The Knowledge-based Vocabulary Lists (KVL) are the outcome of a collaborative British Council sponsored research project. Members of the Assessment Research Group worked alongside colleagues at University of Nottingham (UK), University of Innsbruck (Austria) and Waseda University (Japan) to produce innovative lists that report the best-known 5,000 words of English. 

The above video introduction to, and overview of, this project (20 mins) is given by University of Nottingham Emeritus Professor of Applied Linguistics, Norbert Schmitt. 

Information about the project and the KVL is also given in the KVL User Manual, available for download at the bottom of this page.

Testing word knowledge 

The KVL lists were created by testing English language word knowledge of over 100,000 Chinese, German, and Spanish learners of English in order to determine which words were known best and which were less well known. The test required the learners to spell the words correctly, and so required a good level of mastery. 

Ranking word knowledge

Based on this information, the KVL lists provide a rank order of difficulty (from easier to more difficult) for the best known 5,000 English language words for participants from the three language backgrounds. 

Using the KVL

The lists are useful for pedagogical purposes in which it is beneficial to know whether learners are likely to be able produce and correctly spell the words they know. This is in contrast to frequency lists that report which words are frequent in English but cannot indicate learner knowledge. 

Accessing the KVL

The lists are available for download below. Before using the KVL, please refer to the KVL User Manual. You can choose to access the basic KVL for each language: KVL-Chinese, KVL-German, or KVL-Spanish, which each contain the following information:

  • Lemma: the KVL uses ‘lemmas’ as their lexical units.  A lemma includes the base/stem of a word, plus its grammatical inflections (e.g. walk + walked, walking, walks). This column includes the English language lemma being described.
  • Word Class: the part-of-speech of the lemma, e.g. noun, verb, adjective.
  • Knowledge Rank Order: this is the order of likelihood of the lemma being known well enough that it can be spelled correctly by learners from the specified L1 group.
  • Frequency Rank Order: this is the frequency rank of the lemma based on frequency counts of the Corpus of Contemporary American English (COCA) in 2018.
  • Uncertain KVL Ranking: this highlights lemmas for which there is some uncertainty in the rank order denoted by the KVL. Further information on the nature of this information is described in the KVL User Manual, Supplementary lists C and E.

Alternatively, you can download the technical KVL: KVL-Chinese-Technical, KVL-German-Technical, or KVL-Spanish-Technical. These spreadsheets contain additional information about the lemmas’ characteristics, and the design of the test items on which the knowledge rankings are based. Please refer to the worksheet labelled “Key” in each case.