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The Trick to English Mastery: Core English Words You Must Know

Do you sometimes worry that you will never be able to learn all the English words out there?

We have both bad and good news for you. The bad news is that you’re right. You won’t learn every word ever coined in English. But you know what? The good news is you don’t need to.

After all, how often do you use words like curmudgeon, hullabaloo and cacophony in your own language?

No matter what language they speak, people tend to be quite repetitive and use the same core words over and over again in their daily lives, both at home and at the workplace.

But how do you know what English words you should focus on when it comes to learning vocabulary?

Let’s find the answer.


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What Are the Oxford Core Words?

The editors of the Oxford Dictionaries have done an extensive research to find out how many words native speakers actually use.

Among other findings, they discovered that only 10 English words make up 25% of everything English speakers say and write every day.

Now, if you want to understand half of what a native speaker says, you will need to know 100 words.

Feeling ambitious? Then you should try learning 1000 words. That will allow you to understand 75% of an everyday English conversation. Once you’re able to do that, you can proudly say that you have reached an intermediate level of English.

Now, if you really want to go deeper and understand virtually everything native speakers of English say, you’ll need to learn up to 5000 words.


The Oxford 3000

As its name indicates, the Oxford 3000 is a list of the 3,000 core English words that every student should know at an A1-B2 level (from Beginner to Upper-Intermediate). These English words have been selected based on how often they appear in English communications and how relevant they are to learners of English when it comes to understanding the overall meaning of a piece of discourse.

The Oxford 5000

The Oxford 5000 is an expanded key word list for more advanced students of English. It goes beyond the Oxford 3000 list to include an additional 2,000 terms that will take learners from a B2 or upper-intermediate level into a C1 (advanced) or C2 (proficient) level. This list contains relevant high-level vocabulary that will help learners expand their communication skills.

Core English Words and How to Learn Them

Studying English words can be an exhausting activity. Without a proper study technique, all your effort might go to waste as you see how new words slip out of your memory from week to week.

Before we get into the core word list, then, let us give you a few general tips to take your learning sessions to the next level.

  1. Are you a morning person or a night person? Choose a time of day when you feel awake and energetic. Otherwise, your brain will have to work harder to retain information.
  2. Determine your learning goal. What kind of English words will you be learning today? How do they relate to one another? How much time will you devote to learning?
  3. Eliminate distractions. Find a room where you can have some peace (and good lighting!) to help you focus on your task. Most importantly, make sure you turn off your phone!
  4. Studying vocabulary can be taxing for your mind. When you’re feeling tired, it’s hard to concentrate. Schedule at least one break to give your brain and eyes a rest.


A1/A2 English Words

Ability. Above. Abroad. Background. Bank. Become. Capital. Career. Careful. Dangerous. Daughter. Decide. Earth. Education. Effect. Female. Few. Fiction. Garden. General. Geography. Himself. History. Hobby. Immediately. Important. Impossible. Join. June. Jump. Key. Kid. Kill. Land. Language. Laptop. May. Meal. Mean. Necessary. Nothing. Notice. Open. Organization. Owner. Page. Particular. Partner. Quantity. Quarter. Queen. Race. Radio. Railway. Salary. Salt. Scientist. Thought. Thousand. Through. Underground. Understanding. Unfortunately. Vehicle. Visitor. Voice. Wait. Wake. Walk. Yellow. Yes. Yesterday. Zero. Zoo. Zebra.

Just getting started? The sample of core English words for A1 and A2 learners should give you a taste of the kind of vocabulary you need to learn to understand everyday conversations.

Tip for learners: Remember that we learn words not because we are language collectors, but because we want to use this vocabulary in conversations. If you try to learn too many core words at once, you will soon be forgetting more words than you can use in actual communications. Five to ten words a day is a nice pace if you want to boost your vocabulary.

B1/B2 English Words

Abandon. Absolute. Academic. Beyond. Breath. Bullet. Capture. Cancel. Candidate. Depressed. Desperate. Development. Embarrassed. Emphasize. Employment. Facility. Fascinating. Fashionable. Genre. Gentleman. Ghost. Highlight. Historical. Hollow. Illustration. Immigrant. Impatient. Judge. Junior. Justice. Lack. Layer. Lean. Mental. Mixture. Model. Normal. Nuclear. Numerous. Obey. Objective. Opponent. Parliament. Performance. Permanent. Qualify. Quit. Quote. Rapid. Rarely. Raw. Sailor. Satisfy. Scale. Temporary. Theme. Thus. Universe. Unknown. Update. Venue. Version. Via. Wage. Warm. Warn. Wind. Wise. Witness. Yet. Young. Youth. Zone.

As you can see from the sample above, some of the English words at the B1 and B2 levels are a bit more difficult because they are of a more learned nature. These are the kinds of words that most students start using when they enter an intermediate stage in their learning process.

Knowing these words is proof that you can convey more complex thoughts, which means that you’re starting to own the language and use it to express ideas and interact with others in a way that feels fulfilling and authentic.

Tip for learners: If you feel like you understand most of them but rarely use them, don’t worry. That’s completely normal. After all, reading and listening are receptive skills. When it comes to producing your own language (either in oral or written form) you might need a little more time before you can confidently use some of these words.

C1/C2 English Words

Absorbent. Accumulate. Accomplish. Brainstorm. Broadly. Broaden. Chatter. Critic. Cut Out. Dedicated. Demanding. Deposing. Enhance. Evolve. Expertise. Flexible. Flooded. Format. Gently. Gesture. Grit. Hire. Host. Humanity. Innovation. Insight. Inspiration. Jittery. Launch. Legislation. Literacy. Magnetic. Maintain. Majority. Negotiate. Newsworthy. Noticeable. Obligatory. Obsolete. Obstacle. Persuade. Photosynthesis. Pioneer. Quarantine. Reciprocal. Reckless. Recruitment. Skepticism. Scrumptious. Shareholder. Tackle. Theoretically. Tranquil. Unfulfilled. Universal. Unwind. Vertically. Vicinity. Voraciously. Widespread. Withdraw. Wooden. Youngster. Zombie.

How many of the terms above do you recognize? Knowing these English words is proof that you’re a very advanced learner and that you can understand all the nuances and subtleties that exist even in the most complex of English communication.

It means, for example, that you’re ready to do a university course in English, or that you can take part in conversations about political issues or artistic events.

Tips for learners: Some of these words may have multiple meanings depending on the context in which they appear. If you want to look up the definition of C1 or C2 words, make sure you get the meaning you’re looking for. Also, a good exercise for advanced level students is to take any new word, for example, the noun “inspiration”, and try to make as many words from it as you can: inspiring, inspire, uninspired, etc.

If you want to access the complete list of words for each level, check out this very useful tool created by a team of linguists at The University of Oxford.

As you can see, learning English is all about knowing what words to learn and what is the best time to learn them depending on your level and objectives. Whether you are a beginner learner or an advanced student, it’s important that you set clear goals for yourself and that you find ways to make the words you learn helpful and memorable.

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