How much vocabulary is enough when learning a foreign language

How much vocabulary is enough when learning a foreign language?

Maybe you want to learn a new language and don’t know which to choose? You can investigate which foreign languages are in demand in your industry and this can give you a great advantage over your competition. Learning vocabulary is interesting, but learning thousands of words sitting in a classroom will never help you to speak fluently, unless you start using those words in your daily life. If you’re looking for a job in Europe as a foreigner, for example let’s say you're from Barcelona and you want to do your internship in London, how good is your English? Can you hold a conversation comfortably? People think that learning a language begins with learning complex grammar, but this isn’t the case. Vocabulary provides a base to help you to understand the language. The stronger your grasp of vocab, the easier you will be able to communicate with others.




Be aware of the basic language skills

In order to master basic language skills, first you must focus on common words that help you build a foundation, to help you express your thoughts and feelings to your colleagues and friends. To gain native like command of a language, you need to understand the words, which will help you get the vocabulary, which can help you to express further. Once you grasp the vocabulary, you can gradually pick up the grammar part.


So how much vocab is necessary?

When you have investigated which foreign language is in demand and spent time building your foundation skills you can focus on fluency and the more you learn, the better. How much you need to learn depends on your environment – friends, colleagues, does your job require fluency in a foreign language? Learning 50 words a day is impressive, learning each word will take you about 10 seconds, but you need to practice it, so if you spend just 1 hour a day, you can pick up a lot of vocabulary and be confident in conversation with native speakers!

Knowledge of vocabulary: words, meaning, pronunciation & speech

Learning vocabulary means increasing your knowledge and understanding of a word and its uses. But what does this “knowledge” or “understanding” mean?

  • Spelling

  • Pronunciation

  • Speech.

It’s important to be aware of multiple meanings of the same word, understanding the connotations and expressions that are associated with the particular word for example leaves and leaves.

The dog does not like it when the owner leaves’

The dog loves running through the leaves’

This word has the same spelling and pronunciation but the two words have totally different meanings, knowing this only comes with practice!


Start with the General Vocabulary

So, answering the question how many words one needs to learn to understand the vocabulary is really difficult, as knowing a few words does not mean that one can speak fluently. There is a huge difference between speaking fluently and communicating. For example if you are wondering how to learn french on your own and talk in french overnight, you need learn the basic, foundation words first, such as “have”, “get”, “do”. So knowing these foundation words definitely helps you to communicate more easily. For example in English “nap” means “sleep”, but, it will easy for beginners to learn “sleep”.




Every dictionary is different

If you check Oxford Dictionary the vast number of words that we can use is scary, there are more than 171,476 entries! Now if we take a look at the Chinese vocabulary they have 370, 000 words in their dictionary. The Dutch language comes up with 430,000 words and so on. Each language has their own set of words. Along with these, there are a lot of synonyms, antonyms and lot more. Now, if you are learning Japanese, each word is long and writing it is really complex, in that case, you can digest maximum 10 words a day, in a similar way if you are learning English you can easily cope up with 50 words a day.



Remember words are the building blocks. In a previous article, I explained more about this. Words are the most important part of the vocabulary that will help you express your thoughts. Learning “dry verbs” and grammar will never help you unless you know the words and its meaning. As per studies, 1.75% of vocabulary will help you to understand 95% of the language. As Dr. Seuss said, one can write a book using only 50 words. But if you ask me, an adult uses around 20000 words a day.

Follow Pareto’s Law to learn the language you want to become fluent in. Remember the famous “80-20 rule”, Work on the 20% of things that bring 80% of the results. So concentrate on grabbing efficiency with minimal work. Try to concentrate on putting 7% effort regularly to get 95% proficiency. So my dear readers, target proficiency in at least 300 words in a month so that you can start communicating well and the rest will happen automatically and you will be able to demonstrate how much vocabulary is enough when learning a foreign language!


Jun 4, 2018 by Guest Blogger

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One important thing about expanding your vocabulary is that at a certain point (when your vocabulary reaches ~6000 words) you have to avoid learning words through translation method and learn via monolingual dictionaries. It helps!

I think with vocabulary, repetition is key. You must learn a word, but then use it over and over again in context for it to becoming second nature. The well-known saying: 'practice makes perfect' completely applies to learning vocabulary and a language. We could also make doing that fun with games. If you need some ideas on learning vocab with games, this might be useful: . Some ideas are for individuals, other pairs and the rest for groups.

I think one very important thing is that learn the words by space repetition, using Leitner method and apps used for that from day one. If you don't actively try to memorize them, it will all be in vain...

For the beginner it will be enough to know at about 5000 words (including verbs and adjective), with this vocabulary it will be possible to understand everyday life and then you can watch and speak and read books and with that you will continue learning and getting bigger vocabulary with each new book or movie.

Languages have been through out my entire life , and I can honestly say that each day I learn more and more.My advice to anyone is find your passion and you'll go further !


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