A very common question asked by those who begin learning English is "how many English words you need to learn in order to freely communicate on everyday topics." Freely play with foreign words, express all your nontrivial ideas and excellently understand your interlocutor - for some, these are only dreams, and for others - goals.
Dictionaries and concepts
How many words are in English?
A person constantly invents new concepts, changes existing ones, or ceases to use them at all. Should they all become part of our vocabulary? Teenage slang? Abbreviations? Medical and scientific terms? And how many Latin words in English are used in jurisprudence? And if you dig deeper, then in the culinary sphere there are a lot of French words, in the scientific literature - German, and in martial arts - Japanese. What should we do with all this diversity?
But back to the quantitative question. English leads by the number of borrowings, and we are talking about millions, so the question of how many words in the language, disappears by itself. So why only 171476 words (according to the Oxford dictionary) are in direct use? Again, when comparing the largest dictionaries, we must pay attention to whether the dictionary includes obsolete, dialectal or scientific words.
The reason why the largest dictionary gives such an answer to the question "how many words in English" gives is clear - it excludes endings, does not cover some technical and regional vocabulary and, obviously, does not include neologisms (new words). It can be assumed that if the above were calculated and published in the Oxford Dictionary, then the total number of units would probably be ¾ million.
How many words do you need to know in English?
"Green eggs and ham" - a book written by Dr. Suze (real name - Theodore Seuss Geisel), in which the number of vocabulary used does not exceed fifty units. This work is the result of a bet between Suze and his publisher, Bennett Cerf, that Suze (after the "Cat in the Hat" was published using 225 words) can not complete the whole book using so few words.
Obviously, if you can write a whole work using only 50 words, then there is no doubt that in vocabulary of 40,000 words there is not much need. According to Suzy Dent, an expert on dictionaries and a lexicographer, on average the passive vocabulary of an adult English-speaking medium is about 40,000 words, and the active one is about 20,000 words.
What is the difference between passive and active vocabulary? Active consists of words that can be remembered and freely used in your speech. Passive, on the other hand, are lexical units that you can recognize and understand, but you can not use them yourself.
Now the most interesting!
Let's look at how many words in English you need to know. Despite the fact that on average the adult native speaker has an active vocabulary of about 20,000, statistics show that:
1) the first 25 units are used in 33% of daily written speech;
2) the first 100 appear in adults and students in writing in 50% of cases;
3) the first 1000 are used in 89% on the letter every day!
Naturally, if each time a person tends to a higher percentage, the number of words begins to increase dramatically (especially after understanding 95%), but the vocabulary of 3 thousand words covers about 95% of information from common texts (for example, news, blogs, etc.).
Now you can plunge into the calculations to find out how many words in English you need to know. As already noted, the modern Oxford English Dictionary contains 171 476 words, while the vocabulary of 3000 words provides an understanding of 95% of the world's available texts. If you make a calculation, it's only 1.75% of the total number of words! And, really, knowing only 1.75%, you can understand 95% of the material. In addition, this is another 7 and a half percent of the average passive vocabulary of an adult native English speaker. Is not that good news?
Develop flexible thinking
The goal is to understand 95% of the words from everyday life. Why just such an amount? It is necessary in order to understand well enough, let's say why your interlocutor smiles so mysteriously. In addition, understanding most of the vocabulary, you can guess the value of the remaining 5-10%.
Rigidity of thinking is extremely common among students of the language and disappears completely when it comes to the native language. In the end, do we often turn to the dictionary when reading in our native language? The answer is likely to be negative, even if there is no certainty about the meanings of some words. Flexibility of thinking is really important when it comes to learning a foreign language, for the simple reason that it is impossible to learn every definition of even the same word set.
Pareto principle and learning English
If we talk about the well-known Pareto principle in the context of training, only 20% of efforts bring to foreign students 80% of the knowledge with which they really can work - to understand by ear, to read news and books, to understand clearly. To freely speak English and understand 90% of commonly used words, you must first work 100%. If the minimum lexical minimum is 3000 units, then this should just be the 80% that you need to know.
Languages contain an incredible number of words, and many foreign language studies are perceived as an insurmountable barrier that takes decades to achieve any result. With trust in your intuition (conjecture in context) when learning the language from scratch and gradually "building" the vocabulary of a good level, you can achieve quite quickly - a level at which you will be free to read texts in English, understand from 95% of the information. Up to 2500-3000 units - this is exactly how much English words you need to know at a minimum. This is, in fact, a "golden" figure, since so many words are enough to not make reading on a foreign depressing. More importantly, it is necessary to know exactly how many lexical units to be able to easily guess the meaning of words from the context.
Languages are developing and constantly changing, and all thanks to the creativity and imagination of humanity. In the end, only one Shakespeare came up with 1700 new words!