How Many Words Do You Know?

The average vocabulary size for a well-educated individual is around 20,000 words. This number gradually increases with the addition of approximately 5,000 words to one’s vocabulary starting from the age of 6. This means that our vocabulary development continues to grow over time.

For someone learning a second language, the situation is a bit different. The potential difference between two languages comes into play. An average adult language learner may reach the vocabulary size of a 7-8-year-old native English speaker after several years of study. However, the number of words acquired by a baby surpasses what a middle school student learns. Therefore, the language exposure we receive in schools and classrooms over 5-10 years is less than what a child naturally acquires in 1 year in a native environment.

We believe there are many views that support this idea. Particularly, the persistent language issues in our country, besides methodological shortcomings, stem from the lack of natural language environments. We will leave this topic here for now and return to the subject of vocabulary.

The answer to the question, “How many words does a student/learner need to know?” is related to the individual’s specific needs. For instance, the English vocabulary of a businessperson and someone planning to travel to the UK for a vacation will differ. Likewise, a university student’s vocabulary will not be the same as that of a waiter/waitress. However, if we are to talk about an average vocabulary size, it ranges from 2,000 to 3,000 words. In our daily conversations, we typically use only this many words. Some of these words might even seem foreign to us. Others might be commonly used grammatical words (e.g., a, an, this, there, that, but, and, etc.). Nevertheless, to have an active command of English, this number should reach around 5,000 words. This means that someone who hasn’t reached 5,000 words cannot claim to have an intermediate-level knowledge of the language. In fact, the Cambridge FCE exam, which certifies the ability to “now understand and interpret texts and express yourself in the language,” lists a required vocabulary size of 5,000 words.

Moreover, someone working with English at an academic level should add around 700 academic words to their vocabulary list (commerce, law, medicine, etc.).

We will delve further into how we remember and forget words in our upcoming study.

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