ESL/ELL Wordlists to help learn English effectively


You live in Los Cerristos, CA.  You know the basics “Where is the bathroom?”, “Where is the grocery store?”, “How much are the bananas?”, but understanding the website Play Croco casino login, or even the articles on this website are still out of reach.

The first thing to know is if you are expecting too much.  Let’s take an example article from this website, “Trader Joes Chicken Salad Recalled”.  Although the general rule is that newspapers write to a Grade 5 reading level, what does that really mean?

Looking at the article as Grade 5 reading level or below

By using the website VOCAB PROFILE (KIDS) (, I learned the following about the text in this article:

  • 365 words in the article.
  • 175 word types
  • 80 word families (when you understand one word in a word family, you understand the general idea of all of the words in the word family)

Looking at the word count:

  • 136 are Kids group 1
  • 38 are kids group 2
  • 8 are kids group 3
  • 11 are kids group 4
  • 11 are kids group 5
  • 3 are kids group 6
  • 1 is kids group 7
  • 3 are kids group 8
  • 11 are kids group 9
  • 4 are kids group 10
  • 139 are not from the general kids list.

Of those 80 word families:

  • 37 are Kids group 1
  • 13 are kids group 2
  • 8 are kids group 3
  • 6 are kids group 4
  • 5 are kids group 5
  • 2 are kids group 6
  • 1 are kids group 7
  • 2 are kids group 8
  • 3 are kids group 9
  • 3 are kids group 10

From this page we can also see the following:

  • Color coded text by kids group level.
  • Complete word list by kids group level (including the repeats).
  • Complete word list without repeats by kids group level.
  • List by word families (cat, cats are from the same word family).

Looking at the article from Grade 5 – University

This website also has an adult version of this text analyzer where we find the following:

We still have 359 words (including repeats) and 175 word types (no repeats).

  • NGSL (first 1000 words), 243 words and 104 with no repeats.
  • NGSL (second 1000 words), 24 words and 13 with no repeats.
  • Academic Wordlist (university words), 36 words and 22 no repeats.
  • 56 words and 36 with no repeats were not on either word list.

As with the kids list, the results page shows the text color coded by list group.  Most of the words are blue (first 1000 NGSL words).  Some are green, next 1000 NGSL words.  A lot more are yellow, AWL academic wordlist.  The article is talking about food spoilage, so it would include science talk.

And then there is a bunch of red … words that did not come from any of the above word lists.  Some of those seem like common words:  salad, refrigerator, plastic, and a bunch of other food words.  Others are more advanced words like poultry, retail, and electronic.

What is the reading level of this article?

According to the website Readability Formulas, the readability of this article is at a Grade 8 reading level.

What can be done with this data?

If you are the ESL/ELL language reader, and you see the article is rated as a Grade 8 level reading and you are reading a Grade 2 level (everybody has to start somewhere), you will not feel bad that you do not understand the article.  It is above your reading level.

If you are an online newspaper writer, and you know a large portion of your community is still learning English, you may start thinking,

“Hey, maybe we should grade our articles, so our readers will know how difficult the articles are.”

Or you might decide:

“Maybe we should reword the article in order to make it more understandable”.

Or maybe even:

“You know.  A lot of the words that are marked in red in that article are food items where a simple picture would make the article a lot more understandable for our ESL/ELL readers.  We can add symbols for proper nouns.  For the rest, we can add definitions through tooltips.”

What are word list options?

There are various numbers of wordslists.  The NGSL (New General Service List) along with the NAWL (New Academic Wordlist) and finally the TSL wordlist are great wordlists, because they give you a clear defined set of words to focus on.  And since they are standard, you can use the tools listed above to get an idea of if the article you are trying to read is within your reading level or above it.

Not to mention that they have produced learning materials to go with the wordlists.

Personally, I have not found them to be useful beyond being a checklist to see my progress.  Especially in the beginning list, there are just too many words to start out it with.

Therefore, for my own personal use, I look at children’s lists that are broken up more.  Plus by looking at children’s lists, you can get an idea of your reading level.  This information can help you select books in the library that can challenge you while not too difficult that it frustrates you.

Dolch Wordlist (original) 315 words

220 words + 90 nouns (although you can write sentences with only 30 nouns).  Spectrum has broken up the words in groups of 5, so you are writing sentences from the very first group of words.  I would not recommend learning them in the “Grade Order”, because within the first “Grade Level Group”, you cannot make sentences.

The list is tagged as Grade 1-2.

Fry Wordlist

The Fry List has 1000 words, but they are broken into 10 lists of 100 words.  Each of these lists are broke into 25 words each.

There are documents are the internet that are called “fry phrases”, which are non complete sentences to show how the word is used.

The 220 Dolch words are contained in the Fry Wordlist, and most of the nouns.

The list is tagged as Grade 3-8.

Word Express Kids wordlists

This is a wordlist that is organized by word families.  This is different than the Dolch and Fry lists where a specific word was used.  “said” and “say” are considered two separate words in Dolch and Fry, but are considered 1 word family in the Word Express Kids wordlist.

There are 10 wordlists with approximately 220 word families per list (at most).   The total is around 2200 words (around the same number of words as the NGSL wordlist).

  • start (single word)
  • start started starting starts starter starters restart restarts restarted restarting (word family for start)

Even though this list has repeats from the other two lists, these list are dealing with word families, not individual words.

The lists are tagged as Grade 1-4.

Middle School Technical Wordlists

These lists are tagged as Grade 5 – 8.  The lists are sorted by both frequency and alphabetical.

  • Grammar and writing wordlist
  • Mathematics wordlist
  • Science wordlist
  • Health wordlist
  • History wordlist

These cover all of the major areas of study in middle school.  As was shown in the example article above, even a “simple” article that the general public should be aware of, Food recalls at Trader Joe’s (major chain grocery store), even though the article was only 365 words long, the reading level was a Grade 8 reading level.

Secondary School Technical wordlists (High School Technical Wordlists)

  • Biology wordlist
  • Chemistry wordlist
  • Economics wordlist
  • Geography wordlist
  • Mathematics wordlist
  • History wordlist
  • Physics wordlist
  • English wordlist
  • Secondary phrase list (High school phrase list)

Do you need to worry about these wordlists?  I also tested an article from Fox News, “Putin rips West as trying to stifle Russia, China’s ‘development,’ while Xi arrives in Moscow”.  The readability level was Grade 14 (University level).

Adult technical lists

There are also adult technical lists:

  • Academic wordlist (general wordlist for college students, no matter what the major)
  • Business wordlist
  • Medical academic wordlist
  • Chemistry academic wordlist
  • Economic academic wordlist
  • Computer science academic wordlist
  • Nursing Collocation List


Most of these wordlist are good for checklist or to check readability of text (how hard is the article to read) or even using software to check which words in text contain which words from which lists.  Whether you start with the children’s lists and move to the adult lists or just jump right into the adult lists, and quote Dr. Seuss, “The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.”


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