Lexxica - the Word Engine

Another interesting English language training application I came across at JALT 2007 was Lexxica, a free Web-based service out of Tokyo. Based on frequency analysis of international corpora, Lexxica’s main purpose is to quickly identify how many English language words a learner knows, and then through digital flash cards, reading exercises, games, etc., build that learner’s vocab to the essential 2000 and 5000 levels.

Research has shown that of the approximately 375,000 words in the English language, knowing the most common 2,000 of them will provide a learner with 80% coverage of words needed for basic communication, while knowing the most common 5,000 is necessary for reading general English without a dictionary. One problem with many language programs is that they teach too many words outside of the most frequent. Lexxica hones in on the words learners are missing from this essential corpus and trains students systematically to reach those magic levels.

What interests me most about Lexxica is that teachers can form their own groups of students and track their progress over time. Furthermore, the application is formatted to work with mobile technology, so students without desktops or laptops can participate - I saw it work nicely on the iPod touch, too. I believe Lexxica would make an ideal vocab building component for any EFL/ESL program. And it’s free!


  1. Marco Polo wrote:

    Lexxica was demonstrated by its two authors at Jalt’s CALL Conference in Hokkaido, 2006. I’ve been using it ever since.

  2. Aaron wrote:

    And? What do you think?

  3. Marco Polo wrote:

    Students seem to appreciate the quick feedback, tho I’ve no idea how many really read or take in the verbal comments. Some students also seem to enjoy using the flashcards and other learning aids Lexxica provide. It gives me a snapshot of students’ vocab level. I don’t know whether it is more or less or equally effective when compared to others such as Paul Nation’s online test at lextutor: http://www.lextutor.ca/
    I like it because it’s online and it’s bilingual (i.e. I can read the English version, students can read the Japanese version) and I only need point students to the website and let them get on with it. WIth Lextutor I have to stand next to them and walk them thru it (and they usuall forget to make a note of their results).

  4. Aaron wrote:

    Thanks for that, Marco. Well, you’re the first person I’ve heard from that’s used Lexxica with his students. I vaguely remember you (or someone else) mentioning the software before, but it never really registered with me until last weekend that it was a free online service.

    I’m seriously considering using it as a supplement to my classes next year, but am concerned about the costs students will incur by connecting to the service via their cell phones. I wonder to what extent is is possible to “require” a certain amount of cell phone usage in class, given that it is a piece of technology all the students carry around. I suppose the solution is to give students the option of whether to use a computer or cell phone and let them decide.

  5. Marco Polo wrote:

    Students are unlikely to make frequent use of this via cell-phone, and will only do so if the teacher requires it (and there may be complaints afterwards). If you’re teaching in an institution, bung them all into a computer room for one class and have them do it “properly”!! If you are teaching privately, you have other options.

  6. Aaron wrote:

    Hmmm….yes, Marco, I totally see your point. That makes sense. But, I also see another important issue developing here: students will be carrying incredibly powerful “computers” in their pockets in just a few short years. The amazing iPhone is just a precursor to what is to come.

    As it is now at many institutions here, students are required to spend several thousand yen a semester on textbooks, and it is part of our institutional culture to demand of our students that they personally pay for what we, as teachers, designate as required course materials.

    So as institutional language learning evolves, why wouldn’t it be perfectly acceptable to ask students to incur small monthly fees on their cell phones as part of their required work? And if that “textbook” is intelligent and interactive and customized to meet the needs of that individual learner, and tracks that learners activities for the purposes of assessment, then it makes sense to ask students to fork out 500 yen a week on connection fees. It’s part of their “education.”

    I think that a program like Lexxica would only be a supplement, rather than a central element of the course. It’s too narrow in its scope to be comprehensive.

  7. Marco Polo wrote:

    students will be carrying incredibly powerful “computers” in their pockets in just a few short years. The amazing iPhone is just a precursor to what is to come
    Good point: bypass textbooks. But then why not make full use of the incredibly powerful computers both in their pockets and in their skulls, and bypass school and classes altogether…

  8. Aaron wrote:

    I’m with you on that one Marco!

  9. Marco Polo wrote:

    Lexicca is featured on the front page of Cambridge Univesity’s Press’ latest news release, which came in the mail today (Saturday, Dec. 15th). THey seem to have added some features, so I’ll re-visit, and also have my students do the same. For a month after they took the test, I had them spend 15 minutes on vocab practice and let them select an online vocab site from my shortlist. Lexicca was one.

  10. Mun wrote:

    I also saw the presentation at JALT. I tried it upon returning to Korea for a student of mine, but the site isn’t working well at all. It crashed almost every session, and even though we set it up for English-English, we only get Japanese translations. We’ve tried it out on two different computers now and it still crashes constantly.

    Flaschcard exchange is a site I’ve used before. I don’t see Lexxica giving much more than that and at least the other site works.

  11. Aaron wrote:

    Hi Mun….thanks for me know about the crashes. I also heard from another trusted source recently about Lexxica being “buggy.” Hopefully they can get whatever problems they have worked out so it can be of greater use to learners, especially in institutional settings.

  12. Grace Melton wrote:

    Many learners of English as an additional language reach a plateau and then either remain in the communicative comfort zone or have the realisation that vocabulary acquisition is crucial to further development. The call of `I need to learn more words’ is all too common. While syntax and communicative interaction are vital in English language learning, it is clear that an accurate grasp of vocabulary enhances ones productive and receptive skills. Research recognises that reading with pleasure requires knowledge of 95% of the words of a text while related research suggests that English for academic purposes requires a core vocabulary of at least 5000 carefully chosen words (Coxhead, 2000; Nation, 1990). Learning a new word also includes spelling, pronunciation, meaning and how a word works in different registers.

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