Word Power is Life Word Power is Life
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Help400x266We all have something to say. A boy likes a girl, and so he says, “I like you!” A traveller gets lost, so he asks a stranger, “Can you show me the way?” A woman sees a man walk in front of a bus, and she shouts, “Watch out!” A little girl is hungry, and she says, “Daddy, when is dinner?” A child falls into a river and cries out, “Help me!”

Words help us survive. As children, we learn the words we need. Our parents and friends naturally use the most important words, and we learn them and use them. But when we learn a second language, the situation is different. Sometimes our teachers and books teach us hard words first. We end up learning words that people don’t use very much, and we don’t learn the most important words first.

What are the most important words? They are the words people use all the time. Look at the word “happy.” People use it every day, and you may read it and hear it many times in one day. The word “jocund” also means happy, but people almost never use it. If you read a lot of English books, you might see the word “jocund” one time in a year.

The point is this. It’s best to learn the most common words first. People use these words all the time, and they cover all the important meanings in a language. They can help you say basically anything you want. Today, we know exactly which words are the most important words. This is good news for English learners, for they can know which words to study first.

There are two ways to learn the most important words. First, you can read, read, and read. Language learning experts Stephen Krashen and Paul Nation both agree that English learners can learn the top 9,000 words of English just by reading. Here’s how it works. As you read a lot, you meet new words. When you meet a new word about 10 times, you can learn it.

However, there are three conditions for English learners. First, if you’re a beginner, you need to read graded readers. These books are easy, and they are graded into levels. The first level only uses around 300 of the top words, and the sixth level uses around 3,000 of the top words. After learning the top 3,000 words, you can start reading more difficult books.

Second, it’s best if you can read at least 150 words per minute. If you can’t read fast enough, then you can’t read enough to keep growing your vocabulary.

Third, and this is the hardest point, you need to read millions and millions of words to learn the top 9,000 words of English by reading alone.

Clearly, this will take a long time! This kind of “big reading” is important. It is not just good for vocabulary, it helps learners improve all their language skills. Moreover, reading makes us smarter by helping us learn a lot of important, helpful, and interesting ideas. We get many benefits from reading.

We can learn words by reading, but we can also learn words by direct study. This is the second way to learn more words. You can learn many words quickly through direct vocabulary study. And here’s the good news that was mentioned above. We now know exactly the important words to study first.

Recently, language scientists have made a new list of the most important words in English. It is called the New General Service List (NGSL). It was made by professors Joseph Phillips, Brent Culligan, and Charles Browne. What is special about the NGSL? With 2,800 words, it covers 90% of all English texts.

What does this mean? An educated speaker may know 20,000 words, but 90% of the time she only uses 2,800 words. In other words, if you know the top 2,800 words, you will know 90% of the words you meet in English. To be advanced in English, you need to know 8,000 to 9,000 words, but the top 2,800 words in the NGSL give you a great vocabulary foundation.

How can you learn the top 2,800 most important words? There are many ways. At ReadOasis.com, we made a simple quiz and review system. Here is how it works.

Step One. Take a Levels Quiz. 

  • A learner takes a “Levels Quiz,” for example NGSL Levels Quiz 1,001–1,500.
  • If she gets below 90%, she will study the words in this level.
  • If she gets above 90%, she will take the next Levels Quiz: NGSL Levels Quiz 1,501–2,000.
  • When she scores below 90% on a level, she will study in that level.

Step Two. Take Word Quizzes. 

  • Each level is divided into 500 word groups with 10 “Word Quizzes” of 50 words.
  • A learner takes the first Word Quiz in a level, e.g., NGSL Quiz 1,001–1,050.
  • After taking the Word Quiz, she can see the words she missed.
  • Then she makes word cards with these words for study and review.

Step Three. Study and Review Word Cards. 

  • Learners continue to review their word cards and take Word Quizzes in their level.
  • After enough review and study, learners can repeat Word Quizzes.
  • The questions and answer choices are randomized.
  • After each Word Quiz, students can see results, including words they missed.
  • Learners can work on a number of batches of 50 words at the same time.

Technologically speaking, this may not be the most advanced system for learning vocabulary. However, it is based on sound science and teaching practice. Learners find the gaps in their vocabulary knowledge of the top words with the Levels Quizzes. With the Word Quizzes, they narrow those gaps, finding the words they don’t know for study and review using word cards.

Spaced and varied repetition of word cards is a proven way to quickly remember new vocabulary. After reviewing the word cards, students can quiz themselves again to make sure that they know the words. Over a period of a few weeks, they can finish a section of 500 words and move to the next section.

English students can move quickly through batches of 50 words in a section of 500. Each Word Quiz may take 10 to 15 minutes. The goal is clear. “Find the words that you don’t know for study and review.” For each batch of 50, students may only study 5-10 words, so the learning burden is not heavy because they only study the words that they do not know.

Moreover, this system is not just a vocabulary program. It is a part of a more important big reading program at ReadOasis.com, where students read interesting stories for pleasure and develop all their language skills in an interesting and meaningful way.

ReadOasis.com is a premium membership site. Premium features include word count tracking, reading speed tracking, and class management tools, and premium members receive quiz results via email. But all the NGSL Levels Quizzes and Word Quizzes are free and open to the public, along with many great stories.

To access the vocabulary quizzes at ReadOasis.com, click on the following links:

  1. All Levels Quizzes
  2. The top 201-500 Words
  3. The Top 501-1,000 Words
  4. The Top 1,001-1,500 Words
  5. The Top 1,501-2,000 Words
  6. The Top 2,001-2,500 Words
  7. The top 2,501-2,800 Words

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