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How many words do I have to learn ?

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portunhol
Triglot
Senior Member
United States
thelinguistblogger.w
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Speaks: English*, Spanish, Portuguese
Studies: German, Arabic (classical)

 
 Message 57 of 70
19 April 2009 at 8:25am | IP Logged 
In order to function in common, every day situations you need somewhere between 600 and 1,000 words in your active vocabulary. Your passive vocabulary will probably be double that. I don't think that means you should give up trying to learn more though. Why learn a language you plan never to use after you learn a certain amount of words? As you continue to use the language you will invariably pick up more words, just as you do with your native language.

As several people here have said, the more advanced levels of fluency come naturally, as is the case with your native language. Have you ever talked to someone, usually a kid in high school, who has memorized a bunch of complicated words and then tries to use them in everyday speech? The person usually ends up sounding silly. That's because there are certain things that come with exposure and time.
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tricoteuse
Pentaglot
Senior Member
Norway
littlang.blogspot.co
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Speaks: Swedish*, Norwegian, EnglishC1, Russian, French
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 Message 58 of 70
19 April 2009 at 9:02am | IP Logged 
That's ok, sprachefin :)
This is more or less my point as well:

Iversen wrote:
Nevertheless, from the moment you have attained basic fluency it is mostly a question of exposure and attentiveness to move steadily upwards, and with time, more travelling and the development in the electronic media this process ought to be almost automatical.

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fairyfountain
Senior Member
Zimbabwe
Joined 4235 days ago

254 posts - 248 votes 
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 Message 59 of 70
27 April 2009 at 3:41am | IP Logged 
I don't know how much words I can understand/ use comfortably. I wrote some articles about languages learning in a blog I had a few months ago, and counted the unique occurrences, and it came up to 1.2K vocabularies. I suppose it's not that bad, since I always write in a punchy, somewhat slangy style, that doesn't require the use of many words. I'm supposed to be a B2 in comprehension and vocabulary, but I don't believe in the hype - an English teacher estimated my passive vocabulary at 15K-20K words, which is a heck of a lot! I think that it'd be safer if I struck a happy middle and said something like "I can understand around 5K-10K words". I'm by no means what you could call "highly fluent", but the fact that I'm focusing at lot on pronunciation hampers my progress (but it's for a noble cause :p).
My sole language goal is to become indistinguishable from your average bilingual Canadian (even if I'm aiming for American English, which isn't exactly the same, contrary to popular belief). Once I do that, I'll probably aim for super native fluency - I want to be able to talk like that Shakespeare dude :p
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Iversen
Super Polyglot
Moderator
Denmark
berejst.dk
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 Message 60 of 70
27 April 2009 at 10:32am | IP Logged 
As I have written before the number of words you actually use is much less than the number of words you potentially could use (= your active vocabulary). If you avoid complicated discussions then you probably could end up using just 5-600 words. The problem is that you don't know beforehand which words you need outside the fundamental core of 'grammar' words (pronouns, auxiliary verbs etc.), so you definitely need a larger active vocabulary.

Right now I'm doing a mini test for my own passive vocabulary in different languages (which of course is larger than the active vocabulary): I take a couple of mid size dictionaries for each of my languages and make an estimate based on something like 10-20 pages. I incorporate the results in my log file, and when I'm through the project I'll list them all in one post for comparison.

In my earlier word counts I just calculated an estimated number of known lexemes, but this time I also try to get a percentage. The logic behind this is that irrespective of the definition of 'lexeme' in different dictionaries representing different languages, it must be meaningful to say that I know for instance a third of the lexemes in a midsize dictionary. It would then be a plausible guess that I would then also know a third of the words in both smaller and larger dictionaries and dictionaries where 'compound lexemes' are listed according to different principles.

However one thing that has surprised me is that in a couple of cases I knew a larger proportion of the words in a large dictionary than in a smaller one, - you might expect the percentage to be lower with a large dictionary because it contains rare and outdated words, but many of the supposedly rare words are international scientific terms, and I know quite a lot of those.

I could in principle also try to assess the number of words I actually might use (=active vocabulary), but that would be based almost purely on guesswork. In many cases it is already difficult to tell whether I really know a certain word from experience or just expected it to be there because it has a parallel in another language. So right now I just count my passive vocabularies, and then I'll to find a suitable setup for estimating the active part of those.



Edited by Iversen on 27 April 2009 at 10:59am

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Tyr
Senior Member
Sweden
Joined 3889 days ago

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 Message 61 of 70
27 April 2009 at 12:13pm | IP Logged 
Most common word lists are so darn hard to find <_<
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Iversen
Super Polyglot
Moderator
Denmark
berejst.dk
Joined 4810 days ago

9078 posts - 16470 votes 
Speaks: Danish*, French, English, German, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, Swedish, Esperanto, Romanian, Catalan
Studies: Afrikaans, Greek, Norwegian, Russian, Serbian, Icelandic, Latin, Irish, Lowland Scots, Indonesian, Polish, Croatian
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 Message 62 of 70
27 April 2009 at 12:42pm | IP Logged 
'Most common' word lists should be avoided like the plague. The words that are really common will take care of themselves because you see them again and again. Besides almost all the 'most common' wordlists I've seen totally lack translations, and precisely the most common words normally have a lot of idiomatic uses which you need to know. You will also learn many of them by studying your morphology, because they often are irregular. So get your core vocabulary from any other source than frequency lists.

This may be a surprising criticism from someone who routinely learns words from dictionaries, but any decent dictionary has morphological indications, alternative translations, construction examples and sometimes indications of usage that are lightyears ahead of the simple rank in a frequency list. And even that isn't enough for very common words, which often are irregular and have unforeseeable construction possibilities.

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fairyfountain
Senior Member
Zimbabwe
Joined 4235 days ago

254 posts - 248 votes 
5 sounds

 
 Message 63 of 70
27 April 2009 at 1:29pm | IP Logged 
I'm one of these people who seem to be cross with vocabulary lists and dictionaries - I'm trying to cure that hatred of single words by systematically looking for the unknown pronunciations. That said, I totally agree with Iversen when it comes to the frequency lists. These things are the most stupid tools ever, because most learners will know "rare" words and feel like they haven't committed easier words to memory yet. I'm all for hardcore audio-input orientated learning, as it seems to work with me, and the odd list seems to boost my English, frequency lists are pretty much useless (I think).
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hoseline
Newbie
United Kingdom
Joined 3796 days ago

10 posts - 11 votes

 
 Message 64 of 70
28 April 2009 at 7:49pm | IP Logged 
For begginers level or survival, about 500 for a start would get you through simple conversations. You dont need that much yet just to survive.

http://www.econtrader.com



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