How many words of English do you, and footballers, really need?

Capello the Minimalist

Well, England’s football manager, Fabio Capello, from Italy said just last week that he needed only 100 words to speak to his players. According to Fiona Douglas of Leeds University, that’s about the number known and used by a two year-old toddler! We often make fun of the intelligence of football players, but this seems to be taking it a bit far!

Active or Passive?

Even spending a week in London surrounded by English speakers will help you to pick up more than this. A low Intermediate student probably knows about 1500 words according to Peter Howarth, also from Leeds University. But what about native-speakers? Both learners and natives actually understand far more words than they can use in speaking or writing. This is the difference between your active (I can use this word) and your passive vocabulary (I know this word if I see or hear it). You can increase your passive vocabulary by reading and listening as much as possible and, sooner or later, the ‘passive’ words will become ‘active’.

Most Common Words

Which do you think are the most commonly used words in English? A recent study reported by the BBC showed a list of the top 100 words. What kind of words do you think were the most useful? Nouns? Verbs? No, surprisingly enough it was those difficult little words prepositions (23%) and pronouns (22%) which came out on top with verbs (21%) close behind. The only nouns on the list were time, people, year & day. Also unexpected was the small number of adjectives (new & good).

Play Better

I wonder how Fabio manages without ball, kick & goal in his instructions. Oh – that may be why the English team is such rubbish!

Language Terminology

  • a verb is traditionally described as a ‘doing word’ or an action e.g. play, do, have
  • a noun is traditionally describe as an ‘object’ but can also be a concept, person, place etc. Nouns are often used with articles, for example a book
  • a pronoun takes the place of a noun, for example we can replace John with he or him depending on the situation
  • a preposition explains the relationship between two items, for example the cup is on the table or he arrives at 4 o’clock.
  • an adjective is traditionally said to describe a noun, for example an interesting book
  • an adverb changes how we see an action or object, for example I walk quickly or a very interesting book

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