Jane Birkenhead, January 16 2023

Build Effective Vocabulary for IELTS and TOEFL

Students often ask for a list of essential words to learn for English proficiency exams like IELTS and TOEFL. 

Getting a long vocabulary list and trying to memorize definitions is not a good learning strategy. It doesn't reflect the way your brain likes to learn things, and so it's rarely successful.

But actively learning from a targeted list can be helpful. 

Let me explain how this works….but first, we need to start with a story.

The General Service List (the GSL)

About 70 years ago, a group of vocabulary researchers compiled a list of the most frequently occurring words in English. There were around 2,000 words and the researchers called their list the General Service List (the GSL). They intended it to be helpful for anyone learning English who wanted to have a targeted list of words to learn. And it was helpful for many learners for decades.

Then, about 10 years ago, a modern group of vocabulary researchers started working with the GSL. They wanted to find a way to update it - some of the words were very old-fashioned - and to make it more relevant to modern English. So they created the New General Service List (the NGSL). 

The New General Service List (the NGSL)

The NGSL is a list of around 2,800 words used most frequently in English. The researchers have made this list available on Quizlet so that anyone can actively learn the words from the list.

The NGSL on Quizlet 

If you click the link below, you’ll see that the list has been broken up into 100 word blocks. Scroll down to the bottom of the page, and start with the 1 - 100 block. Then work through the other blocks and actively learn the words. If you like learning from apps, then this could be a great learning strategy for you.

The Importance of High Frequency Vocabulary

Why am I telling you this story? In most normal English communication, a high percentage of the words we use (about 90%!) are from the 2,000 most frequent words in English. This number gets reduced slightly in academic texts, but the difference is just a few percent.

So, if you really want to improve your English vocabulary and if you really want to understand what people are talking about, and writing, then learning words from the NGSL will make a big difference.

Written by

Jane Birkenhead

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