Size Matters: Vocabulary

How many words do you know?

Something that in reality, I consider to be, err, a stupid question. I don’t really care how many words I know, and it doesn’t really matter how many words I know. What matters is that I know the words that I need.

Anyway, watching your vocabulary grow is a motivational tool, so perhaps the question isn’t that stupid.

The following is a way of kind of approximating your vocabulary size. I read it maybe 2-3 years ago, and unfortunately, I don’t remember where. Actually, in contrast to the introductory ramble, this is something that I do about once every 6 months or so… just for fun.

What you need: 1x paper dictionary, 1x pen and paper, 1x calculator (optional).

Original version that I read was something like this:

  • Pick say 20 pages in the dictionary and see how many words you know per page.
  • Find the average number of words you know per page.
  • Multiply this average by the number of pages in the dictionary.
  • Voila… rough approximation of either active or passive vocabulary)

** If you’re not sure, Active Vocab is L1 > L2 and Passive Vocab is L2 > L1 **

Modified version that I’ve used with Korean (but it will work with any language):

  • Pick two pages in the dictionary for each letter of the alphabet and find the number of words you know.
  • Find the average.
  • Multiply average by number of pages in the dictionary.

Obviously, the more pages you randomly select, the more accurate it can be. But also, the more pages you select, the more tedious it becomes. Remember, it’s just for fun and not a means of truly assessing your vocabulary. It does however, actually show an increase in figures as time goes by, and seeing these numbers climb gives you the sense that your study is actually paying off, even if you haven’t been able to practice conversation (or similar) regularly.


Author: Andrew

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1 Comment

  1. That sounds like a fun and interesting activity to do! I just wished I had a paper dictionary. All my dictionaries are electronic, because it is very convenient. But I realize that having a paper dictionary also has some advantages…

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