9 essential facts about the size of the English language

teaching English Vocabulary

Share This Post

 English, as a lingua franca, probably has the most voluminous vocabulary. English is an ever-evolving language, and its vocabulary expands all over the world by the people using it. According to reported statistics by The Global Language Estimate, English passed the Million Word threshold on June 10, 2009. This means that 14.7 words are added to English vocabulary per day. (Thanks to the bulk of innovations in Silicon Valley). 

These numbers may seem disappointing for you as English learners and it may seem you will never have time to learn all that. But remember this: there’s no need to worry; Never feel frightened by those numbers. You won’t need to memorise all the words out there or even the whole English dictionary to be able to speak English; you just have to stick to the most useful words that are only a small portion of the whole stash of English vocabulary. I think it’s better to offer you some more numbers & interesting facts about English vocabulary so that you can compare and conclude. I believe that these numbers can be really insightful for your vocabulary learning task. 

1 – There are 171,476 word families in Oxford English Dictionary (approximately 750,000 words)

You should know that there’s a difference between a word and a word family; A word family consists of a word and all its derived and inflected forms (work, works, working, worked, worker, etc.).  So based on what counts as a word, these numbers will differ greatly from each other. Most Vocabulary Size Tests evaluate the number of word families.

2 – An adult native speaker understands an average of 20,000 to 30,000 word families.

The ultimate goal of learning English is to communicate successfully with native speakers and we all desperately want to learn English native-like; we should know that based on statistics of vocabulary size test, native speakers’ vocabulary size is approximately 20,000 to 10,000-word families. This number varies based on their age and educational level. A 4-year-old native child starts vocabulary acquisition with 5000-word families and doubles it by 8. Native speakers learn almost 1 new word per day until middle age and then it basically stops. 

3 – An adult language learner understands an average number of 4500 words

As you can see, the most striking difference between English learners & native speakers is the number of vocabulary each group possesses; The reported vocabulary size for foreign test-takers is just 4,500 and only if they decide to live abroad, their vocabulary tends to reach over 10,000 words (the average vocabulary size of 8-year-old native speakers);  They will learn 2.5 words a day after immigration (over twice the rate of native speakers) and still, they will know on average 10,000 to 20,000 fewer words than their native counterparts.

4 – The minimum threshold for language learners to comprehend English is knowledge of 5000 word families

If you’re curious about the minimum number of words language learners need for comprehension of English, you may find two numbers proposed as the comprehension threshold: an optimal one, which is the knowledge of 8,000-word families yielding the coverage of 98% (including proper nouns) and a minimal one, which is around 5,000, resulting in the coverage of 95%. These numbers are the basis for setting plans for vocabulary learning, designing syllabi and tasks in the field of language learning.

5 – The knowledge of 1000 words is enough for an understanding of 80% of the language surrounding you

 Now that we have all the numbers, we may want to start learning the first 1000 words. But which 1000 words should we learn? Those are the 1000 most common words that are used by native speakers based on some written & spoken data available (known as language corpora). The list of such words is available in several free sources in alphabetical order. But what’s the use of such lists? Should we just dive in  & learn those lists from A to Z? And then the second, the third, the fourth… 1000 words so that we reach over 20,000 words?

6 – All words in English vocabulary are not equally important

The lists of most common words provide us with lots of interesting information that can be prioritized to help optimize vocabulary learning. Some researchers tried to offer learning models such as 3-tiered vocabulary based on those lists. What we should consider is that all the words of a language are not equally important and have different levels of utility. The first tier includes basic words usually learned in context while speaking and generally require little or no instruction (dog, door, happy, etc.). Tier 2 words are the most useful and high-frequency words which are very important for the comprehension of academic content (e.g. analyze, suppose, compare) and finally tier 3 words are those content-specific and low-frequency words used in a particular subject field. Most studies favour tier-2 words to be chosen for enriching learners’ vocabulary knowledge.

7 – Vocabulary size is a good indicator of learners’  language proficiency level

Vocabulary knowledge is at the heart of diagnostic tests for language and the size of learners’ vocabulary is the most reliable indicator of language progress. Vocabulary size tests use frequency information rather than dictionaries as the basis of word sampling. So you should evaluate your vocabulary knowledge by taking tests and have a plan for filling the gaps in your vocabulary knowledge.

8 –  You can evaluate your vocabulary knowledge using WordUp, an AI-powered vocabulary learning  application 

WordUp is a powerful tool that takes advantage of technological innovations to engage learners to learn vocabulary smarter not harder. The first stage after installation of the application is taking a vocabulary size est to estimate learners’ vocabulary knowledge and their proficiency level. At this level, WordUp can identify what words each learner knows and what they need most.

9 – You can use  WordUp   to learn the list of 20, 0000 most common vocabulary

We know that frequency lists are the basis for the most effective vocabulary instruction programs. WordUp starts from 1000 most frequent words to teach what matters most in the least amount of time instead of wasting time on random words. The words are presented for learners in frequency order so that they can decide whether they “already know” the words or “should learn” them, thus enabling WordUp to build up a map of their knowledge. Based on this map, it knows exactly what words the learner knows and what he/she needs to learn. By identifying the knowledge gaps, WordUp creates a personalized vocabulary plan that focuses on one word at a time. It gives the learners greater control over their vocabulary knowledge and helps them to take responsibility for their learning. It will help learners to fill the gap by reminding them to review the missing vocabulary every day and in time intervals until it’ll be one of their “Already Know” lists.

More To Explore

Do You Want To Help Your Students Achieve Their Goals?

Join The Certified WordUp Coaches