“We should learn languages because language is the only thing worth knowing even poorly.”
Let’s spend the next 100 days learning 2000 Spanish words! It’s probably the best bang for your buck you can ever invest, time-wise, on learning this language and I’ll tell you why that is and how easy it is to do.
Mark Davies is a linguistics professor at Brigham Young University in the USA and he has Linguistics and Spanish language degrees up to his eyeballs (you can see his credentials here). During the 2003 Hispanic Linguistics Symposium he presented a paper in which he talked about high frequency use Spanish words and their relation to the size of a person’s Spanish vocabulary.
Here is the gist of what he proposed:
1000 words: if you know the 1000 most frequently used Spanish words then you can get the gist of around 77% of all written communication and around 90% of all verbal communication.
2000 words: if you know 2000 Spanish words then you can get the gist of around 85% of all written communication and around 93% of all verbal communication.
3000 words: if you know 3000 Spanish words then you can get the gist of around 90% of all written communication and around 94% of all verbal communication.
THIS IS HUGE!
This means that if you learn just the 1000 most used Spanish words then you can make sense of about 90% of what people say. I’ll say it again – this is huge.
Obviously it’s not quite this simple (it never is, is it?):
- Many of the 1000 words are verbs that are mostly used in their conjugated forms but it appears on the list in its infinitive form. This means that you may find the verb dormir (to sleep) on the list, but you are more likely to encounter it ‘on the street’ in the form of duermo (I sleep) or dormían (they slept) etc. but nevertheless, this is one hell of a start.
- When we listen to spoken Spanish we have to contend with the spectacular speed at which its delivered as well as regional accents, slang usage etc. but once again, these 1000 words are a great start.
So what are these 1000 words and where can one find them. Well, they’re all over the internet, all you have to do is Google them. There’s not a definitive list of exactly what the 1000 most used words are, but I’ve looked at many of them and give or take maybe 30 words they’re all more or less the same.
I’ve created a set of online flashcards for them and you can use them for free by clicking here. You can log into Quizlet quite safely with your Facebook profile, I did it and it works fine.
If you prefer to download them as a .pdf file then click here.
That takes care of the first 1000 words, but I mentioned in the header that we can easily learn 2000 words so let’s see about what they are.
The next list of 1000 words we can learn entails huge amounts of very easy cheating. Because Spanish and English are second cousins there are thousands of words that are very similar in both languages and many of them are nearly identical and then another bunch that are absolutely identical.
Actor, agenda, coma, alcohol, debate, festival, inevitable, vital, vulnerable etc. are referred to as perfect cognates, because they have identical meanings and spellings in both languages.
Asociación, concentración, contrario, plástico, religioso and hundreds more are called near perfect cognates because they are very nearly identical to their English counterparts.
You can find a useful blog post with a list of 1001 of these words by clicking here.
So there you have it, 2000 Spanish words that you can learn very easily. In fact, at least 1000 of them you already know.
If you learn how to read, write and pronounce 20 words a day (10 from each of the two lists) then, in theory, you will have a working understanding of 77 – 93% of written and spoken Spanish.
That’s one hell of a beginning!