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"All I need to know is 2500 words"

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Hexaglot
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 Message 9 of 32
24 March 2005 at 3:08pm | IP Logged 
I created a separate thread about how many words you need to 'speak' in a foreign language.

Edited by Malcolm on 24 March 2005 at 8:18pm

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randy310
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 Message 10 of 32
07 August 2005 at 1:11am | IP Logged 
Some studies estimate that the average high school grad has a vocabulary of about 15000 words and the average college grad has a vocabulary of about 25000 words. But it only takes a vocabulary of about 3000 to appear fluent. As others have stated the biggest percentage of our every day conversation and interaction is probably less than one thousand words.
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 Message 11 of 32
07 August 2005 at 4:51am | IP Logged 
Yes indeed, I agree. The problem is that you do regularly need words who come from the very low frequency part of the list. Let me give an illustration of my point with the Pareto rule as applied to pharmacists. In Lausanne, pharmacists make 80% of their sales with only about 20% of the drugs they sell. Would 80% of their sale equal to the same amount if they decided to get rid of the 80% of the drugs that account only for 20% of the sales?

You can take any newspaper article and try to remove the words who are not in the top 2500 most common words and see what sort of text you are left with.

I have about 5000 words in Russian (I guess) and cannot count on more than about 15-20% 'transparent' words for the rest. Every day I encounter words I don't understand, and sometimes the context is not enough to let me guess what they mean. Sometimes the key to understanding the whole article (or phrase, or conversation) can be one word, and that word is often not that common.

People may use words from a limited stock when talking but unless you need the language to do a highly specific and repetitive task, you need the passive vocabulary.
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lengua
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 Message 12 of 32
27 August 2006 at 4:32am | IP Logged 
randy310 wrote:
As others have stated the biggest percentage of our every day conversation and interaction is probably less than one thousand words.


True. And if the language you're learning is close to your native language (relatively speaking), it is entirely possible to add thousands of words to your passive/active vocabulary by listening to radio, which alerts you to cognates and other free words both languags share.

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Iversen
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 Message 13 of 32
27 August 2006 at 4:59am | IP Logged 
There is one thing you can't do with radio, namely rerun it (unless you have recorded it of course). And you can't stop it, if you just need to look up a specific word to get some passage to make sense.In that respect written sources have an advantage.
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lengua
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 Message 14 of 32
27 August 2006 at 8:12am | IP Logged 
That's true. It's more of a passive absorption than an active one. But on the other hand, it not only helps with vocab, it also teaches you to hear the language. Sort of like immersion, except you don't have to book a ticket and a hotel to get it.

If you were learning vocab for reading, however, I would fully spend time with reading materials, and not with aural ones. It depends on what you want to do with the words.
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Iversen
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 Message 15 of 32
28 August 2006 at 7:12pm | IP Logged 
randy310 wrote:
Some studies estimate that the average high school grad has a vocabulary of about 15000 words and the average college grad has a vocabulary of about 25000 words. But it only takes a vocabulary of about 3000 to appear fluent. As others have stated the biggest percentage of our every day conversation and interaction is probably less than one thousand words.


We have had several threads on this forum where word counts have been an issue. Administrator referred to this thread, and there is another here about "basic fluency", where 5000 active (!) words is proposed as a minimum for basic fluency. In a third thread there are testimonials from several native English speakers who have taken a test based on the 25.000 allegedly most common words, and the test results go from roughly around 11.000 to around 20.000. However it is clear from these threads that vocabulary counts become higher if you use big fat dictionaries for the tests, so ideally you should never talk about the size of a person's vocabulary without specifying how big a dictionary you used for the measurements.

Finally there is in this thread a claim that the Swedish Author Strindberg used more than 100.000 words in his works. If that was true (without counting every wordform separately) then I would not be able to read Strindberg, but I can read his works, so he cannot have used that many words, - quod erat demonstrandum.

These word counts generally refer to the socalled passive vocabulary, but the active vocabularium (the words that you might use if you found yourself in a relevant situation) is much lower. However it is not realistic to have somebody running behind some other person to write down every word from that person, and the number of words you use in writing can really first be estimated when you have written several novels and preferably have died. In the absence of hard facts we can only guess how many of 'our' words we would remember if we really needed them, and there are no clearcut definition of how many different contexts you should include in your counts. But 5000 active words is quite a lot! It would probably mean that the person should know more than 20.000 passive words.

So the upper limit of our vocabularies is a fuzzy limit indeed, unless we limit ourselves to saying that we know for instance 5000 out of 15000 words from a certain dictionary.

On the other hand it is well established that a small number of words constitute a disproportionally large part of our utterances (see the details in this thread). So it is not unrealistical to say that you could survive on for instance 1500 or even 1000 words for years on end. But it would be a poor and restricted life.



Edited by Iversen on 28 August 2006 at 7:24pm

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Red Raider
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 Message 16 of 32
30 August 2006 at 10:40pm | IP Logged 
victor wrote:
Pimsleur's major purpose is not to teach you words per se, but to teach you convesational skills. By the end of each lessons, you will have learned a sentence structure or a phrase you can use in a conversation.

And what those 2500 words are is also very important. Some words are more used than others but it may be useful to you. Personally I don't really think 2500 would be enough. I just read a statistic that high school students know 3000-4000 words. I think we should at least aim for that much.


American high school students might be exposed to that many words, but they don't learn that many words.

I agree with your statement about Pimsleur. After Assimil, I might go back to Pimsleur II so I can work on my conversation skills. Assimil is great for understanding and writing, but I'll need further conversation practice.


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