How Many Words Do You Need to Know to be Fluent in Japanese?

Photo by e.g.gatsby on Flickr

Photo by e.g.gatsby on Flickr

Granted, there is a debate on what exactly being fluent in Japanese means. Personally my aim is to be conversationally comfortable rather than try and pack in 30,000 words. Truth be told, even if I know 30,000 English words, how many of those will I actually use every day or even in a year? So here’s what I think it means to be fluent in Japanese and how many words that’s going take.

My 2,000 Word Goal

I’ve decided to set a personal goal in learning 2,000 words as well as kanji to see how far that will get me in becoming conversationally fluent. I figure this will provide me with a fairly good grasp on the language and allow me to construct most of the sentences that I’m going to need. It won’t allow for a massive amount of variety in my sentence construction, but it will hopefully help me to carry on a regular conversation in everyday situations.

I figure 2000 kanji will allow me to read most Japanese websites or newspapers, or at least I will be able to figure out the gist of what’s going on.

Here’s a interesting video from a Japanese learner. Through his research he comes up with a similar figure of about 2,500 words for a basic fluency.

Granted I’m taking the really, really slow method of learning the language by doing small, short study sessions everyday. But I’m OK with my progress and I have to keep reminding myself that it’s a marathon and not a sprint. Currently I’m sitting at about 750 words and 860 kanji and I hope I’ll be at 1000 words and 2000 kanji by the time I go to Japan next (whenever that will be?). I’ll be sure to let you know how it works out and what stage of “fluency” I think I’m at when I try in out in the real world :)

So what do you think? How many Japanese words do you think you should know before you would consider yourself fluent?

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