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Common European Framework (CEFR)

I read an article today that said the expected vocabulary for European level B1 (the third level from the bottom in a six level framework) is approximately 2000 words, which ties in quite well with a Duolingo course, which I think has slightly fewer than 2000 words in most trees? Others have previously suggested that B1 is about the right equivalence.

The same article also said that a 2000 word vocabulary is the turning point at which the student starts to be able to understand segments of 'normal' written and spoken language.

August 4, 2013



Words are important, but they don't mean much without knowing how to use them grammatically in each language... conjugations, idioms, etc are necessary for any understanding of how the words fit together :)


You've got that right! The cultural differences alone takes years to learn. Sentence construction can be quite difficult to master even if you know thousands of words. Spanish learners soon discover that when learning the ''gustar'' and ''gustar-like'' sentence construction. The English subject is now the Spanish object! The number of words you know is far less important than knowing how to use the words (reading, writing, listening, speaking) you do know to communicate effectively. Way to much emphasis on vocab totals as a way of measuring ''fluency''.


yea because one word can have so many different contexts too, take "get" in English on its own, it can mean all kinds of things, obtain, reach, become ill with, start to be, cause, be, move, travel, deal with, have chance, understand/hear, prepare, pay, confuse, annoy, emotion, hit etc, that is without even adding words after it, like "get on" "get up" etc


¡Gracias por su ayuda, Capitán Obvio! :o)


When you finish a tree, normally it has shown about 1500-2000 words, but if you go on doing review lessons, new words appear slowly but constantly.

My "Italian from Spanish" tree has already shown 3252 words, and it was only about 2000 when I first finished it.

On another note, I think most people that end a tree (and that started that language from scratch) wouldn't pass an official A2 exam.

Some others (a minority) may pass an official A2 exam or even a B1 exam, but mainly because they have also practiced a lot of writing, listening and speaking elsewhere (during and after finishing their tree).

Duolingo helps you A LOT in reading comprehension (may take you to B1 level in this aspect) but listening to "live" conversations and speaking.....is a totally different matter.

So in a sense, you can be "B1" in reading comprehension and only "A1" (if any) in "speaking" (and maybe "A2" in listening).

It all depends on what you practice the most.


You don't happen to have a link to the article do you? Kind of hard to comment if not...

I have often read that most people in the world get by day to day using around 2000 common words. I think the tipping point where you start to feel comfortable comes sooner though. Obviously natives will understand a lot more, but I don't know how hard it is to achieve that depth of knowing thousands of rarely used words. I never actively tried to study thousands of English words, I just read bucket load, so I don't count it as effort. I'm not even convinced it really matters, because once you have the core, it is the point where you can actively contribute, which is the main thing, and you can always stop people and say "what does that mean" after all.

But then I like the idea of this lower target, because I have chosen to spread my language study very thin and very wide. I don't think learning 2000 words is a big investment, considering the eventual return you get out of it. I've read elsewhere that the average English speaker knows about 15 - 20 k words, even if they aren't actively used. So I think I can stand to forget a few of them...

I think once you have got to the end of a duolingo tree, you may not be fluent yet, but you have everything you need to go it alone, which is more than you can ask for for free, eh :) ?


Article here https://www.llas.ac.uk//resources/paper/2715

To aimzz's point, wasn't suggesting that vocabulary is the only measure of achievement but as this paper says, it correlates well with overall achievement: presumably most people develop all the different language skills including grammar more or less in parallel.


Hah, the article starts by saying that British learners vocabulary is small, very small - which doesn't surprise me in the slightest. We tend to get overawed when one of us is able to put 5 words together to order a coffee, let alone all that B1 stuff...

I think because we have so little external pressure to learn, that our methods and habits are just backwards though. Even our way of thinking about it. Call it arrogance, or inexperience, whatever you like. When I was at school abroad, in 4 different places no less, it was unheard of to learn the local language - it was either French or German, which in Hong Kong or Oman is about as much use as a chocolate teapot. But that is the curriculum, and all students must get a perfectly equal set of skills, right?

The sad thing is, I really liked the sound of Cantonese and the beautiful writing, and I bought books and tried to learn on my own, but at 10 years old my understanding of self-learning methods was a lot weaker than it is now. Without any sort of expectation or support from anyone else, I barely learned a thing while I lived there.

