evolve pancake skyscraper
native arcane comprehend
consist master (2) vast majority
field (2) foundation laid the foundation
enable discourse in other words
engage facsimile look up (2)



Vocabulary is the total number of words in a language. It is also the collection of words a person knows and uses in reading, listening, speaking and writing.

The vocabulary of a language continually grows and evolves as the world changes and becomes more complex.

Word Origins    

Throughout history, words have entered English from many other languages. These include Greek, Latin, Arabic, Danish, French, German, Hindi, and Nahuatl (native Mexican).

For example, we get (the word) alcohol from Arabic, chocolate from Nauatl, and pyjamas from Hindi.


Often base words combine to form new words, such as skyscraper and pancakes. Words have been shorted too, as in the case of fax from facsimile.

Basic, everyday words however have remained largely unchanged over the centuries: woman, man, sun, hand, love, go, and eat.

One Million Words  

With about one million words, English has the largest vocabulary of any language. That’s quite a lot to master!

The good news for language learners is that the vast majority of those words are technical, scientific, or arcane — ones that are seldom heard outside their fields.

The Top 1,200

In fact 90% of all communication in English (or indeed in any language) consists of only 1,200 of the most common words. This covers general daily usage from work and school, to recreation, radio and television.

In other words, if you master the top 1,200 words, you will have laid the foundation of a new language. You can accomplish this in about in about four to eight months, if you learn 5 to 10 new words a day.

The Top 1,200 to 4,000  

To understand 95% of English usage, you need to go up to the 4,000 most frequently used words. By doing so, you could then comprehend most newspaper and magazines articles. It would also enable you to conduct business and engage in academic discourse.

The best ways to boost your vocabulary is reading good books, magazines, and newspaper articles. You should always have a good dictionary handy to look up words you aren’t sure of.


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1. The vocabulary of English and other languages remains static, not changing. True or false?

2. Do many words in English have foreign origins? If yes, give examples. How did they get there?

3. Words like mother, brother, cat, dog, house and bird hardly change in a language. Is this correct or wrong?

4. Approximately how many words are in the English language? Does this sound overwhelming?

5. Have you heard of the 80/20 Rule, or the Pareto Principle? How would a variation of this apply here?

6. With this in mind, what should beginning language learners strive to do? How can people increase their vocabulary?

A. There are many foreign words in my language. Yes or no? If yes, what are some examples?

B. Are there words in English from your language? How did they get there?

C. Do you know people with limited vocabularies? I know many people with large vocabularies. If yes, who are they?

See 80/20 RULE.


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