How many words before

This may be a topic that depends on the language… but what are current thoughts/research on the amount of vocab that is needed to start conversing? What is your opinion on the matter?

What is a usual minimum number of words before a person can start to communicate some basic sentences? Of course, there are some stock phrases- like “Hi, my name is ____. I am X years old. I live in _____.” Beyond the stock phrases, though…what do you think is the minimum to be able to start communicating some rudimentary thoughts?

I don’t know the answer… for a reference point, though- I am studying Japanese, and I currently know 221 words (although that may not be completely accurate given LingQs for studying Hiragana and Katakana- let’s put it at a more conservative number of 129 by removing the syllabary). Clearly this isn’t that many words yet, and it’s obvious, as I’m still not able to say much beyond basic stock phrases. It made me curious, however, where and when that threshold is met.

I am fluent in Spanish after many years of study, but it’s been so long since I started studying the language, I couldn’t tell you when or how many words I had under my belt before I started to feel like I could form any sort of basic communication in the language.

If I did a Skype session right now, despite my Spanish being rusty and far from perfect… I would feel comfortable and could hold a meaningful conversation. In fact, I talk to friends and strangers in Spanish whenever I have the opportunity. Ask me to do a Skype session in Japanese, however, and I’d be downright terrified, hahaha!

I guess I just find the whole topic interesting, and it makes me wonder how long/how many words it will take before I feel like a Skype session with Japanese would be helpful rather than terrifying. Lol. I find the whole process of language learning so fascinating. I’m trying to be more conscious and objective of my progress this time as a matter of curiosity.

I read somewhere it was 800.

Confidence is another factor in “before a person can start to communicate”.

You used the word ‘comfortable’. I need a huge passive vocabulary before you get me to speak, others may think they are fluent with their 300-400 words, but @Ferdy’s 800 figure seems a good one for a confident person. You will have covered the basics and can now be open to new expressions.

I personally have a more conservative definition of “conversing” but 500-800 words seems like a pretty good estimate for this discussion.

The key is having a strong enough grasp of grammar and a good amount of active vocabulary to express your thoughts. Words mean nothing if you don’t know how to string them together (and if you don’t have the listening skills to understand what someone is saying in return… which is where passive vocabulary comes into play).

I’m glad you pointed out “This may be a topic that depends on the language” because it’s very true. 500 words known in Chinese is a lot more impressive than 500 words known in French when you remember a romance language like French has conjugations, tenses, etc. that become easy to recognize/use.

“…it makes me wonder how long/how many words it will take before I feel like a Skype session with Japanese would be helpful rather than terrifying.”
Only you can figure that out :slight_smile: I would probably need 2,000-3,000 words (I’m an anxious, extra-critical person hahah)… but others can start from the very beginning! It all depends on your self-confidence and learning preferences. You’ve been doing great in Japanese, I wouldn’t worry too much. You’ll gradually acquire those conversational abilities.

Since posting this yesterday, I eagerly searched for a bit more info online on this very topic which I found fascinating.

A particularly interesting article here:

The author talks about Pareto’s Law (which some of you may already be familiar with) and I found the comparison very interesting and encouraging- the thought that a large % of effect comes from a small % of work. I also found some interesting resources for Japanese word frequency lists.

It makes me think about trying to learn language “smarter”- not harder, or faster. It makes me want to focus on those things (whether they be words, grammar points, ideas, or phrases) that will give me the greatest leg-up on the language instead of just aimlessly studying sentences, words, and stories. Taking a more pointed approach instead of a shotgun approach.

I don’t think you need such a big amount of words. In my opinion 3000 words is a very realistic number if you have some grammatical basics (Conjugations of the verbs, plurals, declension of the words, …). In my opinion, the biggest problem to learn a language is to understand the people, to get used to the different ways people pronounce a word. I have no problem to read the newspaper but I have many problems to understand a movie although when I can put the subtitles, I understand everything.

The Lean Six Sigma approach to Language Learning…love it:-)

@Cosmo678 - don’t feel bad if you don’t understand some movies. I watched sherlock holmes last night with robert downey jr and he mumbled so much during the film and had such an odd way of speaking I couldn’t understand half of what he said. At some points in the film I wished it had sub-titles. If a native has a hard time understanding I can’t imagine what it must be like for a learner of the language.