When it comes to learning a language, mastery of vocabulary, obviously, is necessary. The joy of reading a language is killed when you have to look up every word in the text. I believe this is why so many students simply give up or grind through Hebrew just to pass so they never have to look at the language again.
When I interviewed Rev. Dr. Walter Maier III, Professor of Hebrew at Concordia Theological Seminary, he stated that vocabulary is essential for learning Hebrew. It is the foundational building block of learning Hebrew. Of course I agree. Interestingly he also stated that Hebrew grammar will fall into place once a certain level of mastery is gained over the vocabulary of Biblical Hebrew. What was not discussed in our interview was how many vocabulary words in Hebrew should the student have mastery over.
The Law of Diminishing Returns and 8,679 Words
The law of Diminishing Return states, "The tendency for a continuing application of effort or skill toward a particular project or goal to decline in effectiveness after a certain level of result has been achieved." and this is true for learning Biblical Hebrew vocabulary as well.
There are 419, 687 words in the Hebrew Old Testament text. Of those 419,687 words 8,679 are unique that compose the total usage of 419,687 words total. So the question is: How many of the 8,679 words do I need to have absolute mastery over to have competency in Biblical Hebrew?
Of course "competency" is subjective, but if you wanted to recognize nearly 90% of all word occurrences in the Hebrew text the answer would be: 22% of the 8,679 words — that means you would need to know a mere 1,903 Hebrew vocabulary words. That is not an unrealistic amount of vocabulary to master in a year or less with dedication. But for some, this will seem daunting or not worth the investment of time and effort. If this is you, keep reading for the good news...
80% Recognition — Less is More
Keep the "Law of Diminishing Returns" in mind. The more Hebrew vocabulary you learn, the better. But at some point the returns diminish after a certain number of vocabulary words are memorized.
In my opinion, that magic number is: 641.
That is FAR less than 1,903, isn't it? In fact, that number seems entirely possible ot memorize. And guess what? With mastery of a mere 641 Hebrew words you will have OVER 80% recognition of Hebrew vocabulary in the Old Testament text! After learning 641 of the highest frequency the "law of diminishing" returns kicks in. That is good news for Hebrew students.
Start Learning Hebrew Vocabulary FAST
With Biblical Hebrew: The Complete System you will quickly learn over 500 high frequency words. In addition you will learn how to conquer the Hebrew paradigms using ancient memory techniques modified for today's student.
Visit us at Biblical Hebrew Made Easy! to learn more, or visit Blair Kasfeldt's webpage Boost Your Memory.
Blessings to you as you learn Biblical Hebrew!