David Ogden's Basic English Word List

Basic English is a simplified subset of regular English created by linguist David Ogden in 1930. Voice of America expanded the list, and now it has about 2000 words. Has anyone created an English lesson with the simplified English word list?

I am reviewing this list, so that I can better communicate with my friends in Korea who are learning English by trying to stick to a smaller vocabulary and simple sentences. If I can learn the Korean word for the 2000 or so English words on that list, I think it will be easier for us to find common ground.

If you expose yourself to beginner material, and then to intermediate material, this will more or less already have been done for you. Remember that you learn words best when they are in an interesting context. So rather than trying to translate a list of vocabulary into Korea, you’d be better off trying to find the most interesting learner content you can.

In language teaching, we talk about “grading” our language. In other words, using language that a learner will be able to understand. It’s a skill, and one that seems to elude some people. This is also why it’s important to speak to people who are not teachers and who are not able to grade their language. It’s more authentic. After so many years teaching, it’s very difficult to not grade your language to the person you’re talking to. However, if you are able to grade your language, you may be able to communicate more easily with your Korean friends. Just paying attention to what they understand and what they don’t should be enough to help you learn to grade your language.

There have been many attempts to reduce English to a core word list. Basic English was one of them. VOA has their Simple English, and there’s the Simple English Wikipedia. There are other systems.

As English is now an international language, some people think that all native English speakers are going to have to start learning how to speak “International English” as, for non-native speakers, native English speakers can be the most difficult to understand.

In Microsoft Word, you can switch between British English and American English. Do they also have simplified English? It would be pretty easy to do, since the list of words is limited and the rules of grammar simpified.

Then, I could have an English text, switch it to Simplified English, and wa-la! It would show me which English words I was using that were beyond the scope of Simplified English because they would show up as spelling and grammatical errors underlined.

Or I could have a syntax highlighted editor, the way programmers do for C++ and HTML. Any English I used that exceeded the defined Simplified English would show up.

Alternatively, it would be fairly simple to use a Foreign Text Reader and teach that the 2000 words of simplified English. and it would show up highlighted the words that are beyond the 2000 English words “known”.

You know, LingQ could implement a new “BASIC Simplified English” as a language, preventing the adding of new words, and then texts entered would get the blue/white highlighting. I would think this would be a good learning tool. I think folks who are learning English go crazy because native English speakers have so many words that when they talk to natives, they come up all the time against words they have never heard and feel like they are poor language learners. Seeing that an English text contains a lot of words outside of the Simplified English list would reassure the student, it is not him, it is us crazy native English speakers who don’t even think about writing in simplified English.

When I first got a pen pal in Sri Lanka 3 months ago, I became aware of my vocabulary being sort of wildly inappropriate for use with him. In one short chat session, I used the words babble, baffle, and boggle. His brain exploded. He had no idea what I was talking about. I explained the words, but wondered if it benefited him at all. He communicates quite well in English, it is only me throwing these weird words at him that is the problem. I can adjust my vocabulary and crazy long, meandering sentences.

I never started out with the intention of becoming an English tutor. Yet I discovered a large number of people who wanted to talk to me for the sole reason that I was a native English speaker. So thrust into the role of tutoring ESL students, I find myself unprepared for the task. I’m a computer programmer, not a teacher. But I did have a dual major of B.S. Computer Science/ B.A. in English back in college. I am reasonably literate. I am curious about language. So looking into linguistics, language learning, and teaching methods is my new hobby.

Who knows. Maybe I will go to Korea to teach English some day. So I am beginning to look at what it would take for me to educate myself to be qualified to do that.

In the mean time, I am spending at least 10 hours a week talking to people who are trying to improve their English doing things like reading CNN Student News transcripts together. Since I have been pulled into this role, and find I like helping people, I want to be competent at it. We are friends, I do it for them out of friendship, and I have made clear that I don’t have professional qualifications. Still, this is a learning opportunity for me too, Finding out how to be a good language exchange partner and nurturing someone to a higher level of English to assist with their career can be satisfying.