I have a list of 8000 English words used in my application to training vocabularies for new learners.

I need to categorize these words into three categories (easy,medium,hard).

Are there any known tactics I can employ so that I can categorize these words in such a fashion?

The students are Arab so the level of difficulty would ideally apply from their perspective.

  • 2
    This is gonna be closed as Too Broad, Primarily Opinion-based or Unclear What You Are Asking. There's no One True Way to evaluate the difficulty of words. Even if there was, it would be subjective; A native German speaker may find it easier to learn "understand" than a native French speaker would, but not easier than a native French speaker who's had a lot of exposure to English through popular culture - and a native English speaker of a very young age would have an entirely different experience! – user867 Oct 1 '15 at 6:54
  • You are right that the difficulty may differ by native speaker but not all English words have same difficulty to learn ,for example : "play" doesn't has same difficulty of "abstemious" – Radi Oct 1 '15 at 7:01
  • @user867 He seems to be a foreigner and he is not talking about "a native English speaker." I agree there is no one true way, but there are ways. – user140086 Oct 1 '15 at 7:03
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    @Rathony OK, that removes the Unclear What You Are Asking close reason, but Too Broad and Primarily Opinion-based still apply. This needs to be severely narrowed in scope, and a target audience defined before it can get answers we can vote on - and even then it might end up being off-topic. – user867 Oct 1 '15 at 7:07
  • @user867 I agree with you. Let's wait and see. I don't agree with "opinion-based", though. – user140086 Oct 1 '15 at 7:11

There is an academic research body called English Profile. The founding members of this group are Cambridge and Birmingham Universities and the British Council. They have divided up English vocabulary for learners into levels according to the Common European Framework level system, where the following bands indicate these levels of proficiency:

  • A1 (Beginnner/Elementary)
  • A2 Pre-intermedate
  • B1 Intermediate
  • B2 Upper Intermediate
  • C1 Advanced
  • C2 Proficiency

The research they undertook was to see what words are actively being used by learners at each of the different levels. They used a large corpus of learner English to do this, primarily taken from the Cambridge Learner Corpus, but also from the Cambridge English Corpus.

These vocabulary bands could easily be used as a starting basis for determining the level of difficulty of acquisition. The Original Poster would then probably want to go through the different bands with an eye to things that would make specific items more or less difficult for an Arabic speaker.

Things to consider in this regard are: false friends, pronunciation issues (words with /p/, /v/, /f/, /g/, for example are going to be slightly more difficult for learners to successfully acquire. So are words with clusters of three or four consonants, as none of these English clusters occur in the onsets or codas of Arabic syllables), the grammar associated with specific items, and how cultural differences may affect the interpretation or usage of particular items. The Original Poster will probably be best placed to predict what other problems there may be.

For more information on Englishprofile, click here

To try out the English Vocabulary Profile searcher click here. You do need to register your email address and insitution details, but it's completely free to use.


Well, it might take a while, but you could get the students to tell you themselves.

Try to incorporate it in a way that enhances their learning experience though:

Why is it hard? Why is it easy?

Maybe they'll start to make connections, oh this one is hard/easy like that word from the other day (... that I now remember even more because I've made an active association)

Take all the results and simply average them (use excel or similar).

You might learn something yourself :)

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