How Useful is a Word – New Feature

Written By: Emanuel Updated: June 12, 2023

Hello everyone,

just a quick little site update today, because I activated a new feature:

The usefulness of words

I already mentioned it a while back – the idea is to show “usefulness” in the YourDailyGerman dictionary, so you have a rough sense of whether or not you should learn a word.
What’s the dictionary, you ask? Well, you’ll get there by just using the site search here or you can find it in the menu.

Anyway, it then took a while to actually enter all the data (I do that by hand, no scripts), but now I’m almost done with it (yes, I do it myself) and I have decided to activate the feature.
So let’s take a quick look and I’ll explain my thoughts and answer some questions that you’ll probably have. And I’ll also give you a quick outlook of what’s next.

Here’s how it looks. Or should look, I should say because it’ll probably take a couple of weeks till all your devices show it the right way:

 

So we have the verb mitkommen, which has two “ideas” as I call them.
And for each idea, you now have an indication of how useful that idea is.
The first one (to join, come with someone) is 5/5, so that’s a super useful meaning to learn. The second one is 3/5, which is kind of the “default”.
Actually, let’s go over the levels real quick and I’ll tell you what I mean with each of them. The more green bars, the more useful

1. Not useful at all

Learning this is pretty much a guaranteed waste of time, as you’ll never need it, and it’s only here for completion and information
Only learn it if you LOVE it.

2. Not very useful

It’s not completely useless but chances are you’ll never need this, so feel totally free to ignore, them until C1.

3. normal word

This is kind of the default. So it’s an idea that is used in daily life from time to time and you’ll definitely see it – some sooner, some later.
But you can be sort of fluent without it as there are often more common alternatives or it’s a niche word or formal or whatever.
So here, YOU have to decide whether you want it or not. As long as you’re not B1, you can leave them aside.

4. quite useful

These are ideas/words that are part of everyday life that are necessary to speak idiomatic sounding German.
You can get by without them, but it’d definitely be a gap that will “feel” like a gap. At the end of A2, you should know these.

5. must haves

These are the absolute core and you add them them as soon as you see them,
because they’re the idiomatic choice basic concepts of our everyday lives. 

So that’s the rating and the big question now is of course where the rating comes from.

How did I determine usefulness?

I decided for an incredibly advanced deep learning method that integrates multiple dimensions into one rating: human intuition.

Yup, I entered all of this myself (12.000+ entries) and for each idea I asked myself “How useful would I say this is for a learner?”
And the question is not only “How common is the idea?”
Because a word like geben in the sense of giving is an order of magnitude more common than anmachen in the sense of turning on, but turning on is a basic concept of daily life and anmachen is the number one word for it, so they will be on the same level.
Here are the “parameters” that I had in mind when grading this:

  • How common is it?
  • Can I have everyday conversations without it?
  • Do I have a perceivable “gap” without it or can I work around it?
  • Is it the only word for this concept or are the synonyms?
  • Are the synonyms more or less common?
  • Does it “unlock” other vocabulary or a grammar concept?
  • Have I used it actively in the last few years?

The vast majority of the ideas are in category 3/5… so they’re normal words.
But I did the entering without thinking too long about each idea. It was really more of an intuitive process, and that means that some of the grading is definitely weird and I’ll gradually fine tune this over time. But I hope it gives you a bit of help when it comes to knowing whether an idea of a word is worth bothering with or not.

And yes… I know that many of you are now thinking why I didn’t use the A1, A2 and so on framework. So let me address that.

Why did I not grade the words based on the standard language learning levels (A1, A2, B1…)

There are several reasons for this.
The first one is that I am not grading words but ideas. A word might have two meanings, one of which is very common and the other one is kind of useless. Like verschreiben for example:

  • verschreiben – to make a typo
  • verschreiben – to prescribe (only by doctors)

The first meaning is more useful than the second, so if the rating were based on the word, then that distinction would be lost.
And the thing with the reference levels is that they usually talk about a word, and its MAIN meaning, but they kind of leave aside a lot of the side meanings. So if anmachen is an A2 word, how do you know which of the like 5 separate meanings that it has are actually useful? One? Two? All of them?

I think it’s more helpful to grade the ideas, not the words.

And besides that, I also think that just because a word is in the list for A1, doesn’t mean it’s actually all that useful. For instance, I think a lot of body parts are in the A1 stack, but do we REALLY need to have the word “das Bein” in our German starter kit? I don’t think so.
And it’s also not like you need to know ALL B1 words to pass B1 exams. And you won’t automatically pass a B1 exam just because you know ALL the B1 words. These reference lists are somewhat arbitrary as well, it’s not like they did intense research to really find the BEST words for each level.

I’m not saying that my grading is THE BEST. There is no THE BEST. But I did and will do my best to make the “usefulness” indicator as useful as possible.

What’s next

So originally, I wanted to have only one “grading” for the entries, but after we talked about it in the comments a while back, I have decided to split it into two. One aspect is what you see now, the usefulness.
And the other aspect will come next and we could call it

“type”

I will go through the dictionary a second time and grade each idea based on their… well…  “type”. I don’t really know what to call this, but here are the categories I have in mind:

  • normal (just your average word)
  • colloquial/slang 
  • formal/official  (Usages that you only find in formal contexts or for which there’s a colloquial, more common alternative)
  • niche (A usage that is limited to a very specific context, like a technical field or something and that is NOT used outside of that)
  • old school/outdated
    A usage that you may find in books here and there, but it’d be weird to use in conversation, or sound like stage acting

Let me know in the comments what you think and if I forgot an important distinction.

Also, what’s coming out very soon for all of you is the option to add your own notes to each idea and the option to bookmark/favorite them. That’s something no other dictionary has, as far as I know. You can add your own thoughts to each idea and always see them when you look them up.

And now here’s the big piece of news… we are making… drumroll…

a browser extension

With it, you can click on a German word on the website you’re reading and look it up directly in the YourDailyGerman dictionary without having to go here first. And if things go according to plan, you’ll be able to see your own notes or add some, if you’re logged in.
The first one will be Chrome browser, but once that’s done it should be fairly easy to modify this for different browsers.
And then, the final goal is to… make it into a webapp you can use on your phone!

So… lots to come :).

But that’s it for today. Next week we’ll start our Summer, Sun and Vocab Fun series, with easy going, laid back summer articles for a warm summer night.
Let me know in the comments what you think of the usefulness-feature and if you have any suggestions. I obviously can’t completely change it now, but definitely for single entires, if you feel like my grading is off, let me know and I’ll change them possibly.

Anyway,  I really hope you like it, have a great week and I’ll see you next time!

 

 

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