How many words known for "fluency"?

I’ve seen people today on this forum talk about how they have 30K-50K words and are still not confident in their skills in their language. I think they were learning Chinese and Russian.

After reading this, I was in shock. The articles that I have seen online suggest that “fluency” is something like 10K-20K words known, and I’ve even taken online tests that estimate I know about 17K words in my native language, English.

Is it simply what counts as a word? Here on LinQ, each tense of a word is counted as different, so maybe those people with 30-50K words know something like 10-20K word families?

I’m concerned about this because I am currently learning Japanese, mostly through LinQ, and an Anki deck if I can find a good one. My immediate goal is to learn enough Japanese so that I could learn the language just by engaging with native content, as I do with my native language, so I won’t have to use LinQ or any other program. I assumed that this would be something like 5K words known, maybe up to a max of 10K words known, but now I’m not sure. With my current pace, 70+ new words known per week, I can get to 10K words known in 2.5-3 years. But with LinQ’s definition of a word, is this enough? I simply want to not struggle with the language and reasonably comprehend all content that isn’t too niche or technical.


I don’t think fluency has anything to do with the amounts of words you know.
I rather think fluency is when you are able to talk in that language automatically without needing to translate from your native language.
Pressuring yourself won’t do any good in learning a language, so I suggest to shake the word quantity out of your head.
Do something you like in your goal language and practice conversations and understanding.


I think fluency is not merely a matter of knowing a lot of words. It is way more important to be able to say what you want to say with the words you know. So fluency is a matter of being able to produce. Knowing words is not enough: you must be able to say something with the words you know. Someone knowing 2000 words could be able to give the impression of fluency, another knowing 10000 words could not be able to produce anything.


Personally think that the equivalent of the Advance 2 level on lingq is a good indicator of how close you are to acquiring the arsenal for the potential of conversational fluency. In terms of chinese, around 30,000 words (combination of 1000-5000 individual characters) is a good proximation of conversation fluency since most people would of encountered the majority of common words and fairly few that are yet to be discovered from their conversations. Beyond that into the realm of educational and advance subjects will need way beyond 30,000 and perhaps 50,000+.

Every single word you encountered and learn is a small stepping stone for future efficiency and it’s a snowball effect.

I am assuming when you get 70+ a week is through the attempt of obtaining active vocabulary instead of focusing on passive vocabulary. The majority of users with thousands of known words are within the passive vocabulary that have yet to activate them only in certain contexts and it takes a very long time to have a huge active vocabulary arsenal.

Focus on exposuring yourself to each word, then move on. Never stay and try to force the memorization at the one sitting, but encounter it again in the future as if you met someone for the first time and trying to remember their name. Sometimes the first 1-3 times won’t stick unless it has high resemblance to you but it’s good if you do remember on the first few attempts. Sometimes it takes 4-6 times and beyond to remember a simple name. Same for famous paintings or any random painting in a art show or museum. Everyone knows the famous paintings because of the exposure that they heard or seen from other people, but if you put yourself in a scenario when you can go to the museum and look at uncommon paintings, it will eventually give you resemblance and meaning, which eventually will lead to long term acquisition. It might take beyond 1-9 times just to remember the name or meaning of it. Eventually it will come.

The more you see it = higher chance to acquire (not remember)


Mini stories in english have around 1300 unique words.
Mini stories in Ukrainian have around 2500 unique words.
Mini stories in Japonese have around 1600 unique words.

Currently I have 10 000 words in english.

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I possibly missed someone answering one of your main questions, but if not…LingQ does count things differently. Every conjugation or variation is counted (assuming you LingQ each of them). It is not based on word families which is probably where your internet number came from. So your 10k-20k DOES become 30-50K (or even higher for some languages…like Russian).

It also depends on your definition of fluency is.

This link to the self assessment of CEFR framework can be helpful to identify very loosely where you are:

As has been pointed out in other’s responses your word count does not really tell you much. You might be able to read at a certain level–which would roughly correspond to your LingQ “known” word count, if you mark it known what’s you understand the word in context. It doesn’t tell you much beyond that…how much have you listened, or spoken, or written. LingQ can’t measure that other than to quantify that with minutes of listening, or words spoken or written. Not sure if anyone has some rough #'s for that. Those aspects seem to vary quite a bit. In short, you’ll need to also do a lot of listening and ultimately speaking if you ultimately want fluency.

I would also not try to force or rush yourself, but rather just enjoy the learning and discovery process. Unless you have a specific timeline you need to meet for work, or living then not having that pressure will make the process more enjoyable. I’ve been working on German for probably over 5 years now. I don’t have a lot of time in the day to work on it, so it’s just been slow and steady for me and I still have a great time discovering things. It CAN be frustrating at times or sometimes feeling like I’ll never learn it well enough, but these are things that everyone feels at various point. There have been just as many times where I’ve felt like fluency is just around the corner =D.

Having said that, in many cases people want things to happen much faster. If you can stand it, the more time you spend with the language and engaging with it, the faster it will be, but I’d try to do it in a way that doesn’t feel so much like studying. Read things (in LingQ or in other assisted fashion) that you enjoy. Same with listening. Try speaking or writing about things, even if just to yourself.


Russian is probably not a good example of this. It has a bazillion declensions for each word never mind conjugations. Also: “fluency” is measured in multiple directions.
There is speaking “fluency”, listening comprehension “fluency”, writing “fluency” and reading “fluency”.
You can be unbalanced as heck in these.
But for the one language (other than English) that I am fluent in, I can say this:
I spent way less than I did in Russian to get to intermediate. Then I spent nearly a year immersed. I’d say maybe 300 hours the first six months to get to intermediate then at least 1,000 hours speaking and listening the next year before I could understand/speak effortlessly. My word count in Spanish according to the test I just did is around 33,000 currently. That is after more than a decade of practice. I probably have 10,000 hours of use by now.
IMHO it’s not just words. Words without enough exposure won’t cut it. I have allegedly enough words according to Paul Nation (7,000 headwords from the frequency list plus 2,000 odd head words I like) AND I have 20,000 some words in LingQ. But IMO my exposure to the language (primarily listening and video) isn’t enough.

That said: if you have 30K-50K words you will definitely have reading fluency IMO i.e. able to read pretty much any book but to get listening fluency (i.e. understand any given TV show or video) you will need at least 1,000 hours listening. Speaking fluency I can’t say because it was mixed together with my listening when I did Spanish but there you have it.

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Right. It’s not merely. Knowing that number of words is pre-requisite. Without them you won’t be able to be fluent. But just recognizing that number of words alone is not enough. Language is more than just individual words.

IM experience the last three sentences are 100% correct.
The first sentence is only partly correct. The number of words you know has something to do with the amount of words you know for listening comprehension or reading. But it is only a prerequisite. Knowing just the prerequisite number of words that an average teenage speaker of the language knows will definitely not give you 100% listening comprehension. Only listening to at least a thousand hours will do that. And probably more. If you want to understand humor, for example.


My definition of fluency is if I catch a case in a foreign country, am I asking for a lawyer and a translator or just a lawyer lol

In all seriousness, like you said, enjoy the process. Like Krashen and Steve have said, content is king. Find content you enjoy, stop worrying, and just consume as much of that enjoyable content as you can.

For all practical purposes for those of us that don’t live in another language, something like B2 “regular interaction with native speakers is possible without strain for either party” is a good goal. I’m not sure that’s fluent since there’s still gonna be all sorts of words, idioms and turns of phrases that you won’t know, but it’s a level that allows you to consume native content without too much trouble and have a lot of fun actually communicating with people.


From my own experience in Polish (highly inflected language), I subjectively felt quite ‘fluent’ at around 50,000 known words. Most of my learning however has been done outside of LingQ, so this might not be totally accurate.


