For language learners, the “80/20 rule” is real. The most efficient path to fluency is through mastery of high-frequency words

As described by Vilfredo Pareto in the late 19th century, the Pareto Principle states that 20 percent of the input into a project yields 80 percent of the output. This 80/20 rule has been demonstrated across disciplines from economics to software engineering to language learning.

The 2,000 most frequently-used words in a language cover about 80% of most conversation and texts (Nation 2001), even in complex reading materials like economics textbooks and academic articles. These are words you probably use at least every other day. “Back,” “inside,” and “home” are all within the 2,000 most common words in English. While 2,000 words may seem intimidatingly large, that is only a fraction of the more than 171,000 words that the Oxford English Dictionary counts as currently in use in the English language.

The most frequently used word in English is “the”—in fact, it has been shown to make up 7% of the words found in Google Books data. The 100 most frequently used words tend to be short and representative of the most crucial concepts across human history and culture: “person,” “be,” “good,” “not,” “time,” and “do.”

So you’re ready to master the top 2,000 words for your language of choice; but what is the most efficient way to do that? That is the problem that led us to create WordBrewery.

WordBrewery is designed to teach languages with real sentences selected based on the frequency of the words they contain. WordBrewery starts you off with sentences that use only the most frequently used words in order to get you conversant faster. Setting aside proper nouns (such as names), our beginner sentences contain only the 500 most frequently used words in your target language. Our intermediate sentences raise that to 3000 (about 95% coverage of most texts and speech); our advanced sentences raise it to 10,000 (about 99% of most texts and speech); and our master-level sentences include the 20,000 most common words, which is about what would be expected of a university-educated native speaker.

WordBrewery’s Explore Mode allows you to discover high-frequency vocabulary in the context of authentic, relevant sentences scraped from news sites around the world. By reading sentences on WordBrewery every day, you’ll systematically master the most important vocabulary in your target language, and you’ll be using your study time as efficiently as possible. We don’t suggest that WordBrewery is the only language-learning method you should use, but mastering the essential vocabulary of your target language is a prerequisite to real fluency, and our goal is to help you reach that goal as quickly and enjoyably as possible.

Once you’ve mastered the 2,000 or 3,000 most frequently used words, you may wish to focus on specialized vocabulary based on your interests. If you travel frequently for business, you can use WordBrewery to find new words specific to business and finance. If you’re a big fútbol fan, you can focus on sports-related content with WordBrewery. Specialized vocabulary words may be less common, but they are often more useful for your daily life. And they are essential to understanding text and speech in your area of interest.

Start applying the Pareto Principle to your own language learning today by reading sentences in your target language at WordBrewery; WordBrewery is free, and it’s getting better every day.

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