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The fact that there are 300 000 words in the language has only theoretical interest for a beginner. The main principle of the lessons especially in the beginning is economy of words. You should remember fewer words, but do it better.

Do not chase for nothing. By the end of an educational period it will be better to know 500 or 1000 words very well, than 3000 so-so. Do not allow the words to overflow you!

Positive experience shows that 400 perfectly chosen words can cover 95% of everyday communication. For reading only you need more words, but most of them are in the passive vocabulary. So with the vocabulary of 1500 words you can comprehend quite difficult texts. It is better to learn and remember some ‘high frequency’ and important words, than rush to learn new. There is a Swedish proverb: Chasing for too much will lead you to nothing.

Speech vocabulary

Approximately 40 ‘right’ high frequent words cover 50% of every day communication in any language.


-200 ‘right’ words cover 80%


-300 words- 85%


-400 words- around 90%


-800-1000 words cover 95% of what you can hear in usual situation.

For example: if a usual conversation consists of 1000 words, you will understand 500 of them, which are covered with 40 high frequent words. We need to point that it is not an exact calculation, but this is to give you some idea of how many words you need to feel confident in simple conversation with a foreigner.

Anyway 400-800 ‘right’ words will cover almost 100% of everyday communication, in less favorable situation- 90%.

Reading vocabulary

While reading 80 mostly common words will be enough to understand 50% of simple text:


-200 words cover 60%


-300 words- 65%


-400 words-70%


-800 words- around 80%


-1500 words- around 90%


-3000-4000 words- 95%


-8000- around 99% of text.

Vocabulary from 400 to 100 000 words

  1. 400-500 words refer to active vocabulary of elementary level.
  2. 800-1000 words- active vocabulary needed for simple conversation or passive vocabulary for reading
  3. 1500-2000 words- active vocabulary for general communication or passive vocabulary for confident reading
  4. 3000-4000 needed for proficient reading, reading of special literature.
  5. 8000 words needed for fluent communication of average European.
  6. 10 000-20 000 words refer to active vocabulary of educated European (for native speakers)
  7. 50 000-100 000 words efer to passive vocabulary of educated European (for native speakers).

Notice that the vocabulary itself doesnt guarantee fluent communication. At the same time 1500 ‘right’ words provide communication without barriers.

Eric V.Gunnemark

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