How to memorize first 5000 french words


Hi Everyone,

I am new to memory techniques and have strategy questions for a larger goal.

I want to memorize the 5000 most frequently used French words in order to increase my reading level. I already speak french well enough to travel, and have a conversation, but not well enough to read the newspaper or read adult books. Also… I’m French… so I have some hangups about not having better language skills. I picked up “the memory book” and memorized random examples thought ‘holy crap, I can do this!’

So, I got the following books

And I found a flashcard set based on this frequency dictionary.

So, on with the questions!

With respect to memory techniques, assuming I want to memorize that whole book (eventually) what techniques should I use? Going in order seems the most useful, but what about thematic groupings? Are there techniques to add elements to a theme? Is it absurd to want to remember the frequency number? (Will adding this make it significantly harder?)

Thank you in advance!


There are two ways to use memory techniques to efficiently learn vocab and I am still torn as to which one I think is better.

The first is to use simple associations which are only connected to each other. For example, for ‘Bonjour’ I would see the word Journey at the end of the word. I would then think that journeys start in the morning therefore associating jour with morning. Doing it this way wouldn’t allow you to list off words but it should allow you to translate almost any word you have practised.

The other way is to create a fake town and store words as images in the appropriate places. For example, all sports terms might be stored in the stadium and all the literature terms stored in the library. You would make the French words interact with both their English translations and to some extent their location. This way when you need a word you simply have to visit the appropriate location and find it. With this method recall may be a little slower but it will help you learn vocab faster and make it more likely to hang around for longer. It also offers a handy way to do revision because you just visit a location in your town and practice seeing your images.

I don’t know why you would want to keep the frequency number, it seems like useless information.
People learn the order of the presidents because its cool to be able to reply immediately when someone asks who the 11th president was. I highly doubt though anyone will ever ask what the 40th most common french word is and I doubt knowing would enhance your ability to read french in any way.

That said it would definitely be possible. You would have to have a system which turns numbers into images and then associate the appropriate image with the already created image in the themed location. It would make the whole process longer and recall harder because you would have just added 1/3 more information.

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Welcome to the memory club! Mastering the techniques is truly life-changing, and I think you’ll find yourself making unprecedented progress!

Good advice from cap. I agree too about eliminating the frequency amount since it’s not needed information, and it’s only based on the body of literature they’ve selected to determine the frequencies.

Since you say you are a beginner, if you haven’t had much practice, just go with the method that’s easiest for you right now and don’t attempt anything too complex. Just work on associations, making strong connections, and working them into a location if you want to use the palace method.

You’ve said you are a beginner, and you say your goal is 5,000 words, or to get down a whole book, though might I encourage you, if you have been doing this for less than a year, to set your goal to maybe 500
at the very most for now, or an amount that is more comfortable to handle? I’d rather you not discourage yourself with an oversized goal, and 5,000 is a big number. And be sure to factor in to your memorization goal that you must do review (albeit the review will come much easier than with rote). A goal like that is good after you’ve put in some real time, practice, and have some good experience.

Even then, it’s better for you to think more about refining and improving your memory system than meeting a quantity of words memorized.

All the best to you, and I wish you great success!


Thanks @cap10 & @Capriccio!

I appreciate the advice! I’ll skip the frequency numbers. You’re both right, it doesn’t help me with my goal.

After perusing the frequency book, I see that I could probably already read most of those words (they feel familiar and have English cognates), but I wouldn’t (yet) recall the french word or gender when writing in French. This makes me think I should memorize from english to french using the Link method. I need to come up with something smart to deal with gender too. I saw a few posts on that. Some people did repeating imagery (melt vs explode, female vs male french actor, etc), and others used different places in the palace.

It seems like there isn’t a consensus on which methods are better… Is that right?


(Tassiano Bolina) #5

I’m also starting to memorize the list of most used English words. (I’m not native, sorry for any faults).
My strategy is as follows, as said “Capriccio” divide the number of words:

For example, memorizing 50 words a day in 1 hour would give you about a new word every 1 minute, something possible, in 100 days you will have memorized 5,000 words.

However, within the 50 words of the day, “before” memorization you can delete all known words from the list.
Memorizing only the first 50 words you do not really know from the list, there are many words you already know because of the cognates.

Doing this way will save you a few days because within the 5 thousand most used words you will memorize only the words you do not know, optimizing
Your study and memorizing only words that are really important to you.

Regarding the revision of the words, I suggest reading in the language you are learning because if the 5,000 words used
They must be present in about 80% of all literature and you will constantly come across them.

Regarding methods of memorization, I still have not found consensus.

Thank you and good luck in your studies.

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Hi All,

Here are some updates and info for french language learners.

First, I wanted to know where to “set that bar” for the number of words goal.

  • I found a french lexicon research project at the Université Savoie.
  • A nice analysis (here) shows what percentage of books and movies you can understand with your (frequency sorted) vocabulary.
  • I extended this table to incl. more data points.
  • I used that github project to download a CSV of the top-15,000 words used in books.
  • Here is a link to that CSV

Second, I wanted a clear method.

  • I'm going with the @metivier method from his book on French vocab with memory palaces. (Basically go alphabetically and use palaces). I also found this post useful.
  • @metivier sugguests planning out the palaces in advance, which made me wonder how many loci & palaces do I need by letter or by the first two letters. For example, there are > 1000 words that start with v, but only 16 that start with z. (link to CSV)
  • I did a similar analysis by the first two letters. This could be helpful in planning out your palaces and deciding if you want "be" to be in the same palace as "bé". (link to CSV)

I see that some groups had many hundreds of words e.g. “co*” has > 700 words. So in cases like that, I broke up the group into three-letter groups e.g. “coa*-cok*”, “col*”, “com”, etc.

After doing that, I end up needing ~ 223 memory palaces to memorize the top 15k words. The distribution looks like this:

… That’s daunting! For me, a huge house has 200 loci, and an apartment has 100. Where the heck am I going to find all these? It this a crazy idea?


Check out this site for cognates, they have an app that allows when reading, for you to click cognates in your domain language to bring up similar sounding/ written words with the target language. They also have a searchable cognate dictionary.

Speaking of which does anyone have any good suggestions for paper English-French cognate dictionaries?

Which Visual French-Dictionaries are you using?

This is if you are pursing an associationist or connectionist approach to language learning.


Wow @Simetry thank you for that link. The cognates approach seems very interesting.

Can you explain what is the difference between associationist and connectionist approaches? I am not sure I fully understand what you mean.


Status update. I found Krashen Input Hypothesis and abandoned the idea.

What I’m using instead is lot’s of passive input like listening to the radio. To aide in memory and comprehension, I re-listen to the same episodes several times.

Additionally, I’m using cloze deletion of sentences in Anki to learn meaning and grammar in context.

What I have maintained from the approach is to group similar “tricky” phrases in the same station within a memory palace. E.g. conjunctions that trigger the subjunctive “afin que, quoi que, … etc” are all stored in the same house to remind me that there is a similar rule with them.


Also, I discovered that I already knew nearly 3k words.