Vocabulary Webinar

The webinar is now over. Thank you for your participation. Here for your  review are the presentation slides.



Learning vocabulary in a foreign language can at times seem an insurmountable task. Estimates differ as to the actual number of words in English, but a recent one suggested there are at least 600,000 word families.  Research shows that most native speakers make do with just 20 to 30,000 of these words, and life itself teaches us which words are important. However, for language learners with time constraints and possible work or study deadlines looming, learning even 20 to 30,000 is too much. It is therefore crucial for them to focus on the words that really matter. 

Researching language
Corpus research has been around for a few decades now, but one of the most innovative and influential corpora of recent years is the Cambridge English Corpus. Comprised of over 2 billion words of spoken and written American and British English, this corpus has been the driving force behind a lot of recent change in published materials for learning English. Sophisticated software allows researchers to delve deep into language, studying usage patterns, real grammar rules, differences between spoken and written English, and changes over time. If we add to this sub-corpora, such as business, engineering, and medicine, industry-specific features of language come to light. It is precisely this kind of research that tells us categorically (and quantitatively) which words are needed and in which contexts. Looking at the same issue from a different perspective, we can not only answer the question, “How many words do I need to know to understand 50 percent, 75 percent, 90 percent or 95 percent of a typical essay, report, lecture, or conversation?”,  we can even find out which words are needed and their rough order of importance.

What are the key words? 
Two commonly referenced word lists have helped shape our understanding of key vocabulary; Michael West’s General Service List (GSL), created in 1953 to specify the crucial 2,000 words needed to understand 90 to 95 percent of colloquial speech and 80 to 85 percent of common written texts; and Averil Coxhead’s Academic Word List (AWL), 570 words commonly appearing in academic texts that can be added to the GSL to give a better fit for learners going on to university study. Both technology and language never cease to evolve, and in 2013, Dr Charles Browne, Dr Brent Culligan, and Joe Phillips undertook the task to fully update these lists using a specially derived subset of the Cambridge English Corpus. The new lists can be downloaded from 
http://www.newgeneralservicelist.org and  http://www.newacademicwordlist.org (coming soon), thus making the precise list of the most important words needed to comprehend English available to everyone. 

How can these words be learnt? 
The final piece of the puzzle, then, is the process of learning the words. Cambridge University Press, together with English Central, bring to you a fully integrated app, web, and print course that has vocabulary building at its core. It features seamless transition from print to app to web on a learner management system that lets teachers follow the exact progress of each of their students in building their vocabulary (and, of course, lets students see their own improvement as well).


  1. I am interested in materials (articles. videos, flash cards and so on) in English for my students in the field of veterinary medicine and biotechnology – Master’s Degree.


  2. Richard Lemmer says:

    The link to the new academic word list was not working when I tried it.



    • Rich it says coming soon but I suspect it should be out in a few weeks. He is presenting at the JALT conference and is giving a talk about this there too so I would expect he is getting it ready to come out right after or just before. If you are in Japan come, I am presenting unfortunately at the same time he is giving his so hopefully they will have a recording of it on youtube later. So coming soon should actually mean soon this time.


  3. Hello

    Could you tell me if I would be able to see the webinar at another time through a link? Im in Spain so its a different time.

    Many thanks



  4. Scott, thanks for clarifying and you are correct. We just spoke to Charles and he asked us to change the link to “coming soon”. It will be launched and available in a few weeks in conjunction with JALT.



  5. Richard Lemmer says:

    Scott and EC,

    Thanks for the updated info. Hope to see you in Kobe.


  6. Charles Browne says:

    Thanks guys.

    Yes, the work on the NAWL is done (ie the words on the list are now finalized), but I will not be able to get around to creating the site until after JALT National. Am leaving in 45 minutes for Korea where I am Featured Speaker at KOTESOL this weekend (4 presentations), then have the 2 webinars and 6 more presentations at JALT National in Kobe.

    I promise that we will do our best to get the NAWL link and site up within a week of getting back from Kobe.

    All my best,



  7. Hello, I’m interested in th ewebinar but I live in Spain and the times are different. Can I still register and be provided with a link to watch the webinar later? Many thanks


    • Hi Monira,

      We realize that the times are mostly ideal for teachers in Asia. But the good news is that we will record the webinar and share the link here and on social media so all teachers can watch it afterward. So you’ll get a chance to be a part of it all!


  8. Courtney Colborn says:


    I, like Monira, have a time conflict. I would love to see this link. Do I check back on the home page on the 16th?


  9. It is now December. The NAWL link still doesn’t work for me.


    • We’ll forward this to Charles Browne and hopefully he’ll have an update for you. Thanks for letting us know, the website was under construction but due to be available before the new year.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: