even the learning methodology is similar to language […]

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