How Many English Words You Must Know to Communicate

Fluent speech combines a set of skills including the ability to comprehend speech, to build up phrases grammatically correct, and, of course, vocabulary or your word capacity. And exactly how many English words you must know to communicate with ease?

Every who learns English would ask this question, which, unfortunately, can not be answered in exact terms just because there are multiple types of communication — in everyday situations, in professional environments, or in study environment — and the capacity of words they require will vary.

Linguists know perfectly well that there is a special scale of language proficiency levels. There are six such levels with four steps from Elementary to Proficiency:

  • Pre-Intermediate;
  • Intermediate;
  • Upper-Intermediate (sufficient for life and socialising in an English-speaking environment);
  • Advanced.

Let us clarify how many words you must know for speaking in English in common situations and in study or more responsible professional environments.

Most Important English Words

There are about a million words in modern English. That said, the authors of the two great dictionaries (the Oxford English Dictionary and Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English) agree that as little as three thousand words are vital.

Therefore, two or three thousand words are sufficient to communicate without any difficulty in everyday life situations and this corresponds to the Intermediate level. However, you will be limited if you try discussing business or finance issues, maintaining a conversation on art or science, or, for example, describing a very specific hobby.

You can talk on a familiar topic without much difficulty (which refers to Elementary) using as little as a thousand words; however, be aware that it can be difficult to comprehend the other party of the conversation beyond the learned topics by using only this limited vocabulary.

How many English words you must know to communicate on various topics? You will be able to maintain a small talk by learning 1,500-2,000 words (refers to Pre-Intermediate). This word capacity allows using a translation application, which helps you to significantly broaden your conversations repertoire.

It is worth noting that vocabulary is not a cure and often a small vocabulary combined with solid grammar ensures that you can express your opinions more accurately and maintain a conversation with more confidence. Similarly, it should be no surprise that a scientist who has built up a wast vocabulary upon developing their thesis probably finds it difficult to have a small talk just as fluently as a person who has learned one and a half thousand words of everyday language. The reason is that your result is driven by your goal.

How to Expand Vocabulary

The Oxford English Dictionary contains 350+ thousand words apart from obsolete forms — a fact that cannot but discourage anyone early in their journey. On the other hand, it is also a fact that native speakers do not know many dictionary words while 95 % of words used in the everyday life are equal to 2 % of the total quantity. This sounds comforting, doesn't it?

Here are some more inspiring facts: It is known that an average 18+ English-speaking person knows about forty thousand words but uses less than a half of them in practice and at most one-fourth of them (from five to ten thousand, to be exact) in everyday interactions.

So, what you shall do to define exactly how many words in English you need to know? Firstly, you shall choose the level as described by linguists that fits your goals best and then assess your vocabulary (special testing systems are available for you to do so).

Secondly, you have two paths to expand your vocabulary:

  • learning words based on the frequency criterion (e. g., Macmillan English Dictionary offers two and a half thousand commonly used words along with expanded versions of the lists with up to 5,000 and 7,500);
  • advanced English learning within specific areas (occupational, interests, and etc.).

If you want you can take both paths simultaneously to study both commonly used words and special terms. Can you advance in learning the English language to the level of a native speaker all by yourself?

According to scientists, it is optimal to learn 25 new words a week to memorize them (it takes several hours per week). Accordingly, you can learn up to a hundred words monthly and about a thousand words annually. As you can see, advancing to a high level can be extremely difficult if you start from scratch and, therefore, it is not for everyone.

Eliminate Calculations in Learning English up to Native Speaker Level

Do you know how many words you have in your personal mother-tongue vocabulary? Probably, you don't, because you can speak fluently about everything you care about and go deeper to learn new things as necessary. The same applies to bilinguals — persons who have learned two languages as their first language.

It is possible due to the early exposure to a foreign language along with its pronunciation and natural grammatical structures of phrases. Learning English with a native-speaking teacher from a very early age and up to the state certificate of secondary education is offered by CIS International School that operates in Moscow and Saint Petersburg (for more details on how to apply and study please visit the website or contact the CIS by phone).

CIS International School offers all benefits of English education for younger Russian citizens in their motherland to finally obtain the Russian state certificate of secondary education along with the Cambridge international certificate, which gives the opportunity to apply to world high-profile high-schools.

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