13-15k known words sweet spot

I have been reading through the comments of the open forums here on lingq as I like to do and have come across a number of people saying that potential flueny is between 13-15k known words and that once these people have reached these numbers of known words that things really took off?

I am interested to hear more from this topic and hope that perhaps when I do eventually reach that level of known words the same will happen to me.


Based on my own experience, I’d say the 13-15k number is about the number of words that you need to know to begin enjoying some uncomplicated native-level texts (written/spoken), while still not getting everything and having to concentrate heavily. Then I’d say more like 25-30k is when you can enjoy more or less all level of native texts without much difficulty. Then spoken fluency is somewhere beyond that. But that’s just my experience with Romance languages. As I’ve said before, I often feel that my spoken level in Spanish/Portuguese/Italian is not as good as my known words numbers would suggest.


In romance languages, generally after around 12k for me the language seems to get a lot easier (although I remember that Don Quixote was still a bit of a struggle when I only had around 12k).

As for enjoying native content without much struggle, I would agree with Jungleboy with the 25-30k mark.

Spanish and French I’ve both done a lot outside of LingQ, reading numerous books, textbooks, documents, etc. so I can’t really say based off those too much. My actual level isn’t reflected.

But after French and Spanish, getting to native Portuguese content didn’t take long, I’m at 5k in it and can get by fine.


Spanish was the first foreign language I started learning and the only one I’ve reached to anywhere near an advanced level. I’m currently around 13,000 words and I’m reading my first full length novel on LingQ. The content is still a challenge definitely and I really don’t understand that much when I read it away from LingQ, but with every page it definitely gets easier. I estimate that when I finish this book I’ll have around 15.5-16k known words and I’ll be able to read novels and stories much quicker and easier than I currently can. At the moment it’s almost as if I’m reading the book intensively instead of extensively as one would normally think to read a novel. However, I still am enjoying the book.

Personally I don’t think the known word count statistic here on LingQ is the most important one. For me the most important one is the words read statistic. My words read count is somewhere around 350,000 and I can read a lot of things fairly easily, but I think once I read 750k or a million my comprehension and enjoyment with native materials is going to skyrocket. It’s basically a measure of experience. Someone with 15,000 known words who has finished 2 novels is going to be better at understanding novels than someone with 25,000 known words who only reads newspaper articles and history books.

If you’re looking for more of a verbal fluency I’d still say reading helps massively in obtaining that. But even there I think your level of known words doesn’t have that much of an impact on how your conversation will go. I’ve had plenty of italki lessons where my tutor and I just have a conversation for an hour about anything and there is no struggle understanding or getting my point across. This is mainly because of my high words read count (relatively) and also my hours listened count. Obviously if I focused all my time on speaking I might sound more like a native speaker, but I wouldn’t be able to converse on so many topics and I wouldn’t be able to understand everything my language partner was saying.

My point is basically go with the flow. Don’t worry too much about speed or numbers, but just read and listen a lot and you’ll be able to understand and converse with ease in no time. Experience with the language is the key.


I’ve never learned a romance language from scratch here on Lingq and when I did learn them I didn’t keep any count of known words or other stats. However, my estimation is that this 13-15k known “Ling-like” words will allow you to understand and (after some practice) engage in basic conversation, which may be the most important part of language learning. In basic conversation you can talk about practically any everyday subject using not very sophisticated/educated vocabulary.
You won’t be able to read challenging texts (literature, etc.) without some assistance, as the one you can obtain from the Lingq system and you will also need some help (subtitles, for example) to understand movies.
All in all, it’s a very nice level to be at and I’m sure you’ll enjoy it.

I’d probably triple that before I start feeling pretty comfortable by my standards.

