What is core vocabulary?

time to complete: 10 minutes

Before we examine academic vocabulary, let’s look at core (basic) vocabulary that every learner of English should know, regardless of whether they are studying at university or not.

Task: The following text is a paragraph from an academic journal articleDo you think it has a lot of core (basic) vocabulary? Read the text, then answer the question below it.

The migratory pathways of refugee contexts are extremely difficult circumstances to navigate. Refugees face geographic change, social isolation, and linguistic and cultural shifts associated with their forced migration. By definition, refugees flee across international borders owing to a well-founded fear of persecution (UNHCR 2010), altering their national and transnational support and communication structures. When settling in camps, refugees can be segregated from national populations and have little financial, legal, or educational support. While some refugees are permanently resettled to countries such as the United States, Canada, and Norway, 86% live in developing countries neighbouring their countries of origin (UNHCR 2014). Refugees hope that this displacement is temporary and most international aid, including education, is designed based on this assumption.

Text adapted from Dahya & Dryden-Peterson (2017)

Were you surprised to see that the majority of words in an academic text are core vocabulary?

77% of the words in this text belong to a list of frequent words that are relevant for all learners of English. This list is called Oxford 3000 because it consists of 3000 words. The highlighted words below belong to the Oxford 3000 list.


So, you can see academic texts can contain a lot of core vocabulary!

Some of these words are grammar words e.g. the, of, are, to, a, and, in, while others are content words (actions, things, qualities or ideas) e.g. change, international, support, permanently, origin. 

To give you a rough idea of the level, a learner of English with a 6-6.5 IELTS score should know the words in the Oxford 3000 list.

To read more about how the Oxford 3000, you can visit the links below: