10,000 words

What level would you be at when you know 10, 000 words?

I am still in the ‘silent phase’ of learning, but at 10000 words would you be able to converse with a native?

And with each word known I have listened to the audio it came from a lot.

It is not so important for speaking (but it’s still important for reading) how many words you know.
But it is VERY important: how you know these words - you can them only guess or you can them use actively.
4,000 words that you can use quickly, without translating and without thinking, in a flash are more imprtant for speaking, than 40,000 words that you can only guess in the text.


Thanks evgueny40 for reply and advice.

However, I am currently wondering about my rate of study, I think by next march or April 2014 I should be at 10000 words known with my spanish, and was interested in knowing at what level other LingQ members felt there language level was at 10000 words.

@evgueny40 also I should say, with my lessons now I learn a lesson and then write the translation in English and the next day I also translate into spanish, they are usually short lessons, it’s pretty intensive study I think but I think I might possibly do some more reading without the translation part if this helps,

When I reached 10,000 words in both Spanish and French, I felt that I was nowhere. When I reached 40,000 words, I felt very comfortable reading the languages.
Holding conversations is a different story. The number of words you know is partly a measure of how well you will converse, but a more important measure is the number of hours you have listened to the language. Another important measure is the quality of what you have listened to. Natives often speak lickety-split, and they don’t necessarily enunciate their words well.
This is where Lingq tutors can help. I would sign up for as many hours as I could afford. Of course, living in the UK, you can pop over to Spain easily enough for some practice on the ground.
Bottom line, you should not expect too much from knowing 10,000 words unless you’ve done a lot of listening and a lot of speaking practice.
My two cents, anyway.

I’m at about 10,000 words right now in Japanese. When listening to native level materials such as conversations between natives or the news I typically know what is being discussed in a general sense but I’m missing much of the details. I can converse with a native but a native speaker would have to adjust their speaking to me and we would be pretty limited on topics that I can discuss. So I’ve got a ways to go still.

Tuquiero, if you were to work with a tutor (highly recommended), 4000 Actively Known words would take you pretty far. You would more than likely have a decent and invigorating conversation. If you were to go out in the real world, so to speak, you would need to have more words at your disposal, maybe in the 10,000 range.

If you had 10,000 Active Words, I’d estimate your level to be advanced—C2. Frankly speaking, ordinary folks do not use complicated words, structures, and/or phrasings in everyday life. I think that solo activities like reading novels*, history, current events, the news, watching documentaries, listening to lectures, speeches and such require over 30,000+ Active words.

~~In my case, 11,000+ Korean words are “readably known.” For speaking, I’m up to a good 200 words 0_o; thus, I have to try to get past the baby babbling stage.

~~I’m no expert language learner, and I’m certainly no polyglot, but I offer my two cents sans nickel or quarter based on my experience and observations.

*For novel reading it varies…


I like your method of studying. I named it “reversed translation” and you can find my article about this method in the Russian, German or English libraries of Lingq.com if you would like to read it.
In the English library it is in my collection ‘It’s interesting to know’.
This method takes a lot of time, but you can not only learn reading, but also writing in a proper way using this method.
But for speaking you use first of all listening and then retelling of the main ideas of the podcasts.
If you have done a lot of listening and retelling, you can start speaking with some native speakers, but without too big expectations from the first discussions.
Good luck!

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@donhamiltontx - hi don, just wondering how did you study? Was it just going along creating lingqs and moving onto more text and about how long did it take you to get to 40,000 words?

Thanks for all replys I am getting some good advice here, I think when I reach about 10000 words I will start to speak, or I might even use the tutors and get the written report, not sure how all that works yet, I think as well I might try to get to 10000 a bit sooner by doing reading without the translation. Who knows!

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I will be checking out your article for sure evgueny

@Tuquiero “hi don, just wondering how did you study? Was it just going along creating lingqs and moving onto more text and about how long did it take you to get to 40,000 words?”

Yes, you guessed it. I just read more and more texts and created lingqs as I read. Naturally, as time went on I created fewer and fewer lingqs. I cannot remember the exact time it took, but it was about 18 months. I spent about an hour a day almost every day reading at Lingq during that time period. The more I read, the more those unknown lingqs became known.

Before Spanish, I went through the same process with French. Again, it took me about 18 months to accumulate 40,000 words. In fact, more than that, but I can’t remember the exact number. And there was some overlap with Spanish, because I took up Spanish while I was still doing French.

It should be noted that I took Spanish in high school and French in college. Even though that was a rather long time ago, it meant I did not have to go through beginner stages, learning the grammar I needed and so on.

Hope this helps answers your question.


