The Oxford English Dictionary defines 171,476 words currently in use. That seems like a daunting amount until you realize that the word “the” makes up 7% of the total words we read. Next, the word “of” accounts for 3.5%, “and” makes up another 2.8%, and so on. You only need to know about 135 words to recognize half the words in common written English.
This uneven spread is similar in every language that statisticians have studied. In fact, it has a name: Zipf’s law. You can take advantage of this law in order to build vocabulary scientifically. Use your study time more effectively by ignoring words that you’ll rarely, if ever, use.
You might find it strange that we suggest learning words like “also”, “until”, “then”, etc. right from the beginning. After all, they don’t really seem to fit into a logical group.
Logical Groupings of Vocabulary Are Logical, But Not Very Useful
If you’ve ever taken a foreign language class or read a textbook, they might have begun by teaching you the words you’d find in an airport, items you’d find on a menu, or words used when asking for directions. “Aha! These will be useful!” you think to yourself. And indeed they are. But I’d like to show you why you should put off learning most of these words until later.
Memorization Does Not Lead to Fluency
Vocabulink won’t make you fluent in a language. No amount of study and memorization will. To achieve fluency, you need to practice using the language. And I’m not talking about the drills or exercises you’ll find in a textbook. I’m talking about using the real, living language in the wild: communicating with native speakers and taking in the foreign culture directly, unfiltered, and unprocessed.
This type of study is called “immersion”. Our goal is to get you to immersion as quickly as possible.
Get to the Fun Stuff as Soon as Possible
The great thing about immersion is that it’s not only effective, it’s fun as well!
The thrill of communicating with someone in a foreign language doesn’t fade as quickly as the “thrill” of drilling flashcards. Watching television and movies in a foreign language is a continuous source of entertainment and learning. Reading a book in a foreign language can fill you with the rush of solving a great mystery.
However, these activities can be frustrating without a solid foundation. Consulting a dictionary for more than half the words you encounter in each sentence is time-consuming and can leave you flustered. The dialog in most television and movies will fly past too rapidly if you’re not familiar with many of the common words.
Common Words Are Universal
Your interests might be in science fiction, sports, or celebrities. Rather than overwhelm you with vocabulary for all of them, we’ll teach the words that are common to all of them.
When you actually make use of a language, you’ll be using these common words over and over again. They’ll become your close friends. These familiar words will appear scattered throughout everything you encounter. They’ll provide a context and act as handholds and footholds for tackling the problems of words and sentences you haven’t encountered before.
Communicate with More Confidence
Sometimes there are multiple words for a meaning you’re trying to express. If you’ve studied by frequency, you’re more likely to use the most common word. This leads to a higher chance of being understood and reduces the risk of using words that would sound strange to a native speaker in the context you use them in.
How Do You Know Which Words Are the Most Common?
Luckily, linguists have been doing this for a while. Computer programs exist that will analyze a large body of text (such as from books or film transcripts). Vocabulink makes use of these “frequency lists” to order the words we introduce to you.
You have a limited amount of time and energy to spend on learning a language. Why waste it on learning words that you might never encounter until you’re already fluent?