How big is your English vocabulary?

| - Tim Lake |


One of the biggest struggles any language learner has is learning new words. This particularly true with English which has one of the biggest vocabularies of any language. But, there are probably fewer words to learn than you might think to get to decent level of comprehensive and communicative ability. The problem is, how do you know how many words you know? How big is your vocabulary?



Well, you can find out with the “Vocabulary Size Test”.


The Vocabulary Size Test is an online tool that you can use completely free. It is based on the work of Paul Nation, a renowned applied linguistics researcher, teacher and teacher trainer, who originally created the Vocabulary Size test in the 1980s, and was developed by the University of Victoria in Wellington New Zealand. You answer a number of multiple choices questions that check your understanding of different words of varying degrees of difficulty and at the end it will tell you roughly how many words you know.

語彙サイズテストは、完全に無料で使えるオンラインツールです。応用言語学者、教授、教員の指導者として有名なポール・ネーション氏の研究を基にして作られたものであり、もともとは1980年代にニュージーランドのヴィクトリア大学ウェリントンで開発された「Vocabulary Size Test」をベースにしています。難易度が異なる様々な単語の理解度をチェックするための複数の選択肢問題に答えていき、最後にあなたが知っている単語数を大まかに教えてくれるツールです。


The test works by testing what words you know against word frequency. People who study languages use corpora, which is a huge database of examples of how words are used, to see how frequently a word is used by speakers of that language. These are then divided into 1,000 word bands - the first 1,000 most frequent, the second 1,000 most frequent words and so on. The test tests how many words you know in each band to give you an idea of the size of your vocabulary. You should remember though, that this test can only test how many words you understand, not how many you can use - it tests your passive vocabulary rather than your active vocabulary. But that is the same for everyone; we all understand more words than we use in daily life.




So, how many words do I need to know?


Well, that depends.


According to research in applied linguistics you probably need to know about 7,000 word families (a word family is a group of words with the same root meaning; for example: art, artist, artistic ) to use spoken English to a high level, and about 9,000 word families if you want to be able to read most novels without too much trouble. However, recent research on the New General Service List of words from the Cambridge English Corpus by Dr. Charles Browne, Dr. Brent Culligan and Joseph Phillips, suggests that you can cover around 90% of words used in modern spoken English with knowing about 800 words, which is not many at all. The complete New General Service List contains just under 3,000 words that covers 90% of the words used in all daily English.

応用言語学の研究によると、上級レベルの英語を話すためには、約7,000ワード・ファミリー(ワード・ファミリーとは、同じ語根の意味を持つ単語の集まりのことで、例:art, artist, artisticなどがファミリーとされます)、小説を問題なく読めるようになりたければ、約9,000ワード・ファミリーを知っておく必要があると言われています

しかし、ケンブリッジコーパスの単語を使用したNew General Service Listの最近の研究では、Charles Browne博士、Brent Culligan博士、Joseph Phillips博士によって、800語程度知っていれば現代の口語英語で使われている単語の約90%をカバーできることが示唆されています。これは決して多い数ではありません。New General Service List完全版には、日常で使われている英単語の9割をカバーする3,000語弱が収録されています。


So, why not give the Vocabulary Size Test a go and let us know how you get on. Here’s the link:


My Vocabulary Size Test


We used to use this as part of the level check at triplo and found it to be a fairly accurate guide to your level especially when it comes to extensive reading and what level graded readers to work from. We stopped using the test because it made level checks too long, but we still recommend you use it. You can even use it to measure your progress by doing the test once a year.