You certainly wonder how many words you need to know to speak French fluently. While it’s extremely hard to give a perfectly accurate answer, it’s possible to estimate the number of words you need to know in order to understand 80% of conversations and texts.
How many words are there in French?
That’s a tricky question! To start with, what do you consider a word? Some words have several meanings. Take the French word “plus” for example. It can mean ”more”, or the opposite “no more”. Should you count each definition as a different word?
To give you an idea, Le Grand Robert de la langue française, one of the biggest French dictionary contains 100 000 words and 350 000 definitions. Quite a lot, isn’t it?
But do you really need to know all these words to speak French fluently? Absolutely not. In fact, if I open a random page of the dictionary, I am sure to stumble upon unknown words. Yet I do speak French fluently.
How many words do you need to know to speak French fluently?
According to l’encyclopédie Incomplète, the same 600 French words represent 90% of words used in common French texts. However, you would need thousands of words to understand 95% of texts.
What this means is that you actually don’t need to be a human dictionary to understand most French texts and conversations. In fact, language teachers generally consider that the 300 most commonly used French words are enough for everyday life. That’s very few of course and you can’t expect to understand everything with such a limited vocabulary. However, it should be enough to understand the essence of what people talk and write about in everyday situations.
You may argue that knowing a list of words isn’t enough to speak a language fluently. And you are right, it’s not! However it’s a necessary step towards fluency. In fact, in most cases, I don’t advise you to learn lists of vocabulary but rather to learn words you repetitively stumble upon. That way you focus on learning the most useful vocabulary. However, learning the most frequently used French words (see ebook below) will allow you to skip the hardest part of language learning, that is the first days when you don’t understand anything at all.
Have you met Wilfredo Pareto?
WilFredo Pareto was an Italian economist famous for the principle he formulated,, also known as the 80-20 rule. Applied to learning vocabulary, this principle means that 20% of words are used in 80% of conversations. See how it could be useful?
These numbers are not perfectly accurate, however they highlight something very important, you should make it a priority to learn the most commonly used words, because these are the words you will find in 80% of conversations. In the case of French language, these are the 600 most used French words that account for 90% of words used in most French texts.
Where can you find the most frequently used French words?
That’s why I created an ebook containing the 100 most Frequently used French words. Each word comes with example sentences and an explanation so that you directly know how to use it.
In case you wonder, I plan to release an updated version of the ebook with even more words. If you are already a member of My French Together, you will receive that updated version for free as soon as it’s released.