How many different words we use daily on our own language?

I know this is not a new topic but a few months ago I read some polyglots claiming that knowing the 100 most used words (they even provide a list), you could understand basically close to 75 percent of what you read in another language and when you train your ear to listen, you could probably understand close to 50 percent. Others claim that on an average day to day conversation in your own language, we don’t use more than 1000 words, that for someone that is very well versed and speaks more advance using technical terminology, 3000 words would be the highest the person would used in any given day or week.
As humans, we tend to stick to the words we know and used on a daily basis and rarely (unless you are studying at school, learning a new language or preparing for an exam) use different terminology for each conversation we have. I see politicians for example: the vocabulary they use is always the same. They use the basic words we all use plus a dozen of their own such: constituents, government, bipartisan, etc. etc.
I want to experiment with these claims to find out if they are true or false but before I do that, I would like to hear your imput and to see if anybody has tried this before. I strongly believe that the more vocabulary you learn or assimilate, the more prepared you would be. Please let me know your thoughts, doubts, suggestions.
I started to learn in German these 100 words. I will print a lesson from Vera for example and will mark every single word of those 100 to find out the percetage of the total words used. I look forward to it but also know i might be dissapointed. What do you think?
pd. sorry if you find any mispellings. I am trying my new “Ipad” and it has a mind of its own.

You can start your conversations in German knowing even less than 100 words. I encourage my students trying to speak when they know only 20 words because the main task by your first trying to speak is overcoming of fear!
Having known more and more words, you can add new topics and be more confident - but first ‘jump’ like in swimming would be done the earlier the better!
It depends on the clever teacher not to show you that you know too little, but support you step by step by constructing your new language skills.

Trying to learn only 100 words of a language seems to me a shortcut. And I don’t believe in shortcurts. I mean, if you wanna have basic conversations (let’s say using 500 words), then you should know at least 5 times more (2500). Why? because if there is a change on the topic, then you’ll probably understand the new vocabulary used. Besides, it’s weird to ask to other person to use only very basic vocabulary (unless you just want to order a bear)

Nobody sais that you have to learn only 100 words(!) The more the better. But I have a strong opinion supported with more than 20 years of my professional teaching that the erlier you start trying speaking the better and sooner you reach the high level of speaking. Otherwise, if you wait for 1000 or 3000 words before starting speaking, you will always be afraid of speaking like a boy who is afraid of jumping into water for the first time. But without jumping he won’t be able to swim. And the same with the language, especially with speaking: who starts earlier with only a little of words, that guy will alwais be ahead in compare with that coward who is waiting and waiting for ever when he finally starts to speak.
As for a quantity of words. For a confident everyday conversation we need 2000-3000 words, for TV and newspapers 4000-5000 words, for fiction and poetry about 8000 words. Every science field + 500 special words. That’s all.
But don’t wait that quantity before you start to speak! It’s absolutely wrong!
Good luck!

I disagree with the idea to speak as soon as possible. I prefer to listen and read for a long time before starting to speak.

My opinion is you have to understand before trying to speak. What is the point in speaking if you do not understand the replies.

In a perfect world you do not have to speak foreign languages - but you have to understand them. So everybody speak his own language and is understood by everybody.

About number of words to be known. I prefer to count number of group of words - to know isolated words is good to play scrabble - to speak you have to know group of words - I think. - By the way I never count.

For european languages it is a good idea to know all or close to all possible syllables in the language (I know little about asian languages maybe it is true for them too)

Hi Ruben, the question is what your goal is. Firstly, the way LingQ count words is not similar to the number of words those people refer to. LingQ count each form of a word as a known word. Such counters count only the basic form. Especially in languages with a lot of variation you have to have a number of known words that is three or more times the suggested number of words. Maybe 1000 words are similar to 3000 known words at LingQ (depending on the language). I had my first English conversations at this level. I had some difficulties but by using an online dictionary during the conversation it was a great experience.

Also you have to be aware the difference between active and passive vocabulary.
To speak like evgueny explain above, and to have a conversation are different things. In my opinion, with less than 100 words you cannot have a real conversation. You can use some phrases you’ve learned but very soon you’ll not able to understand questions you were asked and you’ll run out of words trying to answer question. This could be very stressful for the student and for the teacher too.

Ruben, your German statistic shows that you know more than 100 words :slight_smile:

By the way, I made a lot of lessons with a lot of different levels. So there should be lessons with a lot of basic vocabulary and others with more advanced vocabulary. Be aware, the word counter is often mess upped by names of people and places.

The only thing that makes sense to speak with a tutor at a very low level is go get some basic instruction about the grammar. But that is something that you also can easily read in a book or an online grammar site.

What I do a lot for my French is to repeat sentences. But at the moment I’m not able to create a lot of sentences on my own. It would be to stressful for me to have a conversation in French. I need more vocabulary. And I’m sure it would be stress for the tutor too. I’ll wait until I’ve about 3,000 or 5,000 known words. I’m going along with Steve here who prefers to wait.

But if you are very motivated and confident, give it a try. Then you’ll know. I’m curious to here about your experiences.

