There are several studies that claim that 1000 most used words in a foreign language help you understand 75% of common communication. Czech-based Flashcard app Vocabulary Miner asked 181 language lecturers whether they think it is true.
It was all inspired by the 2013 British Council 1000 words campaign. It motivated Britons to learn 1000 words in a foreign language. According to British Council study, lack of knowledge of foreign languages opens up a social divide that a second language can bridge.
Professor Webb, who has studied language learning at the University of Western Ontario also suggests for the BBC that “the most effective way to be able to speak a language quickly is to pick the 800 to 1,000 lemmas which appear most frequently in a language, and learn those”.
Lecturers and teachers of foreign languages say “YES but…”
Flashcard app Vocabulary Miner created Word lists with 1000 most common words in combinations of Czech, English, French, Spanish and Slovak, for now.
Although the research and blogs on the 1000 words theory are all over the internet, the team behind Vocabulary Miner was curious whether the method of 1000 Word lists is approved by lecturers themselves.
Vocabulary Miner asked 181 lecturers of various foreign languages on the issue of 1000 words.
More than 66,7% of respondents replied that it is a good method to start learning foreign languages. 11,4% were not fond of such a method and the rest replied “yes, but...”
Joel from Instagram project @french.with.handsome with over 98k followers claims: “I would say even a bit less than 1000 words, e.g. 300 - 500 words would be a good method to start learning a foreign language.”
Erika from podcasts HowtoSpanish with thousands of learners approves of the method and suggests: “I think people should start learning a language with a goal in mind so that they learn it with purpose and don’t get stuck in the process.”
Tyler is studying to become a French lecturer and besides that, he is also a polyglot learning Norwegian, Irish Gaelic, and Old English. He has his own language blog and he thinks that learning 1000 common words in a foreign language is like The Fry Sight Words list. The Fry Sight Words was developed by Dr. Edward Fry in the 1950s based on the most common words to appear in reading materials used in Grades 3-9. The Fry list would, according to Dr.Fry, equip a child to read about 90% of the words in a typical reading material.”I think this vocabulary mining is similar,” Tyler said.
Dirk Nordhoff teaching German as a foreign language approves of such a method: “This is a sensible approach to rapid language learning, but it is not enough on its own.
“Don’t forget about context and grammar” lecturers warn
To learn languages with conjugation and inflection, you need to learn basic vocabulary together with basic grammar. Several lecturers therefore warn about sticking to exclusive vocabulary learning.
Dirk Nordhoff adds to his approval of the 1000 words method: One should definitely train the pronunciation of these words. And one should learn about basic differences in grammar as well, for example if the language has different concepts on conjugation, declension or the use of tenses. Otherwise, learners will have a hard time building on this vocabulary knowledge to make further progress.”
Ondřej Diblík from the Centre For Foreigners of South Moravian Region teaching Czech says that for learning Czech, it is really important to add basic grammar.
“Learning 1000 isolated words is like knowing 1000 names of spices without knowing that cinnamon in opposition to oregano is not tasteful on the pizza. Knowing 1000 words might be motivational rather than language learning panacea.”
Learning 1000 most common words is a great beginning, but it is only the beginning
Many teachers and lecturers suggest that learning vocabulary is obviously not enough. Therefore Vocabulary Miner suggests cooperating with lecturers to ensure that new words won’t be out of context. Vocabulary apps are a great tool for creating a personal dictionary and remembering words once and for all.
As for context, the Flashcard app Vocabulary Miner also sticks to the proven method of learning - spaced repetition system (SRS) with a contextual sentence rather than using questionable games that cut the word out of context.
Vocabulary with most common words can be found in the app under the keyword “1000”.
Are you a language lecturer or teacher? Share your opinion on 1000 words theory here: https://forms.gle/ESMt4N2AoANA4TpK8