Several studies over the years have tried to determine the average vocabulary size of adults and children. In 2013, The Economist published an article that estimated that adult native test-takers knew about 20,000 to 35,000 words and a native 8-year old will usually have an average vocabulary of 10,000. They also found that vocabulary size stops growing at mid-age.
Another study by UPI.com in 2016 estimated that actually “most U.S. adults have a vocabulary of more than 42,000 words” at age 20 and up to 48,000 by age 60.
A number of other studies have been done to determine how many words an average person knows. The difference in all of these estimates is due to several factors since there have been slight differences between the studies.
For instance, in some cases, the words and their derivatives were considered to be unique words. Therefore, “fall” and “fell” would be considered to be two different words. In other studies, however, only the head word was considered, which means “fell” would not be considered a separate word since it is derived from “fall.”
How Many Words Does the Average Person Know?
There are over a million words in the English language and how many any single person knows depends on a lot of factors.
1. Education and Vocabulary Level
In consideration of these two viewpoints, it was discovered that a highly-educated native speaker has a vocabulary of about 10,000 words when only the head words are considered.
2. Amateur Speakers vs Seasoned Speakers
A beginner who has just had a week or so of learning a language usually has a vocabulary of about 250 to 500 words. This is usually enough vocabulary to communicate as a tourist and have simple everyday conversations.
But to make it through scenarios like shopping, travel, and tell and ask people about their days, a vocabulary of about 1,000 to 3,000 words.
3. Advanced Speakers
After getting to a vocabulary of between 4,000 and 10,000, you are quite advanced in the use of that language. With a knowledge of these words, you can talk about professional fields, use more complex words in regular conversations, and even do pretty well in language tests.
4. Fluent Speakers
If you think that you are fluent in the use of a certain language, then it’s because you know 10,000 words or more. This language level is described as being “near native.” At this stage, you can also understand unfamiliar words based on other words in the sentence because you will understand most of them.
5. Native Speakers
For native speakers, the amount of words mastered ranges from 10,000 to more than 30,000 words. However, this can vary depending on the language, as some languages do not have as broad a vocabulary. For instance, the English language has a lot of words, and average native speakers might know as many as 65,000 words.
Vocabulary Size and Age
However, even among native speakers, the number of words mastered ranges considerably based on age.
The reason natives manage to learn so many words is that they learn over a much wider period of time. On average, adults learn one new word every day until they reach their middle ages.
Foreign speakers usually have a vocabulary of about 4,000 words. However, living abroad can more than double this figure as they tend to master 2.5 new words every day simply because they are living in a country that speaks the language.
For instance, the average 20-year old American has knowledge of 42,000 words. However, those on the higher end of the spectrum know over 50,000 words.
Want to Test Your Vocabulary?
If you want to try your vocabulary chops, try playing the game that The Economist study is based off of: TestYourVocab.com. See how high you can score!
How to Increase Your English Vocabulary
English is not just the language of international communication anymore. It has become the language of science, media, business, diplomacy, tourism, and a lot more.
If you’re an English learner and want to take your English speaking and writing skills to the next level, focus on improving your English vocabulary.
Vocabulary is an important skill to learn. After all, it is the foundation for the development of other skills like English listening, speaking, writing, reading, and pronunciation. Let’s have a quick look at why learning English vocabulary matters a lot.
- Improving vocabulary skills improves reading comprehension.
- It sharpens your communication and helps you choose words more precisely.
- Vocabulary opens up your mind and gives you new insights into the English language.
- It boosts your ability to think more logically.
Now that you know the benefits of improving your English vocabulary let’s find out how to enhance it.
1. Add New Vocabulary to Your Dictionary
A lot of English learners don’t realize, but writing down new words that you learn is one of the best ways to remember new vocabulary. As soon as you learn a new word in your English learning class or while roaming around your city (maybe from advertising hoardings), add it to your dictionary. As per your convenience, you can keep a small notebook or create a memo on your phone to update a list of all new English vocabulary you learn.
2. Use New Words
Adding new words to your dictionary is not enough. You must strive to slip these new words into your daily conversations with friends, family, and colleagues.
3. Make Reading a Regular Habit
Reading books is one of the best ways to improve your English. Even if you’re out of school or college, you shouldn’t give up reading. Remember, reading books introduces us to new words and ideas. Moreover, you learn how to use those words in specific contexts.
According to your taste, you can choose to read books, articles, blogs, or magazines. However, it is advisable to read some technical and nonfiction books. Usually, such books are full of vocabulary that can teach you new ways to think and speak.
4. Link a Story to Each New Word You Learn
According to research, our brain understands new words or concepts quickly when they’re linked to a story. For instance, if you want to learn the word “gluttony,” which means overindulgence in food or drink, you can try to think of any of your friends who you feel consumes an immoderate amount of food or drink. It will help you recall the meaning of that word at any given time.
5. Use a Thesaurus
When you read or write something, use a synonym dictionary to find out the precise meanings of the words you use. For those who don’t know, a thesaurus is a reference work for finding synonyms. You can also use it to clarify the meaning of unfamiliar words. It can surely increase your vocabulary to some extent.
6. Try to Look up Unfamiliar Words
While learning English, you will come across words that are strange to you. Take the time to find out the meaning of those words and how to use them in a conversation. Add all new words to your personal dictionary and look them up whenever you have time.
7. Do Word Puzzles
You are wrong if you think word puzzles or crosswords in magazines and newspapers are for fun only. They are excellent for boosting vocabulary as well. Indeed, puzzles are a challenge that enables your brain to work hard to search for words.
Doing puzzles will change the way you look at words. You will learn different meanings for the same word, and ultimately you will be able to use them in your writing or while having a conversation with someone.
8. Practice What You Learn
To memorize the new words you learn, you must practice them proactively. If you don’t use the new vocabulary in a real-life setting on a regular basis, you will quickly forget it. Engage in conversation with your friends and family and try to include new vocabulary wherever is appropriate.
9. Fill Empty Words in Your Conversation
Have you ever noticed those empty words in your speech such as “um,” “yeah,” “ah,” or “uh”? If you find so many fillers in your speech or writing that don’t offer any essence, replace them with something more relevant from your personal dictionary. Try this out as it will surely improve your vocabulary to a large extent.
10. Set Goals and Stay Motivated
It is the backbone of learning anything new. Until you are motivated to learn vocabulary, no tip can help you out. So first of all, try to stay motivated. Do things that motivate you to learn new words every day.
Below, check out some easy ways to stay motivated to increase your English vocabulary.
- A lot of English learners have a negative view of their English skills. They keep thinking things like
“I have been practicing English for a long time, but it is still bad.”
“I make a lot of mistakes when writing and speaking.”
Never let such negative views come to your mind.
- Whether you’re learning English to work in a multinational company or to settle down in an English-speaking country, you must have a clear goal right from the beginning. Visualize your end goal. It will give you the motivation to work hard on improving your English vocabulary.
- Keep reminding yourself that it is important.
- Keep a record of your progress. It will motivate you to reach your goal.
- Develop the habit of learning new words from different sources.