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Can you be fluent by learning only 1,000 words?


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Langauges obviously have more than a million words. In English for example, it's believed that most speakers on average use only 3,000 of the most common words.

So I'm wondering, if this [theory is] true for all the other languages would someone who concentrated on learning and mastering only the 1,000-3,000 common words used in every day conversation be fluent in the language they're studying?

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Not really fluent, but I guess they can be semi-fluent, you know? Like they can understand the basic words and they can get by without a translator, but when the word is not that popular, then they will start to have some difficulties.

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Langauges obviously have more than a million words. In English for example, it's believed that most speakers on average use only 3,000 of the most common words.

So I'm wondering, if this [theory is] true for all the other languages would someone who concentrated on learning and mastering only the 1,000-3,000 common words used in every day conversation be fluent in the language they're studying?

Yes you can be fluent by using 1000 words. You can get by in basis situations with about 500 to 1000 words. Fluency has to do with how well you use what you know. Both quantity and quality are important. A large vocabulary is very important to be able to really enjoy a language. Good pronunciation and proper grammar will carry your far.

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It is my opinion that a person can be fluent by learning only 1,000 words. I consider 1,000 words to be a lot so it should be enough to communicate with in a decent way. I speak English and quite often I come across  a new word that I have to try to remember and study it's meaning so the number of words would naturally go up continually.

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That sounds great. That means you could make a list of 1,000 most common words in your native language, use some app to find the words in the target language you want to study, and just match the words from the source language to the target language. . .

boy - garcon

girl  - fille

friend - amei

It would even be much easier learning language this way. . .

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I took a quick look at Wikipedia, which says:

"Language fluency is used informally to denote broadly a high level of language proficiency, most typically foreign language or another learned language, and more narrowly to denote fluid language use, as opposed to slow, halting use. In this narrow sense, fluency is necessary but not sufficient for language proficiency: fluent language users (particularly uneducated native speakers) may have narrow vocabularies, limited discourse strategies, and inaccurate word use."

So yes, I think mastering 1,000 words is more than enough for a person to be fluent in a language.

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Interesting topic and discussion.

I've been mulling over this a bit for myself as I've been learning a lot of words in Swedish, actually about the 1000 most common of them so far, and am not exactly "fluent" just yet (even in the most broad sense of that word). Maybe if I was at a point where I could internalise the grammar well and use all the words I know to form sentences, I could be fluent but the words alone just aren't enough.

Looking at the data for Swedish, the most common 1000 words are used 65% of the time. So I think that with about that many, you could be fluent and be able to get through most basic things (like going to buy food or exchanging basic greetings), but I'm not sure you'd get too far in a conversation if they used any of the 2/3 of Swedish vocab that you didn't know yet (or you wanted to say something not covered by your 1000 words). I had a look through the list and words like "dyr" (expensive) and "sjukhus" (hospital) were way outside the top 1000, so maybe that's not quite enough.

When you get to 3000 words, you have 75%. I feel like that's almost enough to be reasonably competent, though still far from "proficient". That's meant to be between A1 and B2 level, so kinda like you can express and understand most basic idea well, but not yet enough to understand or express anything too complex (Swedish is a pretty bad example though, because English natives get a tonne of words for free - "trafikpolis", in the 7000s, is something I could understand easily).

So in summary, I think you could be fluent in the broadest sense of the word with around 1000 words assuming your grammar is good and you have confidence, but 3000 is about where I might be willing to say that of myself. Fluency and proficiency are totally different things though.

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