Wednesday, June 29, 2016

How many words do you need to speak a language fluently?

My take on this:

The short and absolutely correct answer is "no-one knows".
But - because I myself am asking this question, I know it's not about what people usually think it is.

Let me quote from an earlier post on this blog:

"...there are thousands of words in every language. About 200.000-300.000 is about normal... (well, frankly I don't know how many. People say English has somewhere between 500.000 and 5.000.000 words. Considering that if you know the 2000 most commonly used words of English, you master 75-80% of the language... and almost all with mere 15.000. I would say half a million is closer than five million. But - I don't know. It's a lot of words.)

Another juicy little piece of statistics, and I don't know anything about the veracity of this:
age 2 - 200 words
age 3 - 1000 words
age 6 - 4.000-20.000 words
age 14 - 10.000-25.000 words
adult - 30.000-60.000 words
A typical toddler learns 10-100 words a day... 100 words a day doesn't sound possible. (but I can do that in two hours, so I suppose it is possible :-D)
Considering that a 6 years old is some 2000 days old, that would make it 5 words a day since birth to reach 10.000 words, which is a good vocabulary for a 6 years old. It's not so that the kids don't learn words before they start using them... some theories even claim they learn words and sounds already before they are born.
Anyway, the point with this is that this is the rate children - those "natural sponges" learn languages... so if you get fluent in three months... that means you'll learn some 2000-10.000 words in 3 months... 22-100 words a day. Adults do NOT have it harder to learn than kids. It's all in one's attitude."

This is basically what people asking this question want to know.

other relevant facts:
At they have these statistics:
Most adult native test-takers range from 20,000–35,000 words, most foreing test-takers have about 4,500 words vocabulary, foreigners living in an English-speaking country reach 10.000 words.
"the Reading Teachers Book of Lists claims that the first 25 words are used in 33% of everyday writing, the first 100 words appear in 50% of adult and student writing, and the first 1,000 words are used in 89% of every day writing! has been said that a vocabulary of just 3000 words provides coverage for around 95% of common texts (such as news items, blogs, etc.)"
- How many words do I need to know? The 95/5 rule in language learning, Part 2/2
Now, I don't count singular and plural forms different words. Neither do I count any other form of a word as a new word. (See the definition of lexeme: How Many Words Do You Need to Know in Spanish (or any other foreign language)? And WHICH Words Should You Be Learning?)

There is also a "hierarchy" in words. It's more important to know the word "red" than "armadillo".

Common European Languages Framework (CEFR) and Vocabulary Size

CEFR level     Vocabulary size: English
A1                   <1500
A2          1500 – 2500
B1         2750 – 3250
B2         3250 – 3750
C1         3750 – 4500
C2         4500 – 5000

But - shortly put, if you learn by heart the 3000 most common words in your target language and their different forms and other necessary details, like gender and so on, you will be in a great spot to acquire a good language by reading books.

Now, Benny Lewis spits on people learning languages by reading books, I myself am in the Kati Lomb camp, and my goal is being able to read books and blogs in many languages. I also know that I am pretty good at catching up the pronunciation, and totally confident in that if I could read books in a language, I would be fluently communicating and expressing myself in the language very quickly if I needed to.

No comments:

Post a Comment