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How many words to become fluent?

My ultimate goal for French is to eventually reach fluency. Since I've finished the French tree (2,559 words as of 10/11/17), and I'm planning to learn 10,000-15,000 more over the next 2 years, I was wondering if that would be sufficient enough for fluency.

EDIT: Since I've also used resources outside of Duolingo to study French, I'm currently at a B1 level of proficiency.

October 12, 2017



Fluency isn't really about how many words you know, it's about how well you can use them in context. You could memorise a French dictionary and be completely unable to speak fluent French (like Nigel Richards, non-French speaking NZ French Scrabble champion http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2015/07/21/424980378/winner-of-french-scrabble-title-does-not-speak-french )

With that caveat, I would expect so. People say that duolingo should give enough vocab for about A1/A2.


Oh my God, I never expected anyone ever to do such a thing. Hah!


It's A1 and maybe A2 for the ability to read certain words. It doesn't necessarily mean A2 in listening, speaking, or writing skills. For that, we all need practice and study outside of Duolingo.


^ this. And conversely, if you have a small vocabulary but you are willing to try/talk around a word you don't know/remember, you can be fluent with a smaller vocabulary. Fluency is about much more than vocabulary size.


Thanks for this information. I'll keep this in mind while studying so that I actually learn the meanings of the words :)


Number of words (that is, passive and active vocabulary size) is important, but it is not the only important thing at all.

I read a lot (lots of books in different languages), so I am very good at reading. According to this site: https://www.arealme.com/french-vocabulary-size-test/en/ my "passive" vocabulary size is +30,000 both in English and Spanish, around 28,000 in Portuguese, around 15,000 in Italian and around 7,000 in French.

I can read fast and comfortably almost any book in any of those five languages, so I consider myself a "fluent" reader in those languages.

But I am not a fluent speaker in all those five languages (only in English and Spanish). I can converse, making errors, not very fluently, in Portuguese, Italian and French, but my speaking level in English and Spanish is light-years above (simply because I almost never speak Portuguese, French or Italian).

Even listening, there is a huge difference (I understand almost all spoken Italian, whereas I still have problems listening to some French people or films). Even if I read them all equally easily.

So there is so much more than just vocabulary size.


Fluency is the point when the number of words don't really matter. A person who's fluent can use their existing vocabulary to take themselves beyond their vocabulary limit. A big part of this is circumlocution, and it's something we all do in our native languages already.

Imagine you're trying to describe a trip to the zoo to a friend. You don't know the word for giraffe in the language you're learning, so you say something like, "we saw an animal...sort of like a horse...but with a long neck and spots." You're friend jumps in with jirafa, kirahvi, or what have you.

Fluency is the point that you can pull yourself up by your bootstraps, and I'm betting you're closer to that goal than you realize.


this is the best explanation ever


No matter how you define fluency, it's so much more than the number of words you know. Each word can have many different meanings depending on context. What counts as "knowing" a word? If you know one translation of a word, does it count as knowing if there are five, ten, or fifteen other translations that you don't know yet? Language is an entire system of how the words fit together to create meaning. Many expressions are idiomatic and don't correspond to literal translations.

Typically, when you read about how many words a native speaker knows, word families are what is generally meant by that. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Word_family

Duolingo counts individual words as far as I know. As a result, there's no direct comparison of the number of individual words you "know" to how many word families you know, and it would be difficult, if not impossible, to extrapolate how much more effort would be involved based on what you've already learned.

Obviously, knowing words in as many contexts as possible is necessary, but it's not sufficient for fluency.


Do you know what else is sufficient for fluency?


One definition of fluency that I liked was a balance between ease and accuracy. So, you do need enough words to say what you want to say, but it's also necessary to know how to put them together properly and correctly. Ease is being able to do all that without hesitation.

  • 1901

Aside from from the fact that mere numbers won't achieve fluency, there are different kinds of fluencies depending on how you plan to use the language. If you plan to read, read and write, verbally communicate, translate or interpret from/into French then your fluency levels/areas would be different. To achieve the different levels, you will be fluent when you are as close as the average native is in that area. So, accent aside, you would have to read/write/listen/speak as an average native.There are plenty of free materials available on line to improve your reading/listening skills.

I used to think that when you start dreaming in French then you are pretty good but that is not necessarily true. That could simply be an indication of the level of immersion you are doing at the time you are dreaming! IMO, when you can have conversions with natives on various topics and they don't get bored, it is a pretty good reality test. Thinking in French while you perform complex communication would be a good sign of advanced fluency. Duolingo, as is today, will not be sufficient to achieve these levels of fluency for you.

You may want to take 'official' GCSE/CEFR French tests to get a better sense of where your fluency level is! You can start with free tests and go from there. HTH, Daniel.


Hi Daniel. Looks like you've mastered the process of language acquisition. I wondered if you'd make some suggestions on outside materials, websites, etc. you found useful when you were working on Spanish. Thanks in advance!

  • 1901

I assume you refer to my level 25 trees when you refer to 'mastering...' Personally, I would not call reaching level 25 mastering a language! I have certainly not mastered 10 languages. Most of those levels I achieved during the days when Immersion was around. I worked on a combination of articles loaded by other people as well as articles loaded by me; many of those articles were Wikipedia based but not necessarily.

Hence, I always recommend translation work as a means of improving the reading/writing skills. Wikipedia works great for the major European languages because one can find many articles that are already in many languages, hence one can have a free tutor when translating in a foreign language...

Aside from that (but not necessarily in Spanish) I do watch a lot of videos/movies of interest to me in foreign languages that come with English sub-titles.

What is not obvious from my trees is that the many XPs against the English/US flag are pretty 'equally' divided among several source languages. That is, I did a fair amount of translation into foreign languages... Of course, a lot of that work was revised by 'kind' native speakers!



Hello, it depends how you will use French. If you just want to have conversation with native speakers I don't think that knowing more than 10.000 words will be useful. Plus knowing a number of words doesn't mean you are fluent. It is useful when it comes to reading stuffs, but well, when I speak to people in general I will use simple words, depending on the context and be more formal while I speak to my boss.

If you watch documentaries about a specific topic, well, you will need to know more words. The more you practice the more you'll learn words, grasp them and later know how to use them in context and reach fluency.

Bonne chance et ne décourage pas, le français est plein de surprises que tu découvriras au fur et à mesure :)


You could probably be fluent with fewer words than the number you hope to learn in the next two years. Fluency comes with practice speaking. Listening helps a lot too. People can speak fluently with a relatively small vocabulary, whereas someone with a much larger vocabulary might not be able to speak fluently. You should concentrate on actually listening and speaking with people in French. This will increase your fluency. Studying vocabulary is good too, but it is not enough.

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