The best way to learn English vocabulary, part 1 : Using the 80/20 principle.
You are about to discover one of the most important factor that decide whether or not you can speak English well in the short period of time. That is Vocablulary. Probably everyone know clearly the important of vocabulary while learning English, but only a few person know how to learn vocabulary effectively . If you are one, follow this post series to discover the answer to this question : “What is the best way to learn English vocabulary ?”
When it comes to a new language, the first thing you must pay attention to is Vocabulary. Without vocabulary, you can not speak, hear, or write. Probably you can communicate with native English speaker with poor pronounciation and improper grammar. But without words you can not do anything.
And here is the interesting question for you: ” How many words do you need in order to speak English well ? ”
Let’s take a look at a English dictionary, you will find that there are approximately 600,000 different words in English. How long does it take for you to learn such number of words ? Entire your lifetime, probably !
Fortunately, we don’t have to learn all of them in order to speak English well. Things in our world are arranged by a rule called 80/20 rule(another name is Parento principle). That principle simply means that 20 percent of something always are responsible for 80 percent of the results . And it is true in many field. For example:
• 20% of the input creates 80% of the result
• 20% of the workers produce 80% of the result
• 20% of the customers create 80% of the revenue
• 20% of the bugs cause 80% of the crashes
• 20% of the features cause 80% of the usage
• And on and on…
In fact, the rate of 80/20 is rather a symbol than an exact number. In many cases, it could be 90/10 or 95/5.
The good news is that this principle is also true in learning English. Although the total number of words in English is up to 600,000, Americans only use around 3000 most common words in their daily lives. These 3000 common words build up to 95% of the content in any conversation, e-mail, telephone call or even books and newspapers.
So, instead of learning all 600,000 words, you can focus on the most 3000 common words but still be able to understand 95% of all conversations, phone calls, books and newspapers. We can call them ” Core vocabulary”. In other words, Core vocabulary is the key to mastering English conversation.
You may say that you want to understand fully 100% of the content, not only 95% . Yes, we totally agree with you. We are not saying that you should only learn these 3000 words and only understand 95% of content. We are talking about where to put your focus on first. After mastering these common words and unsderstand almost of daily English, you can enrich your English vocabulary later. Remember that unfocused effort will lead you to nowhere !
Now you understood that we need to focus on the most common words first. But when it comes to a new word, how do you know this word is common or not ? And what is the best strategy to learn a new word ? Discover the answer for these question in the next part of this post series.