English Vocabulary Learning Strategies

The mathematicians that study language and have lots of computing power are forming English language databases. These databases can be used for machine language translation, formulas to rank collocation, most used priority word lists, word grouping tendencies and other linguistics research.

These frequency-based wordlists contain the words that are most used in English. Frequency-based wordlists can help you target specific English vocabulary by indicating which words you should try to learn first.

Vocabulary analysis and summaries from the "Brown Corpus 1990".

Table 1

Words - Percent of words in average text

86,741
43,831
15,851
6,000
5,000
4,000
3,000
2,000
1,000
10
99.99%
99.0%
97.8%
89.9%
88.6%
86.7%
84.0%
79.7%
72.0%
23.7%

Table 1 shows us that in most written English just a few word types account for most of the English words in any text. Ten words account for 23.7 % of the words on any page and just 1000 word families account for more than 70% of the words used.

The ESL in Canada English Immersion camps experimented with the 1000 word lists and used them for the core vocabulary for spelling, poetry writing and public speaking contests. The constant reinforcement and repetition with variable context was quickly absorbed by the beginner students and greatly increased their confidence when speaking or writing.

Altavista's Babelfish or Google by Systran machine translation performs with an error rate of 20 to 30 percent. The large error rate is due to how a word's meaning varies with context. One example: "The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak" translated from English to Russian and back again only to yield "The vodka is good but the meat is rotten." So far Babelfish has 19 language pairs available and it has taken decades to develop language-pair rules for each of the 9,900 language word pairs.

Some observations for language students and language teachers is the translation pool for just average translations is 9900 words. The big variable is context, which means that a word can be used in various formats: "formal, industry specific jargon, slang, idioms, act a different part of speech performing a different function within that particular meaning. If every word has an average of five context variables then the student really has to learn 50,000 items.

As final conclusions: second language learning takes time and effort and there should be plenty of translation jobs for the next 20 years if you are willing to invest the seven to nine years to be proficient.

In the following example the word "weather" can be used in about eight different contexts and be used to mean, define or explain about thirty different situations or conditions. To properly study vocabulary students require background information and context.

"Weather"

As a Noun

Definition 1. the state of the atmosphere at a particular place and time as characterized by sunshine, moisture, temperature, precipitation, and other variables.
Similar Words: elements, climate

Definition 2. unpleasant, turbulent, or violent atmospheric conditions.
Example: We needed shelter from the weather.
Similar Words: gale, elements, blow, windstorm , storm

As a Transitive Verb

Inflected Forms: weathered, weathering, weathers

Definition 1. to dry, season, or modify by exposing to weather.
Similar Words: season , dry

Definition 2. to discolor, deteriorate, or harm by exposing to weather.
Similar Words wash , rot , erode, deteriorate

Definition 3. to endure past the end of; survive.
Example Their marriage weathered the hard times.
Synonyms: withstand , survive, stand, outlast , endure , ride out
Similar Words: overcome, surmount, outlive, sustain, brave

As an Intransitive Verb

Definition 1. to resist deterioration when exposed to weather.
Example: The colour has been able to weather the intense sun shine.

Definition 2. to display the effects of exposure (deterioration or change in color)
Similar Words: rot, corrode, fade, deteriorate

As part of Idiomatic Expressions

Phrase used as an idiom: "under the weather" = sick or not well

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