Friday, September 25, 2015

The Problem with Frequency Dictionaries

A dictionary of frequency is a book with the most frequently used words in a language.

I looked at the current few frequency dictionaries on the market, and all of them had any mix of the following problems:

1. It is very filled with boring-ass words that are only ever used on newspapers and law courts. Those words are obligatory for fluency, but they are not the among the first 3000 words you'll want to learn.

2. It is very expensive. 

1 and 2 are even forgiveable. But then comes:

3. Every word only has one example sentence!
a) The example sentences are not even translated.
b) The example sentences contain advanced words mixed with beginner words.

4. All verbs are on infinitive (a.k.a. on the most simple form: "to be, to eat, to do, to watch, to x"). This just doesn't do the trick; on any language the most frequently used verbs are often irregular, and the irregular forms need to be included. Often, they aren't.

5. The right way to study is "a) try your best to recall the word's meaning then b) check the answer". NOT "a) see the word and b) see the answer". The frequency dictionaries are often formatted in a way where the answer is visible right beside the word, which makes it hard to try recalling before checking the answer.

My frequency dictionaries are an attempt to fix those things. They are an ongoing project, to be improved according to feedback from readers. 

Updates will be free to those who already purchased via Amazon, or whatever other site.


Now you might ask yourself: why is it so important that a frequency dictionary must have as many example sentences as possible? Shouldn't it be enough that I just memorize the word's meaning? Why do I need to see the words in context, that is, in example sentences?

 About 75% of all written text in any language consists of the same 1000 frequently used, basic words. 

 But if you memorize the meaning of those 1000 words, your speaking and understanding will still be awkward: because you need to see those words in context. 

 Some words have one meaning. Playa means beach in spanish. Those are easy; you memorize the meaning, you master the word.

 Other words, like the turkish çok, can mean 80 different things depending on context! Put çok on Google Translate, then select Turkish to see for yourself. 

 According to wiktionary, the chinese verb biaoshì has over 20 meanings depending on context.

 Memorizing the meanings gives you no fluency: seeing the word in context does. A word with more than one meaning you need to see in a thousand different contexts, a thousand different sentences, and only then you will have mastered the word.