1000 Words, the first understanding in a foreign language

Basic data

To get a basic understanding of what is spoken, or written, or to communicate, it is necessary to know a number of words, so called vocabulary and the basic rules of how these words a used together to make sense (grammar).

It was found out, that by knowing the crucial 1000 words of a language, one would be able to understand 80% of normal everyday conversation, even can follow the news on TV or radio.

According to earlier research, the average citizen without higher education knows about 3000 words in his own language. Somebody with higher education like college or university has a vocabulary of about 10'000 to 15'000 words.

So that you get a feeling of the relations here: the whole vocabulary of a language can easily comprise 300'000 to 600'000 words.
If you count the specific words of some profession and special fields, you get up to several million words. The jargon of chemistry alone contains around 20 million terms.

There is some guessing of how many word some personalities in history were able to master. For example the German chancellor Conrad Adenauer used only about 500 - 800 words in all his speeches. We do hope that he knew some more words than that though. We can just speculate on this.

The vocabulary of Goethe can be easily found out from his writings and was counted up to about 90'000 words. Goethe probably had a passive vocabulary of more then that. A passive vocabulary is the words you can recognize when you hear or read it, but do not use it when you speak or write. (Goethe-Wörterbuch Bd. III: Hrsg. von der Berlin-Brandenburgischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, der Akademie der Wissenschaften in Göttingen und der Heidelberger Akademie der Wissenschaften. Stuttgart/ Berlin/ Köln/ Mainz: Kohlhammer 1998)

To quickly master a language in its basic expressions, i have developed a system to learn the most important first 1000 words of a language. That is useful for holiday, for business people abroad, or as a basic vocabulary to build upon, or just for fun.

This raises the question: which of the many words shall we learn?

Thee Basic Vocabulary should be sufficient to understand most parts of a language. Just understand of to communicate are not the same. To communicate means that you can articulate and express your thoughts. You can't just listen and guess the rest from the context. So it has to be an active vocabulary that you can use.

The first challenge of our project is to find the first 1000 words, which are most common in the general colloquial in a foreign country. And when we found these 1000 words, they will not be carved in stone, since language is evolving. Maybe someone else thinks, that other words are more important, and specially, there are new words to come as the world is changing. Notebook, notepad, smart phone and so on were unknown 6 years ago (2014)
A statistical analysis of texts that are used can give us hints into which words are used most often. It is supposed, that when we know the right 1000 words, we will understand 80% of a language as it is used colloquially.

Statistical Analysis

So that everyone can follow that analysis for her/himself, i wrote a program which does this statistical analysis of any text. You can try out this tool and analyse any kind of text with the help of this online software.
>Here to the software Statistical Analysis of Texts

Back to previous page

Unsere Partner

DHL Express

STEG Computer & Electronics

Regus Office

Allianz Versicherung

AXA Versicherung

Helvetia Versicherung

Innova Versicherung

Die Mobiliar Versicherungen

Zuerich Versicherung