I’ve got a friend living in Spain.
And he’s learning the language.
“How’s it going?” I asked.
“Fine,” he said. “I can understand and talk about things…. if I’m at the zoo.”
You see, he’s using a popular app that teaches him Spanish vocabulary.
But like most vocabulary programs, it gives him words in categories.
So there are vocabulary lessons for the doctor’s office, the bathroom and the zoo.
And that’s super practical.
If you’re at the doctor’s office, in the bathroom or visiting the zoo…
Can you see the crime yet?
Here’s another hint.
The Oxford English dictionary has 171,476 words.
You can NOT learn them all.
Educated native speakers only know 20,000.*
You must choose the words you will learn.
Therefore, it’s a vocabulary crime to teach a word a student does not need.
Teachers and students must be strategic.
You must focus.
Because last I checked, you can’t get more time at the ATM.
How To Know If You Need A Word
So how do you know if you need a word?
Here’s a simple method.
If you see a new word once, don’t worry about it.
Last summer I was reading a biography on the English polyglot Sir Richard Burton. (He spoke more than 20 languages!)
I saw the word “prolixity.”
“Hmm, what does that mean?” I thought.
So I learned it.
But then I never saw it again, nor heard anyone use it.
It was not a common word.
It was one of the 150,000 words most native speakers don’t know.
But what if you’re reading the news during breakfast and you see the word “vast”…
And then you’re listening to a podcast in your car and you hear it again…
And then in the evening you’re watching “The Crown” on Netflix and you hear it again….
That’s a common, valuable, useful word.
And become a Master of Words.