Don’t Judge Other People’s English Because of Lack of Vocabulary

By Robby

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Improve Spoken English


Hi guys and welcome back to English Harmony video blog! I’m Robby from and I’m your friend and mentor.

Today, we’re going to talk about the following thing:

You should never judge other people if they don’t know particular English words!

Say, for example, you’re talking to someone, whether a native speaker or a foreign English speaker, and you’re using a specific English word that that person doesn’t know. You should never judge them for it because there’s around a million words in the English language. Well, some sources quote two million words but I think it’s a stretch.

I think a million would probably be the most realistic figure that we could put on the English vocabulary so just think about it: there’s a million words in the language. Now, the average adult English speaker, if he or she is a native English speaker and they’re well educated, then they might know around twenty-five, thirty thousand words, right?

So, just think about the chances of them not knowing some very obscure English word that you’ve just learned and you’re using it, right? The chances are that that person probably doesn’t know that word and even if you think that this scenario whereby you, as a foreigner, say something and a native speaker doesn’t understand it is VERY unlikely to happen, you are wrong, my friend!

Here’s what happened a couple days ago at work. I was discussing something with my work colleague and I used the word “inertia” and he asked me what it is! You see, he didn’t know the word “inertia” and he’s a quite an educated guy. He’s overall a very eloquent person and initially it came as a bit of a shock to me but then next I thought: “Of course, no one can possibly know just any word in the English language!”

Then I went on and explained what that word meant, and there’s nothing weird or strange or ludicrous about such a situation.

It’s all a matter of people not being able to know every single word in the English language because, as I said previously, the language is just huge – it’s enormous. Over the centuries, it’s acquired a lot of vocabulary from other languages such as Greek, Latin, French, German, you name it!

And just think about all the various technical terms, you see, all this technical terminology – medical, science, and manufacturing and whatnot – there’s so many of them in the English language that an ordinary person can’t possibly know them all.

Well, of course, if you’re talking with some college professor who’s spent his entire life reading vast amounts of literature covering a huge array of various topics, then the chances of him not knowing something that you say are miniscule indeed but the average guy, the average Joe in the street, knows about twenty, twenty-five, thirty thousand English words at best, right?

And then, as a matter of interest, I tried to look up how many words there are in my own Latvian vocabulary and I actually couldn’t find a definite answer to that and then I found some people online saying that surely there should be as many words in Latvian as there is in English because there’s dictionaries where hundreds of thousands of English words are translated in Latvian and vice versa.

So, if we go by that logic, then there should be as many Latvian words as there is in the English language but, you see, that’s not the case, my friends, for the simple fact that there are a whole lot of synonyms in the English language than there are in our native languages.

Obviously, if you come from a very largely represented language background such as French, Spanish or German it might be the case that there is as many-that there’s an equal amount of your vocabulary as there is in English but I strongly believe, and it’s not just matter of opinion but it’s pretty much a fact in other languages, in smaller languages, you don’t have that many synonyms describing the same thing, the same principle or abstract concept or whatever it might be for the simple reason that, as I said, English language has acquired its vocabulary from all over the world, from the main language groups, and it’s very rich.

And I’m not saying that the English language would be somehow superior because of that. It’s just stating a fact.

So, if next time around when you say something and a person, be it a foreigner or a native speaker asks you, “Sorry, what it is? I don’t know!” you don’t have to be judgmental and judge them for that and don’t assume that their English knowledge is somehow of a lesser quality than yours just because they don’t know a specific word.

As I said, I had a conversation with a native speaker a few days ago and the same thing happened – he asked me what the word “inertia” meant in the English language and actually, now when I come to think of it, I remember a similar scenario that happened a couple of weeks ago.

We were talking about something at work and there was a song on the radio and one of the guys asked: “What is the name of this band?” and I said: “Evanescence”. (It’s a very popular band from the early 2000s or mid 2000s, maybe 2003, 2004 if I’m not mistaken) and then he said: “What it actually means? It doesn’t mean anything.”

I said, “No, I’m pretty sure it means something” and he says: “No, surely it’s just a made-up word”. Then I went online and did a quick search and it turns out “evanescence” is an actual English word, right?

But just because it’s such an obscure word that’s not used in real-life conversations AT ALL and I don’t know when’s the last time you actually heard someone using the word “evanescence”. It’s only the band – when people hear that word only in relation to that particular band, they assume it’s just a made-up word.

And there’s nothing weird or strange about it, right?

So, it just goes to show, to illustrate, that just because there’s so many English words in the English language it’s totally normal for someone to not know something that you have learned, that you have read. You don’t have to be judgmental about it, people, and you don’t have to use, actually, such obscure vocabulary or words.

