People often ask this question when they start to learn English: how many English words do I need to study?
We think the right answer to this question depends on the English proficiency level at which you would ultimately like to speak. This means the scope of English vocabulary you need to have varies. Of course, the more the better.
Lower grade-level elementary school students in US have around 5,000 words in their vocabulary. This number expands to 10,000 ~ 15,000 when they graduate from high school. Therefore, it is widely accepted that average adults with high school diploma in the US have 50,000 words in their vocabulary. People with bachelors’ degree usually have around 50,000 ~ 100,000.
If your goal to learn English is to be on par with native speakers, your vocabulary count must be similar to a native speaker’s vocabulary. If your dream is just to communicate in English for your business or travel, however, the requirements may be different.
We are going to see just how much vocabulary you need for varying situations in our next post.
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When you would like to say that you have a lot of experience, perhaps even too much experience, with something or someone, you can say that you have “been around the block.” Literally this refers to having walked or driven around a block, such as a city block, enough times that you know what every building, tree, road sign, etc. look like around that block.
Often, the “been around the block” expression has a bit of negative attitude, meaning that one has experience someone or something so much that it has become a boring experience. For example, if someone asks your divorced friend if he is planning to get married again, then he may reply to them, “Well, I’ve been around the block, so I think I will just be a bachelor for a while.” Or, if you are asked if you are planning to lend her some money again, you may reply: “I’ve been around the block on that one. Last time she did not pay me back.”
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In our previous post, we recommended for you to practice reading English as much as possible in order to improve your English speaking and reading abilities (See our post about Why Reading is so important in improving your English speaking). In fact, reading English aloud is one of the best ways to rapidly advance your ability to understand English.
In this perspective, do you also wonder how fast your progress is in understanding English? The best way to do this is to see how much you can understand while English native speakers read something at different speeds. This is not always practical though.
Many English experts recommend to measure the speed of understanding by gauging your reading speed. If your reading speed is getting fast enough, then your understanding process, which works in the same way as with reading, is naturally improving. In other words, the speed of understanding English by listening is proportional to understanding English by reading fast.
Let’s try to measure your reading speed. Read one or two pages of one of your English books and measure the time it takes you to finish one or two pages. Count every word including articles (like “a” and “the”), numbers and people’s names. If you read 500 words in 10 minutes, then your reading speed is 50 words per minute or wpm. wpm is a standard term which is widely accepted as a reading speed index.
If someone reads without understanding, it can be meaningless. So people sometimes use another measurement tool, ‘ewpm’, or efficient words per minute. To measure this, a person needs to answer several questions about what he read. In the above case, if he answered 80% correctly to the questions, then his ewpm is 50wpm * 80% = 40 ewpm.
How fast do you need to understand English? You need 150 wpm to understand English news and documentaries and 200 wpm for English movies, though there are some exceptions to those rules depending on specific situations. The average speed of American people is usually around 200 wpm. Some people having high educational background can read at 400 wpm while very few people, less than 1% of the US population can read at 1,000 wpm.
Our 4th suggestion about how to improve English listening skills is to speed up your English understanding.(See our posts about this topic here) Whenever you try to listen to CNN News or English documentaries, you may feel the speed at which native English speakers speak is very fast and it is difficult to comprehend everything they are saying. You might not recognize this when you watch English movies or dramas because the people in them usually use shorter sentences.
The problem of the rapid-speaking situation is caused by the fact that your brain experiences trouble taking in all the words that your ears hear. Just like for the case of computers, when a computer downloads a large document from the internet, buffering is required in order to gradually absorb and analyze the information.
The speed of spoken English, even for yourself when you practice, is dependent on the person speaking as well as the situation. If you try to practice an English article from CNN again and again, and you know the article completely, you can understand it a lot better because you already know what is coming next while the article is progressing. This situation will become common in your English understanding as you are getting familiar with English expressions and sentences. Practice is the way to advance your English listening ability rapidly.