I agree and respect all your opinions. I am also the type that prefers to build some vocabulary before. Although I understand evgueny40 that some people prefer to speak at an early stage but based on my own experience I feel fustrated when I know how to order a drink but when they answer and use new vocabulary that I haven’t learnt I feel awkward. One of the reasons I got involved with Lingq is because of it’s philosophy of learning sufficient vocabulary in order to feel confident later when holding a conversation. My curiosity was merely to see if there is any validity in what these polyglots are saying by conducting my own experiment.

I wonder how I’d order a bear in Russian. Один медведь, пожалуйста? A simple way in Spanish would be, “Un oso, por favor.” Honestly, I have never seen that phrase in my Lonely Planet Phrasebook. Probably because I don’t work for a zoo or a circus.

In my experience, you need a lot of words in order to have a satisfactory discussion. And you always have the feeling that you do not have enough words.

100 words or even 2000 words are not enough for meaningful interaction on a variety of subjects. Nor is it enough to understand the things that I want to listen to and read in a language.

To me the main task in language learning is acquiring words.

Putting aside my silly side for a moment, I’ll mention that Charles Berlitz thought that it was possible to do a lot with less than 100 words. His book about that idea is:

Around the World with 80 Words: The 80 Key Words You Need to Communicate in 25 Languages

I’ve looked at this book. Personally, I think I need more than that to communicate, but when I have to travel, I know what words and phrases I want to learn right away and they are less than 100. I like plug-in phrases.

, please.
Terms for gratitude
What do you think of
? (Conversation starter even if you can’t understand the answer)
Where is/are
How much is this?
Please write it down for me.

Knowing these phrases don’t prepare me for a conversation. A conversation is more than expressing these basic things :slight_smile:

I think it depends on the situation, Vera. I don’t think that it’s possible to understand 75% of conversations with 100 words unless we are talking about the kind of brief exchanges that travellers commonly make with clerks, merchants, and fellow travellers.

By learning a limited number of useful words, many people manage to take their first baby steps in speaking a language, gain confidence and decide to continue learning more words-because they realize/realise that they can make basic communication!

Everyone has different goals. I knew a man who just wanted to learn the numbers in Spanish, so he could tell prices to Spanish-speaking customers. Some people want to be able to discuss “Denker und Dichter” in German. Many people would be happy to meet some intermediate goal.

I agree that it could be useful to know some words if you travel or have special goals.
I agree that 100 words are not enough to follow 75% of a conversation too.
I don’t think that you should wait until you have advanced level. You should speak when you feel comfortable with speaking. But most people won’t feel comfortable with 100 words. I can only speak for myself. My “known words” in French are almost 2,000 words. I can hold an easy conversation and talk a bit about myself, how old I am, where I live, about my child etc. But after 1 or 2 minutes I would run out of words. It makes no sense for me to order a coffee or a hotel room from my tutor or ask for the way :slight_smile:

I think we agree, Vera. I was thinking primarily about the original question posed by Arenas, though and I would like to see the list he mentions.

I have learned English. I know some words, but I don’t get a good speaking. I think that is necessary we start using all words that we know with a tutor and after trye speak with other people.

“It goes without saying that counting words presupposes some grammatical analyses.”
In the above sentence, there are 11 words. If you encounter the following 7 words in another sentence, should they be considered new?
“go, say, count, word, presuppose, grammar, analysis”
If they are considered to be new, we have18 words; if they are not new, we have only 11 words. Before counting words, you have to decide how to count them.

My opinios is if you really want to be a good language speaker you have to try as soon as posible practicing each word you learn without paying attention how many they are, and looking for ways of grammar structure for starting to heve your first conversation of course you are not going to be able to understand everything but is a way of starting and loosing the ice…

Thank you, Rosel, excellent words! Constant postponing the start of speaking killes your motivation in learning foreign languages.
And it’s the worst thing you can do! Learning a foreign language is a long run, but a start of speaking ‘melts the ice’ like a spring after the winter and gives you the new breath and raises your motivation. However, input without output weakes your motivation.
And let’s be reasonable: such topics like ‘My family’, ‘My day’, ‘My town’, ‘My friend’ etc needn’t more than 100-200 words.
Why (WHY??) we’ll have to wait until we learn 2000 words to start with them?
And without speaking about such common easy topics we never(!) will be able to speak about more difficult topics. Like a climbing a mountain: we can never reach the top without climbing first meters up - we have to do all way with speaking beginning from the first unskilled steps!
The long waiting is senseless because how Steve writes:“You always have the feeling that you do not have enough words” - that’s why start earlier, the long expectation and a lot of words give you nothing in your confidence, only the practice brings you freedom in speaking and necessary confidence!

When to start speaking is a matter of personal preference and opportunity. I delay output until I have acquired enough words and familiarity with the language through input. When I lived surrounded by the language, as in Japan, my speaking began quite early, even though I spent most of my effort on input. When I have limited opportunities to speak, I am quite happy to focus entirely on input. It does not kill my motivation. Quite the contrary, making sure I have enough words makes the output more enjoyable. Not having enough words makes output stressful and unpleasant.

I spent at least 2 years hardly speaking Russian at all. Now I enjoy my discussions with my tutors, although input remains my focus.

I look forward to every opportunity to use the language.

To be able to speak very fluently you eventually have to speak a lot. When you start speaking, and how much you speak (or write) is very much up to each individual.

Rosel, I recommend you work harder on your input, reading , listening and creating a lot of LingQs. You will see that benefits within a few months. Input activity is much easier to organize than output, and very powerful.