Your performance in all aspects of the IELTS Test improves more with a broader vocabulary. You understand more and can express yourself better. Key attributes are required if you are to do well in the IELTS Test! It’s obvious really.
Here are some interesting statistical facts, which may surprise you:
- Just 10 words make up almost a quarter (23.7%) of the ink on any page. These are the repeated words like; a, the and of.
- 86,741 word families make up 100% of the ink on a page. I should add that there are more words in the English language, so there is a very, very small element of rounding here.
- To understand 90% of what is written on a page, you would need a lexicon of about 5000 words.
- University graduates have a vocabulary of approximately 20,000 words. How much ink on a page could they read?
- Researchers suggest 95% coverage is needed to be “self-sufficient” or self-learning in a language – i.e. to know enough to understand most of what you read and gain understanding of unknown words and phrases from context. Importantly, this is the point at which you learn to recognise when you need to refer to a dictionary to look up unfamiliar and unknown words (this is called vocabulary acquisition).
How do native speakers learn English “naturally”?
We are exposed to our native language from birth, and we gradually develop our lexicon in a natural context related way as we mature.
What does this mean?
It means that, by and large, the words we are learning are from our immediate experience and surroundings. Whatever language you are learning you will be taught the equivalent of mother, father, brother, sister, bird, cat, dog etc. As we progress through childhood, we learn words associated with more abstract concepts – run, walk, jump, see etc.
As we learn the vocabulary, we also develop associated grammar. Initially simple, it soon becomes very complex, as concepts of past, present and future enter our consciousness.
Where it really starts to take off is when we leave our home surroundings and go to school to be taught by specialists, people trained to expand our abilities.
The extent of our language capabilityand its rate of increase, however, are very much a product of our socio-economic background and the abilities of the people around us in our daily lives. The better the linguistic ability of our parents and other influential people, the better ours will be. The more fortunate our socio-economic circumstances, the more likely it is that we will be exposed to a wide range of stimulation which will trigger broader linguistic development. The more fortunate our socio-economic starting point, the further advanced we are as we enter formal teaching and the more we are able to exploit it to improve our own capability.
A fact of life.
It is a slow process, though, and our vocabulary is built over many years’ experience, learning and reading.
What does this mean for IELTS candidates learning English as a foreign language?
It is hard – mainly because of the considerable number of word families that you have to know well enough to use. This also means that you are able to understand most of the language you encounter through acquired knowledge in a specific context. Lastly and most importantly, it enables you to recognise certain terms when you need to seek help from a dictionary or other sources
The answer to this question also depends on why you are learning English. For the purpose of this post, I’m going to assume that people are reading it because they want to know how to achieve a higher score in the IELTS Test and understand how to improve their vocabulary without wasting time learning rare words which are not frequently used.
Foreign students of IELTS just don’t have sufficient time to develop their vocabulary in the way that even the weakest native English speaker does.
How can you be sure you’re not wasting your time when expanding your IELTS vocabulary?
In your IELTS Test preparation, focus is needed and should be aimed at your primary objective; which is to acquire the desired band score.
Based on the research evidence summarised above, the first goal is to make sure you know the 2000 most frequent word families of English (headwords and their main inflections and derivations), because these words will enable you to understand 80% of what you are reading.
However, please don’t treat this as the end goal.
Your ideal vocabulary expansion goal should be to read academic and general English texts with good comprehension, and to use reading as a way to expand your vocabulary even further.
I wouldn’t want to discourage you from doing this (or from doing any of the other vocabulary enriching activities recommended here on the Pass IELTS Higher website).
Learning English is not all about passing tests – though I appreciate that readers of this post are more concerned with achieving good IELTS band scores.
Which words should IELTS Test students learn?
Remember this list is just a start and you should be aiming for a far larger vocabulary.
When you are looking at the words, make sure you:
- Understand their meaning
- can identify their synonyms and antonyms
- learn how they are used and modified in different grammatical constructs.
The list provided also contains links to websites which describe more of the researched facts and concepts that underpinned the generation of the list.
IELTS students interested in the English language, will be fascinated by this work and should check it out.
To your IELTS success,