Frequency dictionaries : do you use them?

It it seems that in English there are 4000 to 5000 words that play a central role in understanding the language. These most frequent words allow you to understand up to 95 % of a written text.

With 1000 most frequent words one is able to understand 85% of a written text.

That’s what Routledge, the editor of Frequency dictionaries pretends.

I always am a little bit annoyed when learning a new language I am constantly confronted with words that I find useless in a textbook and chosen randomly with no scientific background. I always dreamed to have a list of the most important verbs, the most important words. I saw now that Routledge published such a dictionary for my target language. The critics on Amazon aren’t unanimous and the book is expensive.

Do you use this kind of resource ?

Apr 13, 2018 4:40 PM
Comments · 26

@Chris that website with the 5000 most frequent words in English is very interesting. Thank you very much. I wasn’t able however to download it on my tablet, I must log in every time to read it online. I find it useful

The skeptical here can laugh. I do not care! I was happy to browse through the 5000 words and see that I know them all. I leave to ambitious scholars like Bluebottle and SHL the target of 50.000 word for their fluency according linguist XY.

I am happy to learn my sixt language and to be able to read, discuss and work in five others. I do not need to have all the Merriam Webster in my head.

I started this discussion because I wanted some concrete advice on the matter. You can continue to yak (is this verb in your or my lists?) about Michel Thomas and co, I was wondering nobody mentioned Tony Marsh until now. Well there are some members busy elsewhere.

Once again Chris thank you.

April 13, 2018


I made my own frequency spreadsheet for Spanish.  If your target language has a list printed online of the frequency of words (like the Real Academy of Spain does with Spanish)  you can copy and paste it into a spreadsheet, with the word rank in the first column and the word in the 2nd column.  Then sort the spreadsheet alphabetically and save it.   Then when you want to see how frequently the word is used, just look at your spreadsheet--- look alphabetically for the word and the rank will be beside it.  

I don´t use mine often anymore but I made it and use it before I ever enter a word into my Anki program.  I started to realize that I had spent time learning words that turned out not to be common.

However, my approach now usually is not to add more words to ANKI and I haven´t used my spreadsheet recently.  I now just read and assume that I will learn the more common words just because they get repeated more. 

April 13, 2018

Antonio those lists exist for English, happy that you find them useful and that somebody who as an analytical background confirms what I was thinking. 

I was wondering if they exist for Arabic.

April 13, 2018

I wish teaching materials took more care of frequencies instead of topics. There are some important words that I usually encounter in texts but that are not in teaching materials. I come from an analytical background, so I have no doubt that frequencies do help to make learning more efficient. First things first, that's the idea behind it. 

You don't need to buy a book, as there are many free frequency lists, and you also have  them by part of speech. No wonder, all articles, prepositions and conjunctions are on top. Verbs and names come later.

From time to time I look back at frequency lists to pick some important words that I should already know.

April 13, 2018


Oh, you are the treasure of info, number one!


Thank you for your advice about the frequency list structure! What is important... to create own list of frequency. For example, I need more words about poisonous spiders...

April 13, 2018
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