Will You Understand Czech by Learning 1000 Common Words? 181 Lecturers Share Their View

There are several studies that claim that 1000 most used words in a foreign language help you understand 75% of common communication.  Czech-based Flashcard app Vocabulary Miner asked 181 language lecturers whether they think it is true.

It was all inspired by the 2013 British Council 1000 words campaign motivated Britons to learn 1000 words in a foreign language. According to British Council study, lack of knowledge of foreign languages opens up a social divide that a second language can bridge.

Professor Webb, who studied language learning at the University of Western Ontario also suggests in the BBC article that “the most effective way to be able to speak a language quickly is to pick the 800 to 1,000 lemmas which appear most frequently in a language, and learn those”.


Lecturers and teachers of foreign languages say “YES but…”

Inspired by the British Council, Vocabulary Miner – the app that created unique expat Word lists, now designed word lists with 1000 most common words in combinations of Czech, English, French, Spanish and Slovak.

The team behind Vocabulary Miner was curious whether the method of 1000 Word lists is approved by lecturers themselves.

Vocabulary Miner asked 181 lecturers of foreign languages on the issue of 1000 words theory.

More than 67,7% of respondents replied that it is a good method to start learning foreign languages. 11,4% were not fond of such a method and the rest replied “yes, but…”

Kateřina Vodičková, a lecturer at Charles University says: ”It surely can help to understand basic communication and to gain the feeling that you understand at least something. But it may not be enough. People may need different words depending on the communication situations they enter.”

Michaela Pešková who teaches Czech at Zhejiang Yuexiu University Of Foreign Languages and co-creates the project SlowCzech, adds: “ I support this 1000 Word project very much. It is a waste of time to learn unusual words in the beginning. It only demotivates students.”

Veronika Šimánková from Learn Online Languages supports the approach, too: “Learning the basic words for the needs of the student with a good lecturer is what has been working for our students.

Šárka Keslerová who works as Czech lecturer in The Institute for Language and Preparatory Studies, Charles University looks at the Vocabulary Miner’s question even closer:

“A three-year-old has a vocabulary of 1000 words. An adult has a basic vocabulary of around 5000 words. So it makes sense that 1000 words will help say your basic needs in very basic communication. I tried to ask myself A1-level questions and answer them with only 1000 most frequent words. I was almost always successful. The important thing is also your background language. For foreigners learning Czech, it is quite a difference if they are Korean or from Slavic nations.”


NO voices raise valid arguments: Don’t forget about context and grammar

To learn languages such as the Czech language with conjugation and inflection you need to learn basic vocabulary together with basic grammar. Several Czech lecturers, therefore, warn about sticking to exclusive vocabulary learning.

Ondřej Diblík from the Centre For Foreigners of the South Moravian Region says that for learning Czech, it is really important to add basic grammar.

“Learning 1000 isolated words is like knowing 1000 names of spices without knowing that cinnamon in opposition to oregano is not tasteful on pizza. Knowing 1000 words might be motivational rather than a language learning panacea,” Jitka Hejlová, Czech lecturer at Université libre de Bruxelles draws attention to logic and grammar of the language, too.

Jana Čadová, English lecturer from National Institute for Further Education says: “1000 frequently used words with grammar and context might get you to understand 75% of informal texts on A2 level.  It provides tourists basics  but it is  not enough for any kind of fluency.”

Pavlína Hotařová from Slůně, the world of language, concludes the drawbacks of Vocabulary Miner’s idea: “You cannot talk only by memorizing 1000 words.”


Learning 1000 most common words is a great beginning, but it is only a beginning

Many teachers and lecturers suggest that learning vocabulary is obviously not enough. Therefore Vocabulary Miner does not promise fluency, only that you say more with each word. It also actively cooperates with lecturers such as Markéta from mylessons.cz, Simona from Hebrejština s radostí, and Lenka from Czech Time to ensure that words won’t be out of context and other language elements won’t be forgotten.

Vocabulary with the most common words is available in the app under the keyword “1000”. You can check how many out of 1000 Czech words you already know.


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