In Science By Olga

Fluent in English: how many words you need to know?

When we start to learn a foreign language, then, of course, as soon as possible we want to speak on it — to communicate so that we understand to be able to express their thoughts in the target language. At the same time students are often the question arises: «How many words you need to learn to communicate in English?»

Before answering this question, let’s explain a few things. First of all, you need to separate the concept of active and passive vocabulary. We always have a much greater passive vocabulary. Passivity are words that we can understand the text or speech of another person, that is passive acceptance. Not all passive vocabulary we can use easily and naturally in the speech. Only a portion of the passive vocabulary through practice and training becomes active or so that we can use in speech.
There you have a situation where in the process of communicating in a foreign language you can not find the right words, but know for sure that you know him? This is the case when a word is in the category of passive vocabulary. Just a word to remember, generally not difficult. It is much more difficult to translate this word into the category of active lexicon.

  • Details of the solution of this problem, see the article «How to activate the passive vocabulary of the English language.»

It is also necessary to understand what «the word». Sleep (sleep), sleeping (sleep process), slept (slept), sleeps (sleeps) is a single word or different words? One word in different grammatical forms and all its derivatives — is a group of words. Sleeping, slept and sleeps are derived from the word sleep, and therefore belong to the same group. Later in the article under the «word» we mean a group of words, that is the word with all its derivatives.

How many words known native speakers

In total, the Oxford English Dictionary (Oxford English Dictionary) is represented by more than 355 000 active words and more than 47,000 obsolete. But that does not mean you have to know them all.

Native from birth to the moment when he finishes high school, studying an average of 1 000 new words a year. Thus, to 20-22 years in its vocabulary, there are about 20 000 words. Not so much, only 12% of the total volume of the dictionary. Native without higher education knows even less — about 10 000 words.

How many words do you need to know to communicate freely

It is hardly possible to approach the ideal of 20 000 words. For native speakers learn so many words for 20 years, while being directly in the English-speaking environment. Fortunately, for the free communication in English is not necessary to know so many words.

It is important to understand that not all words are equally useful. For example, critically important to know words such as read (read), many (many), people (people), because (because), and so on. F. But without a word constraint (limit) or incongruity (mismatch), you can easily do.

For ordinary daily communication on general topics enough to know just 2,000 commonly used English words.

To read simple texts fairly common theme of all 4000 — 5000 words. But if you want to read more complex texts, for example, scientific books or training materials you need to learn about 10 000 words.

Sometimes, knowing very few words, but the most useful and running, you can do a lot. For example, read the story «The Three Little Pigs» («The Three Little Pigs»). It uses only 124 different words. So, having learned a little bit more than 100 words that can be easily read and understand a fairy tale.

We also know that the knowledge of all 120 English words (of course, the most useful and frequently used), can be explained on the most primitive level, or in other words, to «survive» in the English-speaking environment without an interpreter.

As you can see, the amount of the required vocabulary depends on the purpose for which you are studying English.

For clarity, we represent the above information in a table.

Goal Word Count
To «survive» in the English-speaking environment without an interpreter 120
For daily communication on general topics 2000
To read simple texts on general subjects 4000 — 5000
Reading complex texts 10,000
The level of a native speaker 10,000 — 20,000

Do not forget that the study of English words is just one of a number of components of the process of language acquisition. Obviously, you need to memorize a number of words — it does not mean to learn the language. In addition to the words, you must also work on grammar, pronunciation and intonation, as well as to train the skills of listening, reading, speaking, writing and so on. D.

Simply memorizing words is not an effective way to study them. It is thus possible to develop extremely passive knowledge of the language. To the floor was active, and you can use it in the speech, you need to practice speaking and writing, performing a variety of special exercises.



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