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I speak 17 languages.

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The 1000 Word Challenge

A few years ago the British Council started a project called the 1000 word challenge. They did this in the hope that more people in Britain would try to learn at least 1000 words in another language.

Why Bother?

A lot of English speaking people – not just the Brits – have a reputation for sticking to English and not bothering with other languages, because really, why should they? Everyone speaks English, don’t they?

London

If you’re a native English speaker reading this and you’re thinking “What bollocks” (a common British phrase), then let me stop you right there. Don’t get your knickers in a twist (another British phrase), this obviously doesn’t mean you. If you’re here, it’s probably because you have an interest in learning languages.

Just The Basics

The British Council were well aware, of course, that you don’t become fluent in another language with only 1000 words. One thousand words do, however, give you a solid foundation. With 1000 words you can carry out simple and routine tasks, such as exchanging information on everyday things, and describe your background and areas of immediate need in simple terms.

The British council had many great arguments for why people should do their 1000 word challenge and learn other languages in general. Some of these reasons were quite obvious, like the fact that British businesses would be better equipped for success in the global economy, that it might raise cultural and educational levels in the UK, and that young people in Britain would be better prepared to access international opportunities and compete for jobs.

Are the Brits Arrogant?

Then there were the more interesting reasons, such as making tourists feel more welcome in Britain; there’s nothing like visiting another country and having the people there greet you in your own language. The British Council also argued that if everyone completed the 1000 word challenge in at least one foreign language, it would help the Brits gain intercultural skills that would make them better adapted to today’s diverse society. They would become more internationally minded and be better at resolving cross-cultural conflicts.

Business handshake

The most interesting reason for starting the 1000 word challenge, however, was that the Brits wanted to lose the – in their own mind – stereotypical view that the world has of them, which is that they are arrogant. Arrogant in the sense that they can only speak English, and thus expect everyone else in the world to speak it too.

To me that is interesting, because it takes a lot of guts to admit that you can’t expect everyone to be exactly like you and that meeting other people half way and compromising is the right thing to do. Maybe I am a little hippy dippy, but I think it is a beautiful thing. By learning other languages, we learn about the cultures where they originated, and it would be neat if we all got to know each other a little better.

Has The 1000 Word Challenge Worked?

I haven’t been able to find any results on the effects of the 1000 Word Challenge in Britain. I’d really like to know how many people decided to join the challenge, or how many people have even heard of it.

Apparently, the fact that only 38% of British people speak another language, compared to 56% of people in other European countries, seemingly isn’t of much interest to the mainstream media in the UK. This is despite the British Council’s best efforts to make the challenge go viral on social media using the hashtag #1000words. There are no conclusive results yet as to whether or not it has had any effect.

digital metrics

Whether or not it worked in Britain doesn’t really matter, I still think the idea is brilliant and a super great initiative. Besides, as I have talked about before on this blog, if people are not motivated to learn a language they won’t be able to.

The 1000 Word LingQ Challenge

At LingQ we think the 1000 word challenge is a great idea, and I know that you are here because you think learning a language is great, and you have the motivation to do it. You are not reading this because someone told you to, but because of your interest in language learning. I sincerely hope that the British Council finds success with the challenge, but in the meantime, we have made our own version on LingQ and it is really simple – even more so than the British 1000 word challenge – in that all you have to do is click a button and you’re signed up. Then when you know 1000 words in your target language, you receive a fancy badge.

Most of us need to be stimulated, encouraged and provoked and sometimes that’s the issue when we study independently, but that is why we come up with these fun challenges that help us stay on target.

The 1000 word challenge Not a raceYou can also still join the good old 90-Day Challenge, where the objective is for you to reach the next level (say from beginner to intermediate) in just three months. Not that language learning is a race, like one of my readers says in the above quote, but there’s nothing wrong with a little kick in the language learning butt, and 1000 words is a good place to start.

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10 Comments

  • Carol
    June 9, 2015 at 4:08 pm

    I think I probably know about a thousand words in a Chinese, but not characters! I think it is a nice doable goal. So I am planning to learn the 150 or so more words in French that I need to reach 1000. That is just the easy goal I needed after the 90 day challenge!

    • Lykke
      June 9, 2015 at 4:45 pm

      I can always count on you Carol – soon you’ll be a polyglot, if you’re not one already 🙂 1000 words here and 1000 words there. It all adds up

  • Francisco de Assis G. Barreto
    June 9, 2015 at 4:33 pm

    There are different approaches to language learning, different methods, etc. etc. One good idea about that 1000 word challenge is: something new, a new attempt to learn more if a person already knows, etc. But attention! There are much more to be learned with a language: Its contexts, texts, idiomatic expressions, idioms, etc.

    • Lykke
      June 9, 2015 at 4:40 pm

      Hi Francisco
      Yes of course – if all you had to do was learn 1000 words then everybody would do it 🙂 But it’s a good start for sure. The idea is once you’ve learned 1000 words then you will hopefully be encouraged to keep going, that’s the idea anyway.
      Lykke

  • Julz
    June 9, 2015 at 7:49 pm

    Great post! Would be nice if the idea caught on with more British immigrants in Australia…

  • Alex
    June 9, 2015 at 10:54 pm

    Just felt proud to be able to read this article in English while actually being a native Russian speaker.
    I am also a fan of Spanish and happened to study French and Romanian at school (I don’t like the last two that much).
    A few days ago decided to check out a couple of words in Swedish, it felt like a bit weird and alien-like but truly an interesting experience. Like a mainstream imperative language programmer (C++ or Java) decided to try some Lisp or Haskell.
    My point is that learning a new language somehow changes your way of thinking, deeper understanding of another culture and the world around.
    Next I want to give a try to German.
    Cheers and thanks for this great inspiring article.

    • Lykke
      June 10, 2015 at 9:03 am

      Thank you for reading it 🙂

  • Michael
    June 26, 2017 at 7:56 pm

    But what constitutes learning 1,000 words? Suppose you do indeed learn 1,000 words. Then within a month, what if you forgot about 50 or more of them? Then in another month, you forget another 100 or so…? Did you really learn them to begin with? You try to review them to minimize the attrition, but some less commonly used words will be forgotten.

  • Kristen
    June 27, 2017 at 1:27 pm

    I really want to do this, but when I go to the challenges section, it says it’s not available anymore. 🙁

    I’m studying Japanese, if that matters.

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