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Vocabulary and proficiency (questions, discussion)

  • 1515


I've been reading lately about how many words one must learn in order to speak a language at different levels (functional, conversational, fluent, native, etc.). Obviously there is no precise answer to this question, but I have read multiple articles which say that, in a general sense, 3,000 words is enough to understand most (over 90% of) written texts and most day-to-day vocabulary, and to begin deducing the meanings of words by context. (They say that 5,000 words is enough to be considered 'fluent' by most standards, and that native speakers generally know 10,000 to 20,000 words actively, and 40,000 to 50,000 passively.)

As someone who had studied several languages extensively, and who has recently begun learning two languages on Duolingo, I am interested in tracking my progress in terms of vocabulary, and seeing if this rule of thumb holds true for me.

I finished the Turkish tree a few months back, and Duolingo tells me that the word count of that course is 1,393.

I have not yet finished the Romanian tree (I'm at the beginning of the fourth large section; my next skill to do is "Sensations"), and my current word count is apparently 1,572. This is an average of 38 new words per unit so far, so a rough projected estimate of the full tree gives me 2,370.

(The Romanian course is noticeably denser with vocabulary than the Turkish one. And as a side note, it is kind of weird to me that I have learned so many words without having learned anything but the present tense indicative form of verbs at this point!)

Does anyone have experience with measuring progress in proficiency as a(n indirect) function of vocabulary, or thoughts/insight on the topic? Also, can someone who has finished the Romanian tree, or someone with access to this info, tell me how many words there are according to Duolingo's count?

By the way, since I started the Romanian course, I have been building an Anki deck to practice the vocabulary; I add every new word that comes up, and often I include several forms. You can check that out here: https://ankiweb.net/shared/info/1321839097?score=

One weird thing about this is that at my current point in the course, there are 1892 different vocabulary pairs in the Anki deck, which may suggest that Duolingo's count counts word forms as separate words (i.e. frumos, frumoasă, frumoși and frumoase may be counted as 4 words, instead of just one). Since I have been including multiple word forms, I would expect the actual amount of words that I have learned to be somewhere in the range of 700 to 900. The 320-word difference between Duolingo's word count and my Anki deck may be because of the fact that I have added words that appeared in the Tips and Notes section of each skill, even if they did not appear in the lessons. But I can't be totally sure. It's kind of mysterious.

So, can anyone tell me how words are counted in the course? Are multiple word forms counted as multiple words? This would help me (and hopefully others) understand how much progress is being made on the vocabulary side of things.

Also, again, in general, I am curious to hear others' thoughts on this topic.

Vă mulțumesc foarte mult!

February 13, 2017



I'm currently at level 9 only, can't say how many words I learned so far (btw, where one can look up, this statistics on Duolingo? I don't see it under the profile).

As I advance over the course I start thinking that number of words is not really that important (or representative) at this specific point. I have the feeling that before you get an overall grasp of grammar rules and major constructions you can't make much out of word count.

I mean, it looks like you have to go deeper first and then having overall understanding of things you can see all around (tenses, heavy usage of reductions of all kinds, pronouns in all forms, etc, etc) you can start widening your knowledge of words so that you can really make something out of that.

  • 1515

Thanks for your thoughts! I totally agree that understanding grammar and becoming comfortable with pronunciation and other aspects of the language are more important than the number of words you know. I am still interested in the word-count thing as a concept though, for two reasons:

1) I think that in the time it takes to internalize the first 3,000 words, one can/will naturally become reasonably "fluent" at least in basic sentence construction, pronunciation, and other aspects of the language. Duolingo courses generally only teach you between 1,000 and 2,000 words according to this post (https://www.duolingo.com/comment/2315080), if we only count lexemes instead of all word forms. Since it is possible (necessary, even) to learn all grammar rules for a language, but basically impossible to learn all words, then I'd say that Duolingo helps us learn nearly all of the grammar we need, but not all of the words. I expect to finish the Duolingo course long before I hit the 3,000-word mark.

2) Having studied Romance and Indo-European languages before (I have university degrees in Russian, Spanish and Italian), but never a Turkic language, I am interested in using my word-count as a guide for assessing my progress in Romanian and Turkish comparatively. In Romanian, most of the grammar is intuitive for me, and extremely easy to learn. In Turkish, it's a different story. It's interesting to have a point of orientation such as word count where I can compare my progress "on paper" to how comfortable/capable I actually feel.

To see the your current word count for Romanian, check out the first reply to this post (https://www.duolingo.com/comment/5382884)., by pinkodoug.


Ah, I see. Mine shows 998 words.

However, it is hard to believe. I assumed that at 1k words I'd be able to read a newspaper. Not sure I can get much out of it, though. Although I'm native speaker for Ukrainian and Russian I don't feel like I can benefit much from that.

As for the technical part of the question, on how do they count in words, I think the general, root forum of "Duolingo in English" (https://www.duolingo.com/topic/1) is better place to ask. I think word counting technique is DL wide, should apply same rules to all trees.

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