Lesson 11

How to Learn 3000 Words

During the next lesson, one of the students asks our teacher this question, “You told us that it is good to know 3000 words. Where can I find these 3000 words that are the most important for me to learn?”

My teacher replies, “You can google a list of the 3000 most frequent words in English, but such a list will not help you much. When you start to learn words from this list, you will learn words outside the context. You will learn the words that are not connected with any story. You will not learn what other words are connected with these words in sentences. You will learn them in your short-term memory.

This system works only for some words. These are basic words which describe things and people around us, for example mother, father, apple, blue, orange, dog, cat, book, car, house, city, boy, girl, water, cinema, or paper.

These are words which represent something that you can imagine easily. For example, when you learn the word “dog”, you know immediately what it is. You have a clear idea in your head what the word means. Yet when you want to learn words such as “appreciate” or “suppose”, this system doesn’t work well.

This is a problem many students experience. They start their studying by using lists of words. It works at the beginning and they believe that they can learn English this way. They don’t know that when they achieve the level of 1000 words, they have to start using a different system. If you want to learn words from a higher level, you have to learn them from whole sentences. If you understand the meaning of a word in the context of a sentence, you will learn the word much better.

You can learn words from lists, but there is usually a limit where you can go with this way of learning, and it is 1000 words. Also, way of learning is very slow. There are much better ways which we have already spoken about such as reading. For beginners, the best book to read is Robinson Crusoe in simple English. You can find this book at www.robinsoncrusoeinlevels.com. It is the best book I know of for learning new words for beginners.

There is also one interesting rule that applies here. Every word that is important for you will come back to your life again and again until you learn the word. This is very similar to the way we learn your own language. When we are children, we don’t study from lists of words. We just use the language and important words keep coming into our lives again and again until one day we know what the words mean. We keep learning new words this way all our lives.

For example, the verb “google” is a new word in many languages. We learnt this word by using the language. We didn’t learn this word from any list of words. When you heard the word “google” for the first time, you probably didn’t know what the word meant. Then you heard it again and again as the word was important for you and after some time you understood the word.

You can forget about lists of words. Learn new words by reading stories and other interesting texts. When you use English a lot every day, you will learn new words more effectively than from lists of words. Does it make sense?”

“Yes,” says the student, “Thank you.”

After school I go to my work. I already understand how to do my work very well. Things start to be automatic. I am happy that I understand my customers. It is not very difficult because the conversations are usually very similar. Our customers want some coffee or sandwiches, so the words are usually the same or very similar. My confidence goes higher and sometimes I start to have longer conversations with our customers. Everything is good but then something happens. It is a little bit shocking for me.

When you learn a new word, learn it as part of the whole sentence.