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How many words does it take to be fluent in (the Polish) language?

Forest625 2 | 5
13 Feb 2015 #1
I've been learning Polish for over a month now and I am making great progress. Recently I've been wondering how many words does it take to be fluent in a language. I searched online and found what I think is a great article that gave me my answer and everything else you may want to know about languages and language learning. (I've posted the links below) Using English as an example, the author says that if you know the 3,000 most commonly used words, you'll be able to understand 95% of common texts and be able to effectively guess the other 5% based on the context. Essentially if a person "memorizes" these 3,000 words they will be able to be conversational in English. Granted that doesn't consider grammar, idioms, etc.

The last part that I found eye opening was that for a person to be fluent in English (knows 3,000 most common words) they only need to know 1.75% of all English words (170,000 total) listed in the Oxford-English dictionary. While the average native speaker has about 40,000 active words in his vocabulary.

The author shows that rigid learning (learning by looking up definitions in a dictionary) is a poor way of learning a language. Instead learn the most commonly used words and then learn by guessing/assimilation. Whether it's by talking, speaking and/or listening you start to pick up the nuances of a language by simply learning from the context.

Part 1:
Part 2:
14 Feb 2015 #2
I admire people who start learning Polish and don't give up after a month. I think (if you are a Polish language learner, not a marketer ;) you'll give it up by the end of winter. Unless you live in Poland, you won't be able to learn 20% of Polish to converse with people. You'll get stuck with grammar and lack of logic as well. I guess it's easier to learn 3,000 words in English than 1,000 words in Polish - I mean just vocabulary. When pronunciation and spelling is concerned, the ratio is 5 to 1 :).
OP Forest625 2 | 5
14 Feb 2015 #3
I understand what you're trying to say, but I don't agree with the fact that because I don't live in Poland I can't learn the language. I know at a certain point I will hit a brick wall, but I am hoping to be able to break through. Whether that means finding someone who's a native speaker to converse with or take advanced classes.

I think all languages have their individual challenges. The biggest advantage I have is previously learning Spanish all the way up through high school, so I have prior experience with conjugating verbs and don't get caught up with it as easily as someone who is learning a language for the first time.

I also don't give up that easy ;)
Veles - | 200
14 Feb 2015 #4

It would be easier if you would already knew another Slavic language. Slavic languages usually share the same grammar, so for example - if you speak Russian it would be easier for you to learn Polish. Spanish language, on the other hand is of different linguistic family and is quite easy, as far as I know. However, it doesn't mean that you will never understand Polish, it is bs. Every language is able to be spoken.

So, good luck :)
OP Forest625 2 | 5
14 Feb 2015 #5
Thanks! I understand Spanish being a romance language and Polish a Slavic language they can be quite different and I have noticed many differences between them. If learning Spanish has taught me anything is that is tough, but it can be done.
Veles - | 200
14 Feb 2015 #6
that is tough, but it can be done

This is a good attitude :)

By the way, if I want to improve my vocabulary in case of some languages, I've noticed that listening to music with the lyrics in particular language is helpful. Especially, when you also have a translation.
OP Forest625 2 | 5
14 Feb 2015 #7
I've done this a little bit already and it not only works with vocabulary, but pronunciation. The software I use can be pretty robotic at times and it's good to hear the words pronounced naturally.
10 Jun 2017 #8
I'm an American English speaker who grew up with bilingual Polish parents who wouldn't speak Polish with us kids. I heard the language for years.

When I took French in High School, I found I could pronounce it without difficulty. After college I spent 4 years in French speaking Africa where I received many compliments from native French speakers on my lack of American accent.

Later when I lived in Arizona, I learned to speak Spanish while teaching ESL to Mexican kids (survival!). I found that most Spanish speakers I conversed with did not immediately know I was a Gringo.

Eventually I made a trip to Poland and began to learn Polish, taking lessons via Skype. It's hard as hell! After finding French and Spanish easy to become fluent in, I was surprised at the difficulty I have with Polish. My Polish teacher does say that I have hardly any American accent.