Well 4 months later and I not far off my 13k haha time flies when you’re grinding away

I think the 13-15,000 is where you can start having some good conversation (enjoying activation) and can really take off in terms of vocabulary accumulation. I think “potential fluency” is somewhere between 20-30,000 words. At 30K, I think you can do well with non-fiction, especially in areas of interest, but some assistance will be required for adult novels. After I hit 33K, I might go for Don Quijote, but I expect to lean on LingQ a lot, even if after finishing my first novel (with LingQ) I expect to be able to handle lingqless novel reading after that. the major literature, especially the bygone era stuff will require assistance.

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I’ve been able to read and enjoy adult novels without assistance at ~30K known words in Spanish (e.g. the Cementerio de los Libros Olvidados series). At ~20K known words in Portuguese, I definitely still need assistance for adolescent fantasy-type stuff.

I put fluency between 200 to 500 words. Maybe people need to learn 15k words to know those 500.

This is a great post. Obviously the more words you know the better, especially for reading, however, words tend to have various meanings and registers. In order to get a feeling for their usage you need to read, listen and speak a lot, otherwise you will not really know them. I have less than 5k words in Czech, but I have read more than 700k here and listened and spoke more than I wish to admit. I can assure you than even 5k words are enough to have a basic spoken fluency if a decent part of them are your active words. The key is to know the right words and this can be done only by hundreds if not thousands of hours of practice. Of course reading requires more words and you simply need to know them to understand a text, but again, I would not glorify the word count so much.

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I understand the sentiment behind this post, but the numbers would be closer to 2-3000 words for active vocabulary which would probably require closer to 20-30K passive vocabulary for real fluent use of the language.

My feeling is that fluency would require reaching that Advanced 2 level with known words here on Lingq – along with speaking practice to activate enough of those words.


I could see the reading of novels at 30K, especially more contemporary stuff. After all Steve was able to read them, but I think a lot of depends on how much uncertainty you are comfortable with. He is fine with quite of bit. For me personally, I am waiting to complete advanced level 3 before leaving LingQ so as not to “waste” the count of known words to that level.


I would say it depends completely on what counts as a “word” and what it means to “know” said “word.” It also has a lot to do with context. For example, if you were to spend a year working on a farm in Brazil with a bunch of Brazilians, you may be considered “fluent” in Portuguese by the end of that year, according to your Brazilian coworkers. However, if you were to place yourself in a situation other than working on a farm, you may find yourself struggling with the language. This ultimately comes back to the great discussion of the word “fluency.” I consider myself “fluent” in English, but there are still a lot of things that I couldn’t understand.

Getting back to your specific question: I think that “known word count” is basically useless as a method for measuring progress in a language unless you taking into account the degree of diversity of materials used to reach that word count. For example, I am currently studying Spanish. I could very easily download several hundred pages of text about a very specific topic in, say, law. I could study those hundreds of pages of text for 6 months. And let’s also imagine that I had audio and I listened to the texts all the time too. At the end of the 6 months, I would have probably learned a lot of words (possible 13-15k), without really having become “fluent” in Spanish.

What I’m trying to say is that word count is meaningless without diversity of material. If you have a 15k word count built by listening and reading news articles from varied sources, novels, poems, podcasts, dialogues and texts on specific interests, you would probably be able to speak decently well about most topics.

But at the end of the day, everything comes back to context.

Anybody have an idea where a sweet spot might be in Chinese? I am guessing around 5-6000? I am asking people who work on Chinese and might be familiar with the language as it’s grammar is drastically different than a language with conjugations like one of the Romance languages.

It all depends on how liberally you LingQ.


I’m at 8,000 and have hit no such spot yet. But I can understand snippets of native conversation and can understand the general theme. But Chinese is a hard language so the sweet spot I’m guessing is probably 16,000 or so.

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I appreciate it, I will just keep trucking through it I guess. :wink: I am loving the language practice I am getting right now along with my progress. I hope you are doing well my friend. If you haven’t yet, I recommend listening to cctv as much as possible and any podcasts you can. Even if it is in the background it is good to just surround yourself with the language. Are you doing any work outside of LingQ?

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finally reached 15k and I do feel as if I have reached a low intermediate level in Spanish. but again still having to concentrate when reading and my listening is still not there yet.