Why Technical English

Reasons for enriching your vocabulary | April 24, 2009

By Galina Vitkova

There are several associated lexicographical terms that we meet when studying languages. Those are a vocabulary, dictionary, thesaurus, lexicon, and glossary. Needless to mention that these terms are often mixed up. That is why I decided to briefly describe them using Wikipedia. Let us start with a vocabulary. 

A person’s vocabulary is the set of word they are familiar with in a language. A vocabulary usually grows and evolves with age, and serves as a useful and fundamental tool for communication and acquiring knowledge


Graphic showing vocabulary included in a typic...

Image via Wikipedia


Types of vocabulary

(Listed according to the Wikipedia in order of most ample to most limited)

Reading vocabulary – all the words a person can identify when reading. 

Listening vocabulary – all the words a person can easily recognize when listening to speech. This vocabulary is enhanced in size by context and tone of voice.

Writing vocabulary – all the words a person can employ in writing. The writing vocabulary is stimulated by its user.

Speaking vocabulary – all the words a person can use in speech. Free nature of the speaking vocabulary often leads to misuse of words.

Focal vocabulary – is a specialized set of terms and distinctions that are particularly important to a certain group and reflect experience or activities of this group.

Vocabulary development


In the earlier phase, vocabulary increase needs no effort. Infants hear words and mimic them, finally associating them with objects and actions. This is the listening vocabulary. The speaking vocabulary follows, as a child’s mind becomes more reliant on its ability to express itself without gestures and mere sounds. Once the reading and writing vocabularies are acquired the anomalies and irregularities of the language can be determined. 

In the first grade, an advantaged student (i.e. a literate student) knows about twice as many words as a disadvantaged student. This leads into a wide range of a vocabulary size in the fifth and sixth grade, when students know about 2,500–5,000 words. These students have learned an average of 3,000 words per year, approximately eight words per day. After leaving school, vocabulary enhances areally. 

Even if we learn a word, we understand it better when we hear the words in combinations with other words in phrases, where it is commonly used. 



Native- and foreign-language vocabulary

Native-language vocabulary: Native speakers’ vocabularies vary widely within a language, and are especially dependent on the level of the speaker’s education. In 1995 the vocabulary size of college-educated speakers came to about 17,000 word families, while first-year college students had about 12,000.  

Foreign-language vocabulary: The vocabulary size influences significantly the language comprehension. The researchers studied texts totalling one million words and found that if one knows the words with the highest frequency, the person will quickly know most of the words in a text. 

Vocabulary Size  

Written Text Coverage  

Vocabulary Size  

WrittenText Coverage  

0 words 
















By knowing the 2000 words with the highest frequency, one would know 80% of the words in those texts. These numbers should be encouraging to beginners, especially because the numbers in the table are for word lemmas (i.e. the canonical form of all the forms of the given word with the same meaning), which give even higher coverage. Nevertheless, we need to understand about 95% of a text to be close to full understanding and it looks like one needs to know more than 10,000 words for that. 


Basic English vocabulary

Several word lists have been developed to provide people with a limited vocabulary as an effective means of communication or of gaining quick language proficiency. In 1930, Charles Kay Ogden created Basic English (850 words). Other lists include Simplified English (1000 words) and Special English (1500 words). The General Service List 2000 high frequency words was compiled by Michael West from a 5,000,000 word corpus. It has been used to create adapted reading texts for English language learners. 

References: Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia  http://en.wikipedia 





  1. Patience, is the key skill to extend Vocabulary in my opinion. Nice text sir!

    Comment by Brian — April 25, 2009 @ 12:47 am

  2. Dear Sir

    I wondered if you might like a link to both my Foreign word site and my English word website or press release details of my ensuing book with Penguin Press on amusing and interesting English vocabulary?


    with best wishes

    Adam Jacot de Boinod

    (author of The Meaning of Tingo)



    or wish to include:

    When photographers attempt to bring out our smiling faces by asking us
    to “Say Cheese”, many countries appear to follow suit with English
    equivalents. In Spanish however they say patata (potato), in Argentinian Spanish whisky, in French steak frites, in Serbia ptica (bird) and in
    Danish appelsin (orange). Do you know of any other varieties from around the world’s languages? See more on http://www.themeaningoftingo.com


    The Wonder of Whiffling is a tour of English around the globe (with fine
    coinages from our English-speaking cousins across the pond, Down Under
    and elsewhere).
    Discover all sorts of words you’ve always wished existed but never knew,
    such as fornale, to spend one’s money before it has been earned; cagg, a solemn vow or resolution not to get drunk for a certain time; and
    petrichor, the pleasant smell that accompanies the first rain after a
    dry spell.
    Delving passionately into the English language, I also discover why it
    is you wouldn’t want to have dinner with a vice admiral of the narrow
    seas, why Jacobites toasted the little gentleman in black velvet, and
    why a Nottingham Goodnight is better than one from anywhere else. See
    more on http://www.thewonderofwhiffling.com

    with best wishes


    Comment by Adam Jacot de Boinod — August 13, 2009 @ 12:04 am

  3. Hello, Adam,
    Thank you very much for your interest to the post. I´ve dropped a look at your both websites and I think they could be attractive for visitors of my blogs. So, I ´ve put links to both your sites.
    To your success
    Galina Vitkova

    Comment by Galina Vitkova — August 19, 2009 @ 9:02 pm

  4. […] Reasons for enriching your vocabulary  […]

    Pingback by Changing the theme of this blog « Why Technical English — August 26, 2010 @ 9:28 am

  5. Very Interesting Post! Thank You For Thi Information!

    Comment by Oregege — November 15, 2010 @ 8:15 pm

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