Tired of brain freeze when speaking English and learning new words doesn’t really help? Our article suggests there is light at the end of the tunnel. We have also developed a mobile app that utilises the described method.

We at Shortcut believe that building a big vocabulary is a real must and that it is the most crucial thing that you are missing now to handle a real-world conversation. The tips in this article can help you understand how to improve vocabulary in a way that is focused on finding out how many and which exact words you miss the most right now and in which order you should learn them so you can see an improvement in your speech fluency as soon as possible.

Not knowing enough words is even worse than you might think

So now you are probably done with the ‘My name is John’ stage; possibly you already get the irony of British jokes and have read some books from cover to cover, but you are still not completely able to hold a satisfying conversation. Your palms get sweaty when you keep repeating the same well-learned self-introduction at local speaking clubs and you faint entirely when having small talk with a native speaker.

The worst thing about it is that your brain learns that English is nothing but stress and it becomes a so-called ‘affective filter’, which blocks further learning completely and you are stuck at your level forever.

Are there easy ways to solve that? We believe yes.

How many words you must know and how long will it take to learn them?

Let the numbers speak:

According to Testyourvocab.com, most native English speaking adults know and use about 20 000 – 35 000 words. People who have lived abroad for a couple of years or more have a vocabulary size of a bit more than 10 000 words. They also automatically learn about 2.5 words a day by just coming across them in their everyday life.

We counted that people who have just moved to an English speaking environment develop a decent speaking competence at an average of 11 (!) years, reaching a native speaker’s level in some 22 years. These numbers are simply too huge and discouraging, so there’s no other option for us but to look for the best and fastest way to solve that.

As you may already have guessed, we came up with a clever solution 😉

We have prepared an outstanding plan of enhancing your English vocabulary skills in just a few months of active learning, reaching a native-like level in 1-2 years.

Learning only useful vocabulary

We took 20.000 most common English words (the low-key native speaker’s level) and ranked their usefulness by counting how often each can be found in a huge set of texts containing 200 million words:

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Then we counted the probability to actually need each word in an actual conversation and grouped them into thousands:

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As we can see, the usefulness of the word drops significantly at the level of 6000 words and there are about 9000 words in total that are most likely to really matter for improving your vocabulary. The chances to need each word in the remaining 11.000 words are close to zero, so we can simply skip them.

Our conclusion is, you should learn words in the order of their usefulness – from the most popular to the least popular ones. And this seems to be the most clever way to increase your chances to speak like a native speaker quite soon.

3 strategies for expanding your vocabulary

For beginners:

Learn 2 000 of the most common words or about 80% of the entire vocabulary. By learning just as few as 5 words a day, you will pass that level really fast – in about 2 months. Not that bad for a start, and you will be already able to have a simple everyday conversation.

For motivated learners:

Learn 6000-7000 words or 95% of the entire vocabulary. You will be able to have an impressive conversation with a native speaker with no blushing at all. It is also important that based on the very first 1000 most common words you have learned in the first stage, it will be much easier for you to learn the remaining 6000 by just watching movies, surfing the internet and talking to people. Thus, if you continue to learn about 10 words a day on average, you will reach the next level in about 1.5 years. After that, you can simply stop learning them on purpose and continue learning new words automatically.

For perfectionists:

About 11 000 most common words, or 99% of the entire vocabulary, or about 3 years of learning on purpose.

There is no need to learn more than 11 000 words because it is almost impossible to come across the remaining ones in an actual conversation, or you can easily explain those ideas with the words you know already.

How to learn: a mobile app for iOS

To start speaking, you do not need to wait until you will have learnt all 7000 words. Just keep learning them on a daily basis, keep in mind their usefulness, exclude the ones that you already know and you will see an improvement shortly.

It is quite simple. We have created a mobile app that helps you quickly expand your vocabulary using the described approach. Nothing in excess, just the words needed.

You will be getting the words ranked by their usefulness as cards. Those that you already know you swipe to ‘Already know’, those that you do not know yet you swipe to ‘To learn’.

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All you need to do after is to go to the ‘To learn’ section and see the translations of the words until you remember them.

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To simplify it, we assume that you need to see the translation up to 10 times to fully remember a new word

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In the ‘Progress’ section you can see your current progress and how many words are yet to be learnt to reach the next level.

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Please note: Shortcut is not the one and only mobile app for learning new vocabulary. But we are sure that there is something that we are better at than the others.

Shortcut helps you learn really useful words that are highly likely to be used in real life and that are being used by most modern native speakers.

We know how hard it is to speak up and not to be shy of speaking. We are sure though: you simply need to keep learning about 10 words a day, and each day you will be making a big step ahead towards being chit-chatty.

Download Shortcut today for free and try it yourself!