VIDEO 100 English Sentences You Can Use in Conversation
VIDEO Learn ALL TENSES Easily in 30 Minutes – Present, Past, Future | Simple, Continuous, Perfect
You can express yourself surprisingly flexibly when you know 300 well-chosen words (and grammar) in a language. (By “words”, I really mean lemmas, i.e. I’m counting “run” and “runs” as one word.) When trying to talk about a topic, there will probably be some key words that you don’t know, but you can ask for or look up those words and then use them for the rest of the time that you’re talking about the topic. You can see an example of how using the 300 words works.
Here’s the list of 300. I hope it’s a useful guideline and starting point for you. I may revise it, so please refer to the original post for the most up-to-date version. In addition to these general words, there will probably be some others that will be among the most useful for you (e.g. “class” if you’re a student). When you find yourself using them again and again, learn them too.
* Note: You should really think of this as a list of concepts. Your goal isn’t to translate each word to a word in your target language, but to figure out how to express that concept in your target language. In some cases, a concept may translate to multiple words (for example, I listed “you” as a concept, but in some languages there are different words for “formal you” and “informal you”). Some concepts may translate to no word at all, but rather a certain grammatical structure (for example, Russian doesn’t use the verb “have”; to say “I have a cat” in Russian, you say “at me there is a cat”).
Use a dictionary to find out how to express these concepts in your target language (for some subtleties, you’ll need to google or ask in a forum). After that, I suggest memorizing the words by making yourself a Memrise course with the words and going through the course. Learn to be able to go from the concept to the word in your target language, not the other way around; you want to be able to produce the word, not just recognize it. You should also learn how to pronounce your target language. To hear native speakers pronounce words in your target language, check out Forvo.
This list has been translated into: Cantonese, Finnish, French, Spanish.
Version 1 of this list, which had 200 words, was translated into: Afrikaans, Czech, Dutch, Esperanto, Finnish, French, German, Hungarian, Icelandic, Mandarin Chinese, Norwegian, Swedish, Thai.
If you’d like to translate this list into another language, please feel free! 🙂 Just include a link back to this post, and let me know when you’re done so that I can link to your list here.
that (as in “I think that…” or “the woman that…”)
so (meaning “therefore”; e.g. “I wanted it, so I bought it”)
at (a place)
at (a time)
like (meaning “similar to”)
for (warning, this one has several meanings that you need to take care of)
before (also as a conjunction)
after (also as a conjunction)
too (as in “too tall”)
so (as in “so tall”)
more (know how to say “more … than …”)
less (know how to say “less … than …”)
as … as … (e.g. “as tall as”)
the, a (technically articles)
last (meaning “past”, e.g. “last Friday”)
last (meaning “final”)
right (meaning “correct”)
Know them in the subject (“I”), direct object (“me”), indirect object (“to me”), and possessive (“my”) forms.
If your language has grammatical gender, then learn each noun as “the [noun]” with “the” in the correct gender. (e.g. in Spanish, instead of learning language = “idioma”, learn language = “el idioma”.) This will help you remember the gender.
(name of the language you’re studying)
time (as in “a long time”)
time (as in “I did it 3 times”)
(name of your home country)
work (as in “I have a lot of work to do”)
mother, father, parent
daughter, son, child
work (as in a person working)
work (meaning “to function”, e.g. “the TV works”)
get (meaning “obtain”)
stop (doing something)
eat breakfast (in several languages, this is a verb)
create (aka “make”)
cause (aka “make”)
meet (meeting someone for the first time)
meet (meaning “to bump into”)
meet (an arranged meeting)
ask (a question)
ask for (aka “request”)
excuse me (to get someone’s attention)
it’s fine (response to an apology)
My name is
What’s your name?
Nice to meet you.
How are you?
I’m doing well, how about you?
Sorry? / What? (if you didn’t hear something)
How do you say ______?
What does ______ mean?
I don’t understand.
Could you repeat that?
Could you speak more slowly, please?
Well (as in “well, I think…”)
I guess that
It’s hot. (talking about the weather)
It’s cold. (talking about the weather)
Here’s a demonstration of how you can express your thoughts with 300 words. I took a paragraph from a website, and rephrased it using only the 300 basic words + a few others.
Here’s the paragraph:
I have had a good run, producing more films than virtually anyone else. And I believe better films (okay, maybe I am biased, but..), and ones with more consistent returns, but damn! It is harder now to justify investment or commitment than ever before — even when the tools have improved and the talent pool grown like never before. Film, like all the culture economies, has been turned on it’s head, but unlike the others, since the work at the top still delivers a return, our leaders and corporations act like business is as it’s always been.
Here’s the rephrased version. It doesn’t sound as nice as the original, but it’s still completely understandable. I bolded the words that aren’t in the basic word list the first time that they appear. When writing or talking, you can ask for or look up those words and then keep using them.
I have done well and made more films than almost all other people. And I think that my films were better (okay, it is me saying that…) and they almost always made money. But! It is harder now than at any time before to say why you’re making films – though the things we use are better and better people want to work for us. Films, like other things that make money from culture, are not like they were before. But what’s different for films is: because the films that make the most still make a lot of money, the companies that make films work like nothing is different.