First, it would be ‘te quiero,’ for I love you …


Second, by the time you get to 2,500 words in ANY language - especially Japanese - you should be able to converse. I do not know of any language where you would still be below 70% to 80% of the active vocabulary for that language, even English. And English has the largest active vocabulary of any language I know.

Except lingq, for some reason, no one here seems to use graded reading … By the time you get to 2,000 to 3,000 words of focused active vocabulary, you should be able to read most newspapers with ease - even Spanish. Spanish newspapers are bad about using stilted Spanish sometimes.

And Spanish is VERY much a dialectal language - more so than American and British English.

In Spanish there is a very good text that I have in storage for the 2,500 most common words in Spanish.

Here is an ‘OK’ frequency list discussion for Spanish.

I have been focused on Russian for 2 years, so I do not know the titles for frequency lists for the other languages I have studied … sorry. But, you will have to work out which list is ‘accurate’ for your dialect …

When you do that, 3,000 words in Spanish will get you 90% of the frequency …

So, get out there and practice …

The trouble is, the important words for understanding are often in the other ten percent.

Well, I can communicate in Russian, and I know less than 10% … I carried on basic conversations in Japanese with less than 20% … And I am bi-lingual in Spanish with a basic 3,500 word vocabulary at around 90% accuracy - I tested myself.

My Spanish vocabulary was much greater years ago in college, but my ability to use the language was much lower. I think the key is a stronger core vocabulary usually called active vocabulary … rather than a larger inactive vocabulary.

It depends really (response to first post). I studied in a language school in Japan and therefore had a lot of opportunity to speak the few words I had learned at the beginner stage, because of this I was able to speak fairly well at around 3000 words or so. People underestimate how far 3000 words can take you, especially if those 3000 words are perfectly tailored/ fine tuned to what you need to say most in your daily life in the native country. So what I’m saying I guess is that it can drastically vary depending on if you learned from immersion or from at home study. Its also really a matter of how well you can articulate the vocabulary you know.

From my experience you can use a well tailored 3000 first words to convey just about anything…no probably just anything.

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This is an interesting subject. I like to understand radio programs, read, understand movies, and be able to discuss a wide variety of subjects in any language that I learn. This usually requires a large vocabulary. The proof is that I continue to find texts, radio interviews, articles in the press, and of course books, that contain lots of words that I do not know despite an apparently large vocabulary. To some extent this is a Sisyphean task.

However, to exchange exchange pleasantries in a language does not require a large vocabulary.

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In my view we should not underestimate the importance of a large passive vocabulary. The problem in language encounters with natives is often understanding what they say, rather than saying what we want to say. We can learn to say a lot with a small vocabulary, however, we cannot control the range of words that the native uses. Thus the need for a large passive vocabulary, in my view.


totally agree with you Steve. I was thinking of adding that in after my first post but you covered it perfectly. As to how well one would be able to converse with a native at 10000 words, really depends on in what way you know those 10000 words. The gap between comprehension and output ability is always leaning towards comprehension in any and every case, however someone more immersed from the beginning of their progress to 10000 words would have less of a gap between the two, thus allowing for more conversation with natives…is what I mean to say.

In addition I would say that relaxation when speaking is in my experience a huge factor in how much you are able to say to someone. I consider myself to lean more towards the introverted side, even though I have become more skilled at overcoming this, I still feel as if it will always be my natural inclination. That said, I have spent a lot of time in social drinking situations in Japan (of course…) and every time I do, after a beers or so I feel my speaking improves quite a bit. My thinking was that its simply because I have become more relaxed, and am more willing to speak out in Japanese than I would be when…well, sober. In a sense I fell like you kind of become like a child again, without any worries and just speak your mind in whatever way you can. Applying this level of calmness when sober is a constant challenge, but in taking notice of this my speaking is taking off faster than ever before, and in a way unlocking more if my total vocabulary to come out an be used in speaking.

The difference between active and passive vocabulary always seems to confuse these conversations. As both Skeen and Steve have pointed out, a large active vocabulary isn’t necessary for expressing yourself. My 10,000-ish words known in Japanese is probably an accurate measure of my passive vocabulary. I mark words as known when I recognize and understand them but I don’t worry about whether or not I can actually use the words myself. My active vocabulary is much less than those 10,000 words and this is likely because I don’t frequently speak Japanese. Like Imani pointed out, if one has an active vocabulary of 10,000 words, that person would be very advanced in the language.

It is not so much a matter of unrealistic expectations about initial listening comprehension. Rather the question is how one goes about achieving sufficient listening comprehension to understand the 6 o’clock news, which is a realistic goal.

It takes time and a willingness to get outside of one’s comfort zone. The desire to achieve that level of comprehension is a large part of the motivation behind LingQ.