Typically, they would be words of the day that so many dictionary websites are publishing on a daily basis and on some occasions they’re quite useful but sometimes they are really so specific and so sophisticated, so obscure, that it doesn’t make any sense to learn them, waste your time and energy and effort and use them in your conversations or writing because the chances are that people just won’t know what you’re talking about.

You’re much better off learning popular phraseology, most commonly used collocations and expressions and you’ll be understood worldwide, my friends, right?

Okay, let’s not be judgmental of others and ourselves. Yes, don’t blame yourself for not knowing something. If someone tells you something and you don’t understand, don’t be ashamed of asking the simple question: “I’m sorry, I just didn’t get that. I don’t know what that word means. Can you explain it to me please?” Simple as that, right?

Okay, thanks for watching this video, my friends, and if you have any comments or questions, please publish them in the comment section below. Thanks and bye!


P.S. Would you like to find out why I’m highlighting some of the text in red? Read this article and you’ll learn why it’s so important to learn idiomatic expressions and how it will help you to improve your spoken English!

P.S.S. Are you serious about your spoken English improvement? Check out my English Harmony System HERE!

English Harmony System

P.S. Are you serious about your spoken English improvement? Check out the English Harmony System HERE!

English Harmony System
  • Hi Nick,

    And thanks so much for the great feedback, I really appreciate it and I’m so glad you’ve been following my blog for such a long time – I hope you’ll remain my loyal follower for years to come!

    Now, here’s answers to your questions!

    1) I’ve never had anyone check, edit or proofread my articles. The level I’ve achieved is purely down to constant practice – the more you write, the better you get at it.

    I’m a strong believer in developing a “gut feeling” at both spoken and written English, and the most important thing is not to be afraid that you’ve said or written something wrong. Self-correction is oftentimes overlooked but it works like charm:

    2) Here’s what happened when I tried to use the speech-recognition functionality when producing videos for the Accent Genie program: ABSOLUTE RUBBISH! The software couldn’t recognize the American English speaker properly half the time, and I’ve noticed a lot of glitches on YouTube as well.

    Granted, my pronunciation isn’t as good as that of a native speaker and I’m trying to better myself all the time – so hopefully in a couple of years you’l be able to listen to me without straining your hearing!

    Btw – would you like to try listening to my British accent? Maybe it’s going to be easier to understand:

    Thanks for commenting!



  • Hi Sachin,

    Yes, I know only too well how EASY it is to be judgmental – and it happens to me quite a lot as well! 😉

    You may think – well, common Robby, here’s you are giving advice “Don’t be judgmental!” while at the same time admitting to it?!

    Well, the difference is, I guess, on how you react to your own reaction. If you don’t quell that feeling and just allow it to manifest itself – that’s the wrong thing to do, that’s what I’m advising to fight.

    If, on the other hand, you force yourself to think – “Hold on, am I PERFECT in every situation; would I know EVERYTHING I’m asked?” and then draw the logical conclusion that no-body can know everything at all times, that’s the right thing to do.

    Thanks for the comment!!!



  • Nick

    Hello Robby

    I have been using your blog about two years or so and It’s amazing how many useful materials for foreign learners you are producing .

    A am very grateful you for your titanic job.

    I wonder to know two things:

    1) It seems to me your written articles are on the very high level

    Did you received any estimations your articles from competent native Englishmen?

    How they judged your prose?

    2) I can understand your spoken English almost 100% now.

    But I cannot say “easily understand”, I feel some stretch and discomfort while listening.

    And I try understand what the matter.

    For experiment I have turned on subtitle for your video on Youtube once.

    Guess what, the translation was horrible.

    I did the same with video of other native speaker, whose pronunciation seems clear to me. The result was different, there was pretty good translation in subtitles .

    What do you think about this?

    Can I use this method to estimate my own or others pronunciation ?

  • sac chi

    I remember where me and my friend were in situation you mentioned here -“Don’t Judge Lack of Vocabulary”

    Few months ago similar thing happened with me. Luckily i was there in both sides of the feelings.
    one of my friend who is really good at English wanted to know synonym of word “state” as in states of the country. I thought such a simple word and how come he who knows much more than me about English words asking me the answer?

    I knew “Province” used in reference to states in china. so i text him my reply immediately with few other words like region, country etc.

    On the other hand he was amazed how come so quickly i replied back to his query when he was struggling for quite a long time the other morning and he know much more than me 😀

    (he was expecting me to google out and send me reply after 10-15 min or so ) 🙂

    I just knew the word for the simple reason that when i was working in shipping company I used to pass documents for china trade and province word was written on that documents…

    Though I had positive expectancy from my friend in this matter, I couldn’t control my judging mode. :=O