120 Days to TOPIK #12 – Vocabulary Frequency Lists are a Language Learner’s Best Friend

Well, after a nice long Independence Day break, I'm back at the grindstone, ready to kick out some more TOPIK Challenge posts. I've been continually studying, though not writing, during the break so expect a few posts PER DAY until I catch up with my 120 Days schedule.

Inspiration

In every language, there are some words that are used more often than other words. Take English for example. What's the most commonly used word in all of English?
  • "the"

The rest of the top 100 most commonly used English words are listed on Wikipedia here and a brief overview of frequency list making can be found here. (Did you know the LEAST used word in the English language, based on the Frequency Lists on Wikipedia is "transducionalify" with only ONE occurrence  out of all the texts used to make the Frequency List?) Here's a quote from Fluent Forever that I found particularly relevant to this post (particularly in Korea):
In language classes, you'll learn words for apricots and peaches when your time would be much better spent learning about laptops, medicine, and energy. These are the words of our lives. Why not learn them first? With only 1,000 words, you'll recognize nearly 75% of what you read. With 2,000, you'll hit 80%.
Now, from my own experience, your language ability will not be QUITE 75-80% with only 1,000-2,000 words, BUT it is true that your ability will skyrocket if you learn the RIGHT words - the most frequently used words - the words on the Korean Frequency Lists.

Korean Frequency Lists

Korean Frequency Word Lists can be found in multiple places on the Internet if you just Google Search it. Here are a few resources right off the bat:
  1. The CURRENT "official" National Institute of the Korean Language's word list (contains 5,965 entries - UP from the previous 5,897 entries found on the remaining sites below)
  2. Korean Word lists on Wiktionary
    1. Korean 5800 (contains 5890 (incomplete) entries)
    2. Former "official" 5897 word list from the NIKL (incomplete definitions)
  3. TOPIKGuide.com's 5897 word list (downloadable as an MS Doc file or a plain text doc)
    1. **NOTE: This list actually only contains 5666 entries as noted in the comments on this post. I also downloaded this list and found only 5666 entries. When I compared it to the updated 5,965 list, I noticed MANY ㄷ words were missing - even 딸기 (strawberry)! The list is FREE - or you can buy the ebook here - but it's incomplete.
  4. Korean Essential Vocabulary 6000 for Foreigners book (based on the original 5897 word list)
    1. **NOTE: I own this book and have used it quite extensively to help create ALL of our Vocabulary papers.

Problems with the above Frequency Lists

As I was studying the previously mentioned Korean Frequency Lists, I noticed a few things:
  1. Most of the lists are incomplete in some way
    1. The current "official" list has NO English definitions
    2. The Wiktionary lists have incomplete definitions
    3. The TOPIKGuide list actually only contains 5666 entries (and is missing MANY ㄷ)
    4. The BOOK is the best choice, but it's not digital and downloadable
  2. The frequency of words IN GENERAL follow these trends:
    1. Nouns = most frequent in the Beginner Level (A)
    2. Verbs = most frequent in the Intermediate Level (B)
    3. Adjectives = most frequent in the Advanced Level (C)
So, if your level is...
  1. Beginner, study MOSTLY nouns first, followed by verbs, then adjectives
  2. Intermediate, also continue to study nouns, but FOCUS on verbs as well, and then adjectives
  3. Advanced, TARGET adjectives, but study nouns and verbs as well

Solution: Key To Korean Frequency Lists

level-a-nouns-cover-gumroad Given the problems I found with the lists above,
  1. I spent SIGNIFICANT time gathering a FULL DIGITAL LIST (all 5,965 entries) of the most commonly used Korean words.
  2. I divided the FULL LIST into Levels (A, B, C) and further subdivided each list into parts of speech (nouns, verbs, adjectives, Hanja, other)
  3. I added English translations to everything
  4. I've begun creating downloadable PDF versions of the Frequency Lists according to Level and parts of speech
  5. Each PDF also contains an explanation of the root word (from Hanja, from German, from Japanese, from Chinese, from English, etc) or usage (if the word has multiple meanings)
The first of these is available to download from our digital store here:
  1. Level A - the most common 497 Korean Nouns
  2. Level A - the most common 155 Korean Verbs
  3. Level A - the most common 75 Korean Adjectives
I will continue to update our collection of PDF Frequency Lists in this manner:
  1. Level A - the FULL collection of 982 basic Korean words
  2. Level B - nouns, verbs, adjectives, + the FULL collection of 2,111 intermediate Korean words
  3. Level C - nouns, verbs, adjectives, + the FULL collection of 2,872 advanced Korean words
  4. Level A, B, C - words containing Hanja

Challenge

Get a Korean Frequency List and start studying the words that MATTER - the words that are used most frequently in everyday life. You don't have to download my lists, there are plenty of other free resources listed in the post above. But your support of our work helps us to continue creating high quality products like this. (Note: We are also currently in the planning phases for creating our own printed books and online courses. And I will - occasionally - continue to release vocab lists for the Korean Grammar in Use series for FREE on our Vocabulary Page.)

Over to you

Have you ever used a Frequency List to help you study vocab? If so, how did you find the experience? Was it effective? Did you start picking up on the most frequently used words right away? Let me know in the Comments below or using #120TOPIK on social media.

10 comments

  1. Surprisingly difficult to find well organized NIKL lists so I went ahead and purchased your Level A bundle. I’m currently converting them into Anki flashcards. I appreciate all the time and effort that must have gone into such a project and look forward to the next possible iterations.

    That said, I think your lists could stand more editing. I’m not sure why you would translate “그릇” as “vessel/receptacle” and neglect its more common translation of “dish/bowl”. Or “교회” as “preach/moral instruction” instead of “church”. If I didn’t already have a background in Korean, I’d be left scratching my head over how exactly these are frequent words.

    If you manually entered all the terms it’s either an odd oversight or you intentionally chose more broad meanings. Or maybe you had a program autofill the entries and edited after, missing a few.

    But otherwise, fine job. Still >90% useful for my purpose of maintaining basic vocab since I only ever speak and listen to Korean but once every few years. Beats slogging through a couple thousand randomly assorted words before a visit.

      1. Actually, that’s only partially correct. I took the entire list directly from the Korean Government’s website (http://www.korean.go.kr/front/etcData/etcDataView.do?mn_id=46&etc_seq=71) and then found the TopikGuide.com list you mentioned with matching,corresponding English translations. But if you compare our two lists, you’ll find that the TopikGuide.com list is missing a majority of the ㄷ words.

        Although I did not go through and manually enter the definitions for ALL the words, I did enter about 1,000 manually when the translations from TopikGuide.com were missing.

        1. I saw you mention the ㄷ words in your post, which is why I passed over TopikGuide’s list initially and only later realized where the majority of the definitions were coming from after referring back to it.

          Like I mentioned before, from what I can tell, your list is the best resource I’ve been able to scrounge up within a few Google searches. I’ve gone through all 900+ words and it was useful. But for a product you’re charging money for, however nominal, I think it could stand some polish, if only to better reflect the aptitude of the creator. I had to spend quite a bit of time myself double checking and editing definitions.

          1. “보” looks like a verb modifier of some kind, some of those with the “보” classification are Continuous Tense modifiers, some are Honorific modifiers, etc. But I’ve also been unable to find exactly what that stands for.

        2. The official list has the parts of speech like noun = 명사 and so on. What parts of speech are “의” and “부”? I couldn’t find that anywhere on the web. Thanks.

  2. I agree with the previous commentator in all respects. I’m also looking forward to Level B words being released so I can cross-check myself as I prepare for TOPIK. Is there a rough ETA in mind?

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