How many words?

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I wonder how many words I need to learn to recognize in English to be fluent. I know that there are about four-five thousands words used most often in conversations, but that is not enough to understand native speakers.

I saw in one flashcard application that there are ten thousand English words at an intermediate level and another ten thousand words at an advanced level. If I am learning thirty new words a day, it would take me about a year to complete the intermediate level, and another year to complete the advanced level. That is two years of intensive work using flashcards everyday. I think that is an incredibly long time and it is impossible to efficiently perform such work. I wonder if it is necessary.

Maybe I should focus on the use of English in reading, listening, writing, speaking, and if it will be sufficient enough to achieve fluency in understanding. However, during all this time these words will be unfamiliar for me. I think, learning words from context clues will take me much long than two years. Usually understanding rare words from context is impossible. Using a dictionary thousands times, sometimes for the same words, doesn’t sound appealing to me, either.

Is immersion in the language sufficient to understand so many words? What do you think about it?
Is it possible to understand fluently advanced, complex texts without just memorizing so many words?

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10 comments
  1. I highly recommend reading the daily English newspapers The New York Times and The Atlantic online. Upper-level high school students in America are expected to be able to read articles from these papers, but due to the variety and depth, it can be challenging.This link (http://www.nytimes.com/learning/issues_in_depth/10ELLIdeas.html) provides some tips on how to make use of NYT’s website.

    • Lotokot said:

      Thank you very much for these resources. I will definitely be familiarized with them.

  2. Colleen said:

    Also watch English TV shows with English subtitles. You’ll hear the word used in context, get the pronunciation and see the spelling. You learn words passively at a much quicker rate than 30 per day, even if you wouldn’t be able to use them all actively in spoken sentences. This is why “immersion” is such a good way to learn a language. Reading is great, as is watching films or movies.

    • Colleen said:

      One last thought: read next to your computer. Looking words up on Wordreference.com (if you want a translation) or Dictionary.com (when you are proficient enough) is a lot more efficient than looking through a dictionary. Don’t write the definition down. Just assimilate the meaning. Even if you have to look it up five more times, you will eventually understand it and memorize it.

      • Lotokot said:

        I prefer some dictionaries with translations created in Poland and Google translate. I’m not be able to use dictionaries with definitions of the words. Do you use such kind of dictionaries? I think it is too much effort to use such dictionaries. Maybe I have to be better skilled to use them.

    • Lotokot said:

      I will try to watch films with English subtitles. I never did it. I don’t believe that I am able to learn more than 30 words a day, even passively. But I’m not going to give up.

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