High Frequency Vocabulary
What things do you consider when planning a lesson or course? How useful is
the vocabulary you’re teaching?
Did you know that your students can understand 90% of English with less
than 12% of the average native speaker’s total vocabulary?
There are over 600,000 words in the English language (of course this differs
like everything according to which dictionary or other source you refer to)
That’s pretty much impossible for anybody to learn.
Of course, almost nobody knows all 600,000 words.
So, how many words do you think the average university educated
English speaker knows?
However, in order to understand 92% of English on TV, in movies, magazines,
online, in books and newspapers you only need to know the top 2800.
Who in their right mind figured this out?
Well … a guy named Charlie Browne … Actually …Dr. Charlie Browne led some
research (you can learn more and download all of the lists yourself using the
He based it off of about 273 million words taken from a variety of British and
They discovered that 2800 words would give you 92% coverage of general
English (this is known as Zipf’s Law)
Basically, Zipf’s Law states that some words are used much more frequently
And that the most frequent words make up a larger percentage of everything
we read, watch, listen to and hear.
So we often use the same words over and over again.
So what exactly is the NGSL word list?
The NGSL is a list of 2800 of the most frequently used words in everyday
The list does not include proper nouns, numbers and dates.
The NGSL is ordered according to frequency. In other words, how often the
word is used throughout the English language.
This can be quite challenging for ESL and EFL students as is.
It’s a powerful tool, however we caution it should be used with thought and
Let’s look at some examples of why you need to order the words according to
your needs, student levels, interests, course goals, etc.
Words such as political, process and policy are all in the top 400 words.
Other words such as telephone, weather and cook are not as frequent. These
words are listed after the top 1000.
For beginner and low intermediate students, we don’t recommend assigning
vocabulary based on frequency. This is putting the cart before the horse so to
A group of experienced ESL-EFL teachers have re-ordered the NGSL wordlist
to make it friendlier for lower level students. We refer to it as PESL and is
simply the NGSL reordered to be more ESL friendly for beginner students.
This is just one example of how we are a simple and practical approach to
teaching and learning English.
Learn more about the NGSL, NGSL-s and research involving his high frequency word lists: http://www.newgeneralservicelist.org/