how many words do we need?
How many words do we need to know before we can say; “I speak Spanish, Hungarian, Danish, Swedish, English” or whatever the case may be? Some people, such as Benny the Irish Polyglot, say you can be fluent with a few hundred words in a few months, and others, like Steve Kaufmann, say we need a lot more.
Personally I think it depends on how brave you are. If you are comfortable speaking early on with a small vocabulary, then why on earth wouldn’t you? And in that case the answer to the question “How many words do I need to know?” is “not that many”.
If you want to sound very smart and sophisticated as soon as you start speaking, or perhaps be able to read books by esteemed authors then the answer to the question “How many words do I need to know?” becomes A LOT.
How Many Words Do I Need?
I currently know 589 words, which means fluency is still in the distant future, but I feel really good about getting this far in under three months. Remember, I knew close to ZERO Spanish words when I started the 90-Day Challenge on January 20th, so there was only one way and that was up.
In the LingQ universe I am now considered a Beginner Level 2, which means that I have in fact reached almost all of my goals ahead of time. I haven’t completely finished the challenge in that I am a few hours behind on listening – I have a week to catch up, but that shouldn’t be a problem.
So Many Theories, So Little Time
Andrew at howlearnspanish.com has done a lot of research on the research (hhhhmmm) on how many words we need to know and found that learning the top 1000 words may be enough if you are mostly interested in speaking to people, and not super keen on getting deep into grammar or major philosophical conversations, as is the case for me.
He says that with around 1000 words you may be able to understand about 90% of a spoken conversation. You may have to ask people to slow down – especially fast-talking Spanish speakers – but at least you’ll understand the essence of a conversation. As mentioned above, Steve Kaufmann does not believe that to be the case, he believes that in order to speak we need to know a lot more words, especially if we want to be fluent.
With A Little Help From My Friends
I recorded my first video speaking Spanish this week. In preparation I wrote the content in Spanish to the best of my ability, put it on the Exchange on LingQ and asked for a writing correction as well as an audio file. I wanted to hear how a native Spanish speaker would pronounce what I wanted to say. I really like that feature, and not many people know about it.
Quite a few people submitted a writing correction, and I got audio files from Liszeth and Pablo who are both from Mexico. I imported the responses including the audio files and corrected texts as lessons, in order to practice reading correct Spanish and my pronunciation.
In these last few months I have learned that one of the main differences between the Spanish spoken in Spain and the Spanish spoken in Latin-America and Mexico is that many Spaniards often pronounce thez and the ‘c’ before ‘i’ or ‘e’ like the ‘th’ in ‘thin’, while many Latin Americans pronounce it the same as the ‘s’.
Also, speakers in some areas (Argentina in particular) often pronounce ‘thell’ and ‘y’ like the ‘s’ in ‘measure.’ The point is, since I get my audio files from Mexicans, I suppose my Spanish will have a Mexican feel to it if I ever get to the stage where I can have an actual conversation.