I was wondering what the 10 most common words used in everyday English language are, both written and spoken and if learned, whether it would make the process of learning English simpler.
But it’s not as simple as it seems, so I thought I’d switch the whole thing around and start with how many words there are in the English language, and then work back from there.
A good question to ask here would be “can we actually count how many words there are in the English language?”
What actually determines whether something is an actual word or not, and what if the word has two meanings, would it be counted as two words, and if a word is hyphenated, is that another word? Is duck one word, or two (a noun meaning ‘a kind of bird,’ and a verb meaning ‘to crouch down’)? If we count it as two, then do we also count inflections as words, e.g. ducks = plural noun, ducks = present tense of the verb). Is duck-dive a word, or just two other words joined together? Is duck dive really two words, since it might also be written as duck-dive or even duckdive?
Can we also count the many different dialects of English in different parts of the world that aren’t recorded in the Oxford English dictionary as part of the English language? What about common words we use every day in English from other languages?
When you talk about food in English, you’re almost guaranteed to use French words. Here are some common words
- à la carte: when you want to order individual dishes which are not part of a pre-established sequence of courses
- Bon appétit
- Hors d’oeuvre
Some German words we use are
- Delikatessen (proper name for a deli)
- Poltergeist (ghost)
- Dachshund (breed of dog)
- Bagel (a type of food)
We use many Japanese words in everyday English conversation too
For an official opinion let us refer to the Oxford English dictionary which records 171,476 words that are used today, and 47,156 obsolete words. There are also about another 9,500 arbitrary words.
That’s almost a quarter of a million distinct English words.
If we take into account all the sub-dialects and colloquialisms, the total will probably get closer to over half a million English words.
So with such a formidable list of possible words to learn in English where do we begin, and how do you tackle learning the English language without getting totally demoralized and giving up before you start.
How many words would you need to know to be able to listen in to and participate in a basic conversation? 300 words? 500? Definitely not a quarter of a million.
Now it seems more doable, doesn’t it?
Learning English does not need to be complicated; in fact, there are ways to simplify the process.
As a start, the most relevant question to ask yourself will be “What will you spend your time doing with this language?”
The ideal system for learning English is based on three elements in this order…
1. Prioritize what to start with
This refers to the reason you want to learn English. Simple truth is the first thing you need to do — decide what to learn, based on how much you’re going to use the language, listing and prioritizing what is important to you as an outcome.
2. Decide what your interest is
This is a filter, but you need to put in place that will help you decide on how to progress with your learning, with lessons you take focusing only on things that are of interest to you or things that you will likely be using in the future with regards to the English language.
If you’re not focusing on areas of interest for yourself, you are probably going to find that the monotony associated with repetitive learning soon creeps in and you’ll be disillusioned and unmotivated to progress when you get bored.
If you don’t have any interest in medicine, how long will you stick to an English course that focuses purely on medicine and medical information?
In other words, you can have the best process in the world, but it means nothing if you don’t stick to it.
3. Figure out and decide which process you will use to learn
We can waste so much time trying to learn something instead of spending some time before starting out trying to figure out what the most efficient system is for our method of learning and retention. Once you figure this out, you will save you hours and hours of frustration and will progress at a far quicker pace.
We’ve homeschooled both our children for the last seven years. Initially, when we started we followed a very strict curriculum based on a K-12 outcome, and we found that both the teachers (us), and the students (our kids) hated the learning process and each day was a chore. It was not what we signed up for! If we had continued on that path, we would not have lasted a single year.
So what changed?
We found a topic that was of interest to them and focussed their learning around that topic. We live next to and love the ocean, kitesurfing, and surfing, and when we used this as the focal point, we suddenly found that education was a joy.
They learned about weather patterns, geography, the oceans, cultures, wind and waves and in the process improved their reading and writing, maths and science as well as their research skills.
After everything we’ve discussed, this all this boils down to vocabulary and in a word: words.
Are you borrowing from the Pareto principle or the 80/20 rule, where would you get the best value for your time exchange?
As a student of English, the following words would deliver the greatest value to you as a factor of time spent vs. progress in English. I’d like to share two lists of English word with you, as commonly spoken words are somewhat different from commonly written words
The 100 Most Common Written Words in English
If you learned the first 25 of the above words, you’d be able to recognize about 1/3 of all printed material in English. Learn the whole 100 on the list, and you’ll recognize 1/2 of all written material.
Now you’re driving down the road reading billboards, recognizing newspaper headlines… and if you get to know the first 300 most commonly written words in English and you’ll recognize about 65% percent of all written material in English.
To improve your conversation, the following list shows the most commonly spoken English words
The 100 Most Common Spoken Words in English
I ask you a simple question: how long would it take you to learn the 10 most used words in English?
If you have an answer to that question, the next step is a simple one…with the right motivation how long would it take you to learn and memorize both these lists above? Just 200 words…One week? One month? One year? And how would this fast track your English skills? How much closer would you be to your English goals?
Mitch is Co-Founder and CEO at English Forward. He has close to 20+ years of experience in business, commerce and marketing. He is an experienced Director with a demonstrated history of working in the real estate industry. Mitch is an educator and philanthropist, an investor and partner in high profile property projects.