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Vocabulary

I'm not sure how many words are in my English vocabulary. I've been in touch with English for a long time and so I think I've encountered a great number of English words up to now. My main source of vocabulary building has been through reading. Maybe, only a fraction of them are in my working vocabulary. The English language has a huge, enormous, vast, abundant, ever-increasing number of words. I hear English has the largest vocabulary of all the languages on this planet.

Interestingly enough, of all the English words I have learned by now, there are several ones that I can vividly recall when and how they got into my vocabulary.

At the first English lesson in seventh grade, I learned "sheep" and "peach." Good boy. Also in seventh grade, a classmate told me proudly that he knew a word "have." I thought he was a genius. In eighth grade, I learned the word "explanation" from the Carpenters' Top of the World. But I didn't get what "top of the world" meant. And in ninth grade, I learned "either" and "neither" during class. The English teacher pronounced those words over and over again with a "perfect Japanese accent." That haunted me for a while, lingering in my ears. A horror story, kind of. Well, next one is not a word, but I learned the meaning of "Let it be" in senior high school. I had heard it many times before, but it had always sounded like "Rally Pee" to me. Really. And while studying for entrance exams, I learned "remain" through a vocabulary exercise book. I don't know why only this word has remained in my memory.

I don't remember now how the English classes at school were really going, yet those words live in my memory with a bit of vivid scenes. Yes, my English learning in a long and winding tunnel did start with them.

Comments

Kiyo,
a very nice post! it's funny how some memories stick with us and others are ephemeral. interesting that you remember "peach". My first contact with Japanese culture was through the story "Momotaro", or Peach Boy, which I read around the age of 7 or 8.

Re: English and its large vocabulary, according to Bill Bryson's "The Mother Tongue: English and How It Got That Way" -- which I strongly recommend to anyone who either teaches or studies English -- if one were to add scientific and medical terms, the number of English words would total over 3 million. As it is, the revised Oxford English Dictionary has 615,000, of which around 200,000 are in common use. In terms of an "average" native speaker's vocabulary, various studies have been inconclusive, with figures ranging from 150,000 to 250,000. However many words we might know, how many we actually use is quite different. A 1923 study showed that the following 9 words account for 1/4th of all the words we use: and, be, have, it, of, the, to, will, you.

That reminds me how important it is for learners of English to be skilled in the use of fundamental words.