Are you planning to take foreign language lessons? Are you wondering how many words you need to speak a new language?
Learning a new language
Suppose you have ever taken a foreign language class.
In that case, you might have been given flashcards with word lists or a syllabus that included units on “grammar review” and “vocabulary-building exercises.”
Those word lists and exercises are great for helping you build your fluency in a new language by introducing you to words you are likely to encounter again and some that are more obscure.
But how many words do you need to speak another language fluently? Is there an ideal number of words to know before attempting to communicate in another tongue?
Do some words tend to be more useful than others?
What about cognates? Does knowing these words help you learn new vocabulary faster? Here we will answer these questions and more.
How many words do you need to speak a new language?
The good news is that there is no “one size fits all” answer to how many words you need to learn before you can begin speaking another language.
As you learned above, the best way to build your vocabulary is by listening to authentic audio, studying different learning resources, and reading as much as possible.
You can also try out language-learning websites, games, or apps, which can also be great for expanding your vocabulary.
However, there are no specific guidelines for how many words you should know before speaking a new language.
Living in an immersive language environment where you communicate with native speakers regularly is the best way to learn to speak fluently.
You will learn new words naturally as you speak and understand others in real-world settings.
Learning vocabulary with audio lessons
When it comes to building your vocabulary, audio lessons are a great way to go beyond.
As you listen to a new language, you will often encounter the same words repeatedly — everything from terms related to food and travel to words for describing emotions or making small talk will help you expand your vocabulary.
You can find audio lessons online, no matter which language you are studying. Suppose you are learning a language with many native speakers, like Spanish or Chinese.
In that case, sites like one of these are also a great way to get exposure to authentic language. And when it comes to vocabulary, nothing beats hearing a word in a real-world situation.
The most useful words in any language
The most useful words in a language are the words that will allow you to say what you need to say with as few words as possible.
That said, some words are useful in any language. Words like “yes” and “no,” “thank you,” “hello,” and “goodbye” are essential in any language.
You may also want to look out for words used frequently or a part of everyday conversation.
For example, if you are learning Spanish, you will also want to know some common expressions and adjectives; if you are studying Chinese, you will probably want to know some common verbs.
These words will help you communicate more effectively in day-to-day interactions.
Which words should you focus on first?
The best way to begin building your vocabulary in a new language is to start listening to the audio, reading as much as possible, and then repeating aloud what you have heard.
If you have ever taken a language class, you have probably completed a vocabulary list.
These are great for helping you remember vocabulary and building your fluency.
Suppose you are studying with a language partner or with a tutor. In that case, you can also ask your teacher for some vocabulary suggestions.
However, when you are first trying to build your vocabulary, focusing on words you are likely to encounter repeatedly can be helpful.
For example, suppose you are learning Spanish. In that case, you are likely to encounter many words related to family and feelings, like mamá (mom), hermano (brother), abuelo (grandfather), and tío (uncle).
How to learn even more new words
When starting a new language, focusing on the words you “know” the most are crucial to your vocabulary can be tempting. While those are important, learning a bit about other words in your language can also be helpful.
One way to do this is by learning “endangered” words that are becoming less common in everyday language. For example, you can learn old-fashioned words, like “condescend” or “mellifluous.”
You can also look up archaic words, like “impugn” or “nugatory.”
You can also find a language exchange partner or a language learning forum to connect with others who are learning the same language and share words you have encountered while learning.
Learning new vocabulary can feel overwhelming, especially when you are just getting started with a new language.
However, there are several ways to increase your vocabulary, from flashcards to listening to audio, and enrolling to online language lessons.
The most important thing when learning new vocabulary is to keep at it — you will expand your vocabulary with time.