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Vocabulary : words and meaning
Home > Languages > Choosing your language > Definitions > Vocabulary

C. Vocabulary : words and meaning
There are more than 460'000 different words in the Webster Dictionary, but you can understand 80% of normal speech with only the 2'000 more frequent words, and with the 3'000 most frequent words you make 95% of normal speech. So don't be afraid when you'll discover the immense amount of words you don't understand. You will probably learn vocabulary all your life (use flash cards) but the words you really need are about 3'000.
Words are normally thought of as arbitrary associations between sounds and meaning, but nobody forces you to learn them that way. If there's no parent in another language you speak (english umbrella and french ombrelle) just make one. For example if you are to learn russian for prison, tyioorma, you can think of the torments of prison.This is an age old, proven and efficient way to remember words, and the beauty of the trick is that with time you will forget the mental association but remember the word and its meaning. In the pages about individual languages, I give an indication of how close a language is to other languages, so that you can find out if vocabulary will be a great burden or not. 
A difficult but rewarding part of vocabulary learing is the idioms part. Every human language has ways of speaking, expressions, idioms that it uses to vividly convey a meaning and sometimes a proverbial piece of wisdom. For example I recently hear in an american movie a black man telling his friend that if was better to "check out than to come back home all fucked up", equalling death with the process of checking out at a hotel. Whatever you think of the poetry of that one, you have to master some idiomatic expressions if you want to understand people, and if you use them you will most probably find it highly enjoyable.
Orthograph, or the way you write the words, is another story. Some languages made clever reforms that lets you write as you speak and speak as you write, like for example german or spanish, but others are backward on this, like english or french.
I recommend the excellent "International Dictionary", which lists 1200 words in 21 european languages in a very useful format for the student who wishes to compare vocabulary.

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