[Corpora-List] Re: Numbers of English vocabulary required for students

James_L._Fidelholtz jfidel at siu.buap.mx
Mon Oct 2 04:30:00 CEST 2006

Hi, Su-hsun,

Brett Reynolds's suggestions seem to me pretty sound. Just a couple of

Aside from his comment about 'knowing' a word, you also have to have clear
what you mean by 'word'. I'm assuming Brett is including word derivation in
what he calls 'word families'. Most theorists, as well as most
practitioners, would call derived words separate words (eg, they have a
separate entry in a normal dictionary). For at least some practical
applications, we also need to have separate distinctly inflected words
listed separately, or at least derived or derivable (eg, spell-checkers).

In the first half of the last century, there was published a book which
listed about 800 'basic' words of English, with the claim that virtually all
communication in English (except, perhaps, the very most technical) could be
carried out with just those 800 words. They were, of course, approximately
the 800 most common words. This was clearly a cheat, since many such word
are highly polysemous and, in some cases, even homonymous. I think nowadays
most people would accept Brett's +/- 2500 words (plus close relatives) as
(maybe a sub-) minimum for the number of words necessary to 'manage' English
in an academic context.

One needs to keep in mind also that, if the student is entering a
predominantly or largely English-speaking environment, that their productive
and receptive control of the language will naturally get better with the
exposure to many different communicative contexts within and outside of the
academic context.


PS: My specific context (Mexico) is not very relevant for your interests, I
don't think. Of course, Spanish is the national language, though English is
very widely (and often very lousily) taught in schools, and even used on
occasion in academic contexts. Like Brett, I know of no university in the US
or in Mexico that requires (control of) a certain number of words in English
or in Spanish. Many do require or test for a certain level of (general or
specific) knowledge, which would require being able to take and pass a test
written in the language, with the answers likewise written in the language.
The test, of course, would vary in generality and difficulty, depending on
the level the student is aspiring to.

Su-hsun Tsai escribió:

> Dear Corpora-Lers,


> I am writing to ask some information about learning English (or textbook

> compilation info) in your country.


> I would like to know how many words of English vocabulary required for a

> high school graduate entering a college/university program? Do you have a

> similar requirement for students entering into high schools?


> Thank you for your response. When you respond, please also indicate

> whether

> English is an official/mother/second/foreign language in your context.

> This information would be useful, too.


> Best regards,

> Su-hsun

> Su-hsun Tsai

> Assistant Professor

> Taipei Municipal University of Education

> Taipei, Taiwan

James L. Fidelholtz
Posgrado en Ciencias del Lenguaje, ICSyH
Benemérita Universidad Autónoma de Puebla MÉXICO

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