Posted by: lyonenglishnetwork | October 24, 2012

Towards a frequency index

Wow! What a posh sounding title! It’s not that complicated really!

Today, my student and I were on the subject of the word ‘nice’. He didn’t like it – not the first time, I’ve had that experience. In fact, I don’t like it myself. But that’s another matter. 

He was searching on his i-phone for alternatives and came across friendly, of course, and congenial. He seemed to like it. I liked it too.

But it’s not exactly common, is it ? I mean, it’s not every day you’re going to hear someone come out with it in every day conversation.

The conversation was also revolving around how precise French was (it is!) and how vague English can be sometimes with words like stuff. 

So, I suggested (I’m an English coach/trainer) that he use a frequency index to see which word was more common. I mean, take a listening exercise, or several listening exercises and see if ‘nice’ is more common or if ‘congenial’ is more common. 

This student of mine doesn’t like English. Well, it’s not that he doesn’t like English, he doesn’t like the way English is ‘globalizing’ the world. I posted on this a few weeks ago and I haven’t got a problem with the way English is being spoken in more and more countries and in more and more business contexts. But that’s enough of that.

So I said: “shall we carry on ?” (with what we were doing). My student didn’t know the meaning of ‘carry on’. But carry on we did, and, after I’d explained the meaning of the word, he then proceeded to explain to me that it was much easier for him – and he was much more likely to learn the word ‘congenial’. 

Congenial, however, is much less common than ‘carry on’. I suggest he look for the more frequent words first, a bit like the corner bits or the side bits of a jigsaw puzzle. Congenial can come later. Congenial can come once some kind of ‘English’ base is in place. He may not like the way the English tend, on average, to have a less precise way of speaking than the French but he’s gonna have to lump it!

So… to your frequency indexes!




  1. Hello. I don’t think English is less precise than French. English prepositions, for example, are much more accurate. English vocabulary, with its Latin and Germanic orgins, is amazingly rich. Make a break and have a look at my bilingual photo blog:

  2. Hi Huberaime,

    Nice blog you have there.

    Yes, you’re right. French is not more specific than English but sometimes it can be hard to translate properly because the words are so different.

    I came across something in a Spanish podcast on the web the other day:

    toxicomane can translate as drug-addict.

    It’s a compound noun, which there are so many of them in English. But when you’re going from English to French, it can be hard to find the French translation because the words are so different.


  3. Have you got any other things that you think are really key (and specific) to English ? Compound nouns, compound adjectives and phrasal verbs seem to be really key to understanding how English works.


    • Hello Paul. Have you seen my bilingual photoblog? (link above). I’d love a comment from you. What’s my English like? It’s difficult work to translate properly. English is terser than French, with more ‘suppleness’ and ‘freedom’. But my English versions are as long as the French ones, which show some clumsiness. What do you think?

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