For me past 60,000 i could have good conversations and understand most stuff, now with 80,000 i can talk about complex things and understand everything *obviously i still make mistakes and stumble, but i dont live in the country where the language is spoken

But also really focus on listening a lot, Im at 1900 hours on the app but probably like 10,000 in general.

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I consider “fluency” a highly subjective term. Maybe it’s a combination of

  • words known to you,
  • the ability to quickly have them ready in everyday conversation and also
  • having enough confidence to speak without worrying constantly about the mistakes you make.

I know some people that I would consider fluent in my mother tongue because they just talk freely and of course they make a lot of mistakes. There are others that might make a lot less mistakes but seem to think about every single word, just to get it right. I’m pretty sure their vocabulary is 2-3 times higher and their grammatical understanding is quite solid but they don’t seem to me as fluent (in my definition of the term) as the other type.

Having a large vocabulary surely helps reading texts and understanding spoken language. I’m at 8k now in Italian and I’m far, faaaar away from what I’d call fluency, because that count (8k) doesn’t include the fact that in everyday speech I need a couple of seconds (!) for many words to “find” them in the depths of my brain XD

But however one might define the term, fluency is certainly a goal to reach. And let’s not forget, fluency is not binary, you can certainly tell if someone if far from being fluent (like me in Italian) or way beyond it… But the point where you reach fluency might not be simple to define.


This is the right answer. :clap:

People obsessing over stats, stats which are often inacurrate, seem to have a strange idea of what a language is. Language isn’t a Playstation game, it’s much too nuanced/complicated to reduce it to “how many words is this software telling me I know?” You can be an Anki addict, never listen to real content, and claim to ‘know’ 100k words, but that won’t help you understand the real language in the wild.

I have no idea how many words I know, and I really don’t care either. All that matters to me is that my comprehension of content is steadily improving. I don’t need software to tell me that.

I’m not sure that measuring ‘fluency’ (whatever that is BTW) as x number of “known” words a piece of software is telling us is a very good idea, or at least expecting fluency to suddenly arrive at that point is a good idea.


You’re talking about Portuguese right?

→ With my current pace, 70+ new words known per week, I can get to 10K words known in 2.5-3 years.

We acquire words more at a parabolic rate than a straight and constant linear progression. It’s not strange to experience something comparable to treading through a muddy swamp with your feet chained with iron balls as a beginner in a language. However, it’s a daily routine for many people to mark hundreds of lingqed terms known once they get into the momentum at the more advanced level. Don’t let your will and courage falter when you encounter seemingly challenging hurdles; the journey can be as rewarding and fulfilling as the accomplishment.


yes haha any other language i’ve “studied” here has just been for fun

I’ve been studying Japanese daily for about 2 years now (18 months on Duolingo and 6.5 months on LingQ). I just hit 12,000 known words today, so that’s an average of 60.9 known words per day. A lot of that was carry-over from Duolingo, of course, but learning 10 words in Anki is probably equivalent to maybe 20-50 LingQ words the way they’re counted here.

Anyways, at 12K words, I’m kind of at this place where depending on the content and the speaking speed, I can understand a lot, or absolutely nothing at all. The language parser in my brain is kind of slow, so if I have to stop and think about what a word means, it’s like the whole train derails and I completely stop comprehending. If I go back and listen to it again, or read along with the audio, I understand a lot more. But I can see a dramatic increase in my comprehension compared to 6 months ago. I’d say it’s about the same amount of progress I made in DL over my first 18 months. But I’m spending a lot more time per day on LingQ than I could in DL, so there’s that.

My advice: don’t sweat it, and trust the process. The beginning is tough, because there isn’t much you can understand, but you’ll pick up speed, and before you know it, you’ll have so much accessible content, you’ll feel like there isn’t enough time to study it all. Spend as much time every day as you possibly can in the language, and settle in for the long haul.

BTW, if you haven’t seen them already, I highly recommend Yuki Kimura’s “Comprehensible Japanese” courses. There’s a couple of Beginner 1 level courses that should be very accessible at your stage, and the Beginner 2, Intermediate 1’s that will get you far.

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