We’ve been talking about how cool it is to learn English from TV shows for a long time. After all, their main advantage is the repetition of vocabulary. From episode to episode, most tokens are repeated many times, which is ideal for expanding vocabulary.
The Simpsons has a special place among other TV series and cartoons. We recommend it to students because of the varied vocabulary from different walks of life. But our opinion was based on the experience of teachers, and not on statistics and analytics.
And so we found material that fully confirms our point of view with the help of big data analytics. Frank Andrade, Python Programmer and Data Analyst, analyzed 679 episodes of The Simpsons in terms of the vocabulary used. We hasten to share what we have learned in it.
Disclaimer: Based on the analysis and conclusions of the original material, we slightly expanded its semantic field to make it more interesting and informative for people who learn English as a foreign language.
The process of learning new words: how it happens
To learn a new word, it is not enough just to memorize its translation. Human memory works in such a way that information without associative links does not fall into long-term memory.
If you try to cram, there will be little sense – new words will be erased from memory in a few days. Within a day, the student will forget half of the learned words, and after a week, only 10% will remain in his memory.
But there is a way to use it – each subsequent repetition of information reduces the speed of forgetting. And after the sixth repetition, forgetting will take weeks and months.
The spaced repetition method is one of the best ways to learn new words in foreign languages. We use it in the EDWords English vocabulary learning app.
The author of the article also cites it as an example. And even uses the data that we used to develop the functionality of the application. For instance, research by scientists from Cambridge, in which at least six repetitions are needed to memorize information.
What Makes The Simpsons Special
The Simpsons has a huge amount of vocabulary: from 1000 basic words to rare words that are not even approximately included in the basic or intermediate vocabulary.
In the article, the researcher divided the vocabulary into levels depending on the prevalence of words in the language.
Level 1 – 1000 basic words.
Level 2 – the second thousand.
3rd level – third.
That is, when an analyst refers to the 4th level of vocabulary, these are words that occupy 3001-4000 places in the list of the most common in the English language.
It turned out that “The Simpsons” are great both for replenishing basic vocabulary and for working out Level 4 words. And so that you understand how cool it is for an advanced level – 1000 of the most common tokens (level 1) in English cover 81.54% vocabulary in movies and 85.11% vocabulary in TV programs.
Comparison of 86 popular TV series, cartoons and sitcoms from the perspective of developing vocabulary level 4 and higher. In the original article, the diagram is clickable.
Yes, there is quite a lot of youth and American slang in “The Simpsons”, but this is a popular colloquial slang, without excesses in professional ones.
If we take the average statistics for all episodes, then 81% of the words that occur in a cartoon are level 1. Which coincides almost perfectly with the general statistics.
But The Simpsons is special in that many levels 3+ (and even 5+) words are repeated in episodes often enough to ensure that the lexemes are memorized in context. No other series or show can boast of this.
All series of “The Simpsons” by vocabulary difficulty
This is the main reason why we wanted to share the analytics we found. Frank Andrade rated each of the 679 Simpsons episodes that existed at the time in terms of vocabulary difficulty.
In the original article, the chart is also clickable.
You can see which series will be easy enough for students with Pre-Intermediate (level 1), and which students with Upper-Intermediate (1 + 2 + 3) can fully understand.
Most of the episodes of the cartoon will be easily understood by people with Intermediate English. The percentage of vocabulary comprehension in this case will be at the level of 88-96%. This is quite a lot, considering that the meaning of many unknown tokens in most cases is easily guessed from the context.
“Simple” series are based on everyday situations and dialogues. For example, Secrets of a Successful Marriage (Season 5, Episode 22) has the highest Vocabulary Level 1 percentage. This means that even students with the Pre-Intermediate level will understand it without any problems. Even more, it can be a tutorial for Elementary.
– Or you can take an adult education course.
– Oh, and how is “education” supposed to make me feel smarter?
– For example, go to courses.
– Am I going to feel smarter at school?
Don’t beat the translation, this is an adaptation from 2×2. Literally it will be like this:
– Or you can go to adult courses.
“Oh, and how does“ education ”help me feel smarter?
And the plot of “complex”, in turn, is often based on a specific narrow theme. For example, “Bumpers and Brooms” (season 21, episode 7). First, the episode is a kind of parody of Disney’s 1971 Bedknobs and Broomsticks, which also parodies its outdated vocabulary. And there are also many phrases on the topics of witches, sects and moonshine, which are not even included in the first 4000 popular words.
That is amazing! You have the eloquence and urgency of a census worker caught in a bear trap. We’s gonna invite you to all our soirees, mixers and drink-’em-ups.
It’s amazing! You have the eloquence and peremptory character of a census-taker in a bear trap. From now on, we will invite you to our suire, sabantui and drinking.
Analytically, here are the 10 best The Simpsons episodes with the most basic English vocabulary:
S5E22: Secrets of a Successful Marriage
S9E7: Two Mrs. Nahasapimapetilon
S1E6: Moaning Lisa
S15E20: What We Were Not
S22E5: Lisa Simpson, This Is Not Your Life
S8E19: School Confidentiality Degree
S5E12: Bart Gets Famous
S9E16: Insurance Fraud
S1E9: Life on the Fast Track
S4E14: Brother from the same planet
Another simply excellent tool is a vocabulary table, which contains absolutely all words from the animated series, as well as the series in which they occur.
In the original article, the table is interactive, you can filter the list by a single word, episode or season.
That is, even before watching a separate series, you can evaluate the vocabulary and see the meanings of the words that come across in it. There are several advantages of this approach at once:
There is no need to stop the episode and go into the dictionary. The cartoon is still entertainment, not a textbook.
You can immediately spy on the spelling of a word and send it for study in a dictionary or application.
You can estimate the number of repetitions – if there are more than six, and the word itself occurs in several series, then, most likely, it will not need to be additionally trained – there will be enough resources and the cartoon itself.
Interestingly, Homer, Marge, Bart and Lisa have as simple vocabulary as possible. It is not strange – they are the main characters, they have a maximum of screen time, and the series is created for a wide audience.
But this is in percentage terms. In terms of quantity, the smartest character is Homer. For the entire series, he said over 11,000 level 4+ words. Not bad, right?
The supporting characters also have complex dialogues. For the most part, difficult vocabulary is often found in the lines of businessman Burns and Director Skinner.
We’ve bookmarked the original study already and hats off to the author. Because he clearly proved in figures and tables what we have long assumed from our own experience.
The Simpsons is truly one of the best learning materials for improving your English in an interesting format. They combine high engagement, great humor, and high repetition of vocabulary. And also a huge number of cultural references and linguistic puns.
And if you want to understand them all, sign up for a free trial lesson with a tutor and watch The Simpsons as much as you want.
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