So, on the off chance anyone high up in the education system is reading this and doesn't take it on board, I hate you. May all your taps drip unrelentingly through the night and your mailmen wake you on your days off to sign for next doors amazon packages. May your neighbours take to buying shitsus and pekingese dogs and then never pay attention to them so they become intolerably neurotic. May unannounced road contruction projects blight your every mediterranean holiday, and may your lottery numbers be chosen the one week that you are away and forgot to buy a ticket.


Thank you for publishing this list of clever and useful curses.


Very interesting article. Thanks for the link. :-)


The average English speaker knows more than 20k words


Well there you go, that just goes to show how good English speakers are at learning words - we just happen to be foolish enough to insist that they be English! (when half our English words are French and German anyway....)

[deactivated user]

    52% Latin, 16% Ancient Greek, 26% German, 6% other sources :) The perks of learning Latin, Ancient Greek, and German :)

    • 2232

    You may be right if you're basing your stats on the Oxford dictionary (>170k words).

    However, English is definitely a Germanic language if we look at its structure and its more popular words. Among the most frequent 100 words only three seem to be of non-Germanic origin: 57-"just", 83-"use", 94-"because". https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Most_common_words_in_English

    Among the 1000 most frequent English words (as of 1975) we have: Old English: 83% French: 11% Latin 2% Scandinavian 2% Other 2%.

    The balance does shift towards French/Latin after the first 1000 words. Refer to: A History of the English Language: Revised edition By Elly van Gelderen



    Some, like those who post in the thread at the link below, would disagree with you on that:

    How many words does an average English speaker know?

    In the main post, near the end, the following was written:

    If you want to investigate the size of your own vocabulary (active and passive), David Crystal’s invaluable The English Language (2nd ed, Penguin 2002) describes a method you can use.

    I don't know what method that might be, but I was listening to something on the radio a while back and whoever was being interviewed mentioned that you could determine the size of your vocabulary by taking a random page of the dictionary and tallying up all the words you knew on the page then multiplying it by the number of pages in the dictionary. I actually conducted this experiment on myself (using three random pages of a large dictionary and taking the average). I soon realized it wasn't quite that simple. Some words I knew and knew well. Others I recognized to varying degrees of understanding, but in my heart of hearts, knew I did not sprinkle my writing or my speech with them. Nevertheless, I did find it interesting, especially at how the numbers shook out for each page. It was surprisingly consistent.

    By the way, I came upon another rather interesting article rather related to this topic that I think you'll find interesting:

    How many words do I need to know? The 95/5 rule in language learning, Part 1/2

    How many words do I need to know? The 95/5 rule in language learning, Part 2/2

    I think the operative word in all of this is the word "average." That's a mighty broad word without parameters and all things considered, 20,000 words may really not be too far off the mark.


    I been on duolingo 13 months and they have changed how they count a word a few times. I mean a 20% reduction or so in the total word count after the changes. So depending on how the article you mentioned counts them and how duolingo counts them there is no telling how close the two are to each other right now.


    Duo might get you to B1 ( heck, I'm understanding french websites with 1200 or so words ) on reading and listening, but just completing the tree and I bet most would not get out of A1 or A2 without supplementing it with real interaction with teachers or native speakers.

    A lot of CEFR is about communicating and that is more than just the passive actions, but also being able to express oneself.


    I agree, what we get on DL is more receptive than productive use of the language we are learning. I've recently started a traditional class to help me in this area as I feel I am "bursting" with knowledge of French but rarely get the chance to speak it.


    The interesting part, for me, is about how long B1 proficiency is estimated to take.

    Deutsche Welle says the following about B1 proficiency (based on the German language, obviously):

    [I can]… communicate in routine situations, describe my education, say what my profession is, what I do in my free time and describe my city, talk about my travels and what happened to me during my travels. I have had about 300 hours of German language tuition and I have a vocabulary of about 2000 words.

    (Full text: http://deutschkurse.dw-world.de/dw_static_content/langerklaerung_en.html)

    For Spanish users, estimated time for B1 proficiency is approximately 180 hours of classes - this may be measured slightly differently, because I believe the above metric is simply based on average time of study, whether through class or personal initiative, whereas the Spanish estimation is based of in-class private lessons or group classes.

    (Full text: http://www.hablayapanama.com/methodology/levels/)


    How many words does a user have to know to complete the Duolingo French tree?


    1848 words in the tree at present, though the tree can be completed without 'knowing' every last word.


    I guess depending on the base you have in a language. If you are fluent in French you understand how spanish and italian works, therefore the vocabulary which is mostly the same and the construction of sentences is more easily mastered.

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