How Many Words do We Need to be Fluent? (How to know with LingQ)

You know we often have discussions about how many words or “unique words” we need to be fluent.

Then we have different theories about it.

Probably you have thought already about this but in LingQ, for many languages, there are lots courses and you can create your own .

In German, for example, I have now around 21K known words. And we know that LingQ calculate everything, it doesn’t matter.

Thanks to people that do an amazing job at uploading free material for everybody else, I’ve seen large Youtube courses. Random recent Youtube videos of different levels with people talking in the way we talk today.

The largest course I’ve found has 253 videos and the blue words are just around 11.000. All the other massive courses with tons of Youtube videos have fewer numbers. Yes, a few thousands here and there could not repeat themselves but it’s not essential.

This means that, in my case scenario, 21k + 11k. With 32.000 words I can understand 253 videos.

Some of previous suggestions were giving 50k LingQs words to be very fluent in German. And I agree, you even need less.

You can do that with every language you want to learn just looking at similar things. Or you can import them.

Or if you are targeting vocabulary in a specific area, you can just import a bunch of stuff inside a course to have a roughly idea about what you need.

This could be very useful to give you a target and how to break it down for a specific deadline. Or even to reassure you that you don’t need tons of words and that the target could be closer that you think.

Does it make sense? Is it not an easier and more practical way?


those 32k words may allow you to know every word in those 253 videos but not the next 253 videos (which could be more or less than 11k blue words).

you could also just import a frequency word list and determine how many words are needed for 98%+ comprehension:


Yeah, it’s a roughly idea but I think the next 253 videos will have more or less the same words. Those are random and recent videos on how people talk today, I think it’s a good target to be “fluent” on most general conversations without stress out about numbers and calculations.

I quote myself: “Yes, a few thousands here and there could not repeat themselves but it’s not essential.”

I didn’t know about those lists, thanks for the link.


Btw, can you share the link to the course that has 253 videos?
In my opinion, I simply aim for total words read that is my ultimate goal. The way LingQ makes words known not all the words I still remember the meaning of so the actual count of known words is slightly less.
Do you actually remember the meaning of each word in your 21k word count?

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In my experience, LingQ gives you a very good blueprint, if you can follow along with it. All you have to do is reach Advanced 2 in a language and you’ll be able do most every thing that people ask a “How long till I can do X” type of question about.

Once you reach Advanced 2 by marking known words in somewhat conservative manner (no proper nouns, no foreign words, etc) you should be able to start reading books unassisted, watch TV shows and movies, as well as speak fluently.

The big caveat is that in all these cases, you need to have practiced doing these things while you were working way up to building vocabulary. Meaning, you need to practice speaking while you’re working your way up to Advanced 2 here, but from my experience, a person with that 32,000+ known words and ample speaking practice can be fluent in a language.


it would be nice if LingQ would use word frequency lists to determine our % coverage of different types of material (daily conversation, literary, etc). This would be a really nice addition to give people an idea of where they are at without having to do it manually.


Definitely but I don’t think practicing to speak so soon is always necessary (it’s a possibility). It depends on the situation, personality and goals. After a good vocabulary foundation with LingQ that helps you understand grammar and many other associations without even we realize about it, probably practicing writing will help with speaking. If a person reaches, as you say, Advanced 2 and can go to the country for a couple of months practicing all day long, probably the level of progress could be astonishing if done well.


Here’s one of the courses, this has 253 German videos in it: Login - LingQ

If you read a lot just progressing with a small fraction of words percentage, you will repeat most of the words all the time. I think you can build a very solid foundation on remembering things because you learn them in context. Mixing reading and listening and giving different inputs without stressing out could do a lot.

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It would be too difficult though. Many words could be useful in different areas and you would need a massive knowledge on each language to determine where one word goes. It could be interesting from an intellectual point of view but too much work to do that’s not so necessary at the end. Imho.

I don’t think Germans have that much free time for practicing all day long with a foreigner. It is like a business transaction for the majority. BT,W do you recommend some sort of cultural/language related courses if done in a target country after reaching Advanced 2?

I don’t know, it depends on your own knowledge of the country, culture, interest and goals. I wouldn’t be interested, for example but it’s totally personal.