I think I owe a lot to my Polish speaking family who trained my brain if not my mouth! Dzieki Bogu!
Polonius3 986 | 12,343
11 Jun 2017 #9

Lke Spanish and Italian, Polish is a highly phonetic language, ie you pronounce it the way it is written with a few exceptions. English is about the worst in that respect because it has retained an old spelling that no longer reflects the current pronunciation. Russian and the Scadinavian tongues are similar but not as bad as English.
mafketis 37 | 10,908
11 Jun 2017 #10
the Scadinavian tongues are similar but not as bad as English.

Danish is bad but nearly as bad as English, around French levels I'd say
Swedish is more 'phonetic'
Norwegian (bokmaal) is the most phonetic

Irish is very non-phonetic

Maybe the least phonetic though isn't English but Tibetan (insane0.
gumishu 15 | 6,287
11 Jun 2017 #11
about 4 to 5 times more than English ;)
Polonius3 986 | 12,343
11 Jun 2017 #12

Haven't they got a separate alphabet? Unless one is familiar with it and able to read it, how would one know how phonetic it is?
mafketis 37 | 10,908
11 Jun 2017 #13
one is familiar with it and able to read it, how would one know how phonetic it is?

I once was looking at a tibetan grammar that had a transliteration of the script and the modern standard pronunciation... they were not close for a number of reasons* one quick example, "Good morning" is pronounced roughly [ta shi de le] but spelled: bkhra shis bde legs

*a bunch of extra consonants have been added for various reasons over the years (at the same time that pronunciation of that is actually pronounced has changed).
Polonius3 986 | 12,343
11 Jun 2017 #14
is actually pronounced has changed

Wouldn't that be somwhat comparable to Enlgish? The word "night" at one time was pronoucned like German "nicht". The old spelling has remained but the pronunciation has changed. You've probaby listened to the Canterbury Tales pronoucned as they were in Chaucer's time -- it sounds much more Germanic and guttural.
DominicB - | 2,707
11 Jun 2017 #15
Wouldn't that be somwhat comparable to Enlgish?

It's a lot more extreme than English. It's as if the word now pronounced "night" was spelled and pronounced as if were once pronounced "medclosub". English has at least a vaguely recognizable orthography. Tibetan is pronounced extremely different from how it is written, and there are few clues in the written language which could guide you as far as pronunciation is concerned.
Polonius3 986 | 12,343
11 Jun 2017 #16
few clues in the written language

So do the natives simply have to memorise which polygraphs (consonsant clusters) and diphthongds mean what?
DominicB - | 2,707
11 Jun 2017 #17

Yes, it depends mostly on memorization. It would be like reading a Latin text while simultaneously translating it into English on the fly.
Lyzko 42 | 9,501
11 Jun 2017 #18
I would say that "fluency" should certainly be distinguished from "accuracy"! To express oneself on a level of practical daily fluency, I'd think maybe between five-hundred to one-thousand words is sufficent, particularly as a foreigner:-) For expression on a university level, say, of a professor, lawyer or doctor, several thousand might just be enough!
10 Jul 2019 #19
One of the reasons I've been reluctant to go to Poland is I'm not good at learning languages. Bulgarian also lost all it's cases so to me they don't come natural. But the largest difference is in lexic - Bulgarian shares much more words with Russian and even Slovak than with Polish. For example we use the same word (treska) as in Slovak and Czech. The same fish in Polish is called dorsz. Sure in EN it's cod, but I learned English in my childhood and teens so my brain was more flexible. So probably even learning German would be easier than Polish (as it shares lots of words with English). Too bad as I think Poland is a great place to live.
kaprys 3 | 2,181
10 Jul 2019 #20
Bulgarian and Polish are both Slavic languages. I understood quite a lot in Bulgaria. Some words are very different but they're still similar.
Lyzko 42 | 9,501
10 Jul 2019 #21

Although, Zlatko, be careful of many words in related languages which might appear to look the same way written (even pronounced), yet have embarrassingly different meanings, cf. for example Polish "pukac" (to knock) vs. Russian "pukat' " (to fart), Polish "szukac" (to search, look for) vs. Czech "sukac" (to fornicate) etc.


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