And you don’t need 1 person all day for you. It’s you that does the job to find people and engage with them. You don’t have to focus on the others but on your methodology and how to improve it. Don’t think about the business transaction for them in terms of language but on how you can target multiple different people every day. Convert yourself in an actor or a spy. :smiley:

Don’t say you are talking because you want to learn the language, forget about it. Don’t say you speak English, do not use English, tell you know Pakistan and German. Just force yourself to engage with people.

Maybe you need this video about rejection: What I learned from 100 days of rejection | Jia Jiang - YouTube
I actually don’t remember the video but I think I watched it long time ago about this guy doing that experiment.

Go to a bar and talk with the owner about coffee. And be interest if he talks about the quality of his coffee.
Go to the supermarket and ask information about a nutrition supplement.
Go to a shop where they sell shoes and ask about the quality of the shoes they want to propose you.
Go to the open market and find a farmer where they sell vegetables and ask if they use pesticides or not.
Go to an European hub for young students.
Go to universities and see where students gather for discussion public matters with everyone.

The list can go on and on and on. Every day you can have lots of things to do.


in that link that I sent you, there are links to word lists compiled from movie subtitles. That would be a good place to start in order to consider someone’s ability in everyday language.

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The only German you will see is at the cashier counter wishing you a nice weekend on Wednesday :wink: Ok let me try some of these techniques and see how long our conversations last. Maybe start with Italian pizerria shop next door.


You need to enjoy living where you live as well and have a genuine interest for what you are doing and the language you’re learning. People are empathic beings. :slight_smile:

One thing I would rectify is about your cultural language course question.

If I had to come to your country learning your language I would probably do it, probably even before learning the language. This is because I would feel that it’s different from my own education and we are trained in a different way. We are not our country nor our flag but we are trained and educated that way since the beginning.

So we learn to think in a specific way and approach things in a specific way and we compare to the others with what we know (and often we are wrong).

It is a lot beneficial, when we learn a language directly in the country, to not compare how people do to how we do on our country. But step by step learn to live and think like them. Without judging or comparing with differences.

So, if I would consider that the language and the country are quite different from my own culture, I would definitely learn a lot more about how they think and their cultural habits. Because it is up to me to integrate myself on that culture and I would think that I wouldn’t understand how to act and behave properly.

Once you unlock the cultural behavior in any specific country you will definitely feel more comfortable acting around. Imho.


I feel like I have come to a stage even if a teacher is hell-bent on dissecting the language in the class for other students just listening to him or her completely speaking in German will further improve my listening skills. It would not be a bad idea to sit in the class for a couple of hours that’s why I asked this question. Some of my classmates who are attending language courses in Germany have shown me their books; the same old teaching methodology dissecting the language and I ask them if they are learning the language they say yes they are learning it when I say they speak for a few seconds but they have nothing remarkable to show for.

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If you do like dissecting the language or listening to other people doing it than go for it. But it’s not necessary to speak with confidence with other people. It can helps to improve your writing and perfecting the language but it’s not so necessary comparing to reading and listening in the way we are doing it.

In any case, it’s always an input and changing sources will benefit your learning. As long as you feel you are learning it’s ok. If you only have 1 hour available try to choose where you learn the most though.

Both of you are right IMO.
My own method is heavily based on the most common frequency words. I suspect that’s what aronald is referring to.
There are several studies in English linguistics that 98% coverage of the most commonly written words are enough to give you sufficient understanding to be able to guess accurately the unknown 2% of words from context. That number of words is approximately 5,000 “head” words.
I haven’t seen or found similar studies for the spoken language but my own experience shows that once I have around 3-4,000 memorized mp3 words I start to get the general gist of videos. By the time I have 5-6,000 I can pretty much understand most of any given video. There is a definite threshold effect.
Wierdly, even in Russian which has tons of “declensions” I can still understand pretty well most B1 level videos with 4,000 of the most common written words plus about 1,000 other random and interesting (to me) words I’ve picked up while going through lingQ. It’s as if the brain essentially ignores grammar to an extent when listening. Anyhow. Slightly different topic.

Agreed. I check on myself from time to time by uploading a frequency list to compare it to my lingQ list.