Monday, July 25, 2011

Know thy words!

There is cute test floating around which aims at telling you how many words you do know in English.  Through an extrapolation of easy to more difficult words.  My result is:

Which is quite good for a foreigner, someone who truly learned English in his very late teens and who left for the states for a few years in his mid twenties.  Needless to say that I am off the scale for non native speakers and that I would be in the top 5% if I were accounted as a native speaker.  Now, before you think that I am bragging, having been in academia for a decade and a half in the US, and having my reading 80% in English for the last 25 years give me an advantage.....  but of course, I prefer to stress the "non native" for my daily ego boost.  Now, at a grammar test I might not do so well, as readers often point out obligingly  :)


  1. Ishkatar4:01 PM

    Well done! I just got 30,500. Also a non-native English speaker... with a lot of English reading...

  2. Not to burst your bubble, but most "fancy" words in English come from Latin. Therefore we latino non-native speakers always test well in vocabulary.

  3. You do have a very good vocabulary in English.As for grammar- true it could improve a bit, but I understand most of what you say and am not one to get nit picky anyway....

    On the other hand, my vocabulary in Spanish is mostly from street learning and from my simple Oriental family, not from more educated Spanish sources.I mean I never studied Spanish.But I can walk into a small town arepera and say: dame una arepa de higado y me la saca la masa, y me la pone mantequilla :)

  4. "me la saca la masa, y me la pone mantequilla"?

  5. Glenn5:59 PM

    Native English degreed engineer just scored 31,900, about 1000 behind the average for my age.

    Daniel I think you did well because I noticed a lot of "French" words on this test (English is so corrupted!)

  6. RabbiBulla6:21 PM

    You scored very, very well Daniel.
    Esp. considering your starting with English late, I feel the years around the University-worked miracles for both of us.
    A part of me wanted to spend my whole life at the University(-and I spent almost 8 years..and usually did not take breaks for summer)I miss it-"real world"-mostly boring...thank God for blogs like this one!
    I scored 40,000-and passed it on to others.I took several vocabulary development and linguistics courses...anyway-can't recall so much..

  7. Well, Glenn, hadn't Vikings speaking a particular form of Old French invaded Britain, you would be speaking like this:

  8. Anonymous7:05 PM

    Your english is excellent. You only need about one thousand five hundred words in any language to have a minimal conversation. Your posts are ALWAYS without reproach in terms of vocabulary. (sometimes you use words that even I as a native english speaker have difficulty placing as to meaning - but that is my problem).

  9. Kepler,

    You have to be criollo to understand it :)

  10. zumbao

    i am not so sure. if many were with latin origins others were anglo enough to be unscrutable unless you are well read.

    and your score was?

  11. Firepigette,

    I perfectly understand it. Think again.

    But we still do have an advantage when it comes to words of Latin origin, which make up >50% of all words outside the basic vocabulary.

    Compare Russian speakers learning English: all things considered, they need to learn more words from scratch, we just parse them or do a simple mapping.

    It is not always easier but we have an easier time than Slavic people - ceteris paribus.

  12. Anonymous5:08 AM

    My dear learned friend Daniel,

    Our colleague Shakespeare is known to have used around 31,500 words in his writings, and is thought to have known another 35,000 words that he didn't commit to paper.

    The Oxford English Dictionary contains full entries for 171,476 words in current use, and 47,156 obsolete words.

    According to one estimate, the average speaker of English knows between 10,000 and 20,000 words. However, when I studied in the US our English teacher used to tell us that the average American redneck needed to know only around 250 words to get by (something I always found very encouraging).

    All this considered, you are obviously doing very well. Congratulations. And don't worry about grammar: it is all subjective and irrelevant in a cosmic context.

    By the way, how many different words have you used in your blog so far? There is software around for counting words, but you probably have to pay a lot for it :(


  13. Very Good, Daniel! I scored lower than you, and I have spent maybe 1/3 of my life in the US and finished High School and college there. On the other hand, there was the teabag imbroglio...........

    Firepig: When my American mother had just moved to Venezuela (early, early 60's) she had zero Spanish. One day she went to a fuente de soda and asked for a "Siete arriba".

    The guy at the counter was puzzled, "Como, señora?" "Que es eso?"

    "Por favor, señor, dame un siete arriba!"

    After a couple of minutes, she points to a soda bottle.

    "Ahhhh, Usted lo que quiere es una Seven Up!"

    Some other day I'll relate how my Father was "embarazado" over running a red light............

  14. Anonymous5:31 AM

    I took the test and got only 25,700 words. I'm jealous. I don't know French and that seems to be a fatal handicap. A lot of those words in the test sounded fiercely French. I still beat the rednecks though.


  15. You nearly doubled my 22,000 Daniel, impressive! I don't feel too bad though, considering that I never took an English course in my life, and learned the language as an adult.

  16. Robert N,

    haha!I have the 2 languages mixed up in my brain( would make for a lousy simultaneous translator and you should have seen the mess I made in Trinidad with my Ven. family:)....

    I am known to respond to the question" what are you doing?" with answers like:

    2. ironando

  17. antonio

    of course the test is somewhat flawed and i am sure that i would have a hard time writing 2000 different words in a row.

    one thing is the number of words you can actually read and another is the number of words you can actually use. as such the test favors those who have read a lot of books, and of the complicated ones type.

    for example, i certainly know the word "legerdemain" but i probably will never use it because it will never come to mind when needed, preferring much simpler words like "deceit" or "manipulation". as such my 39,000 words are mostly hollow knowledge, a skill accidentally acquired because of my life circumstances.

    my native tongues are french and spanish and as such since childhood i am "trained" to manage large amounts of vocabulary to be able to read. sponging words in english was not too difficult since i was already an avid reader and thus i was trained to memorize words fast because i was too lazy to use dictionaries.

  18. Ahh Daniel, after 13 years of Chavez and you couldn't find ONE instance to use legerdemain?

    It's a daily occurrence in this rotten regime! :-)

    FP: Planching....classic!

  19. roberto

    you got me :)

  20. Firepigette,

    It is "Me le" (indirect object for mode, real indirect object, as it refers to poner a la arepa X)

    What you wrote is a laísmo that is not used in Venezuela, not even by deputy Soto when drunk, not by an empanada vendor, not by an Úslar Pietri.

    You can hear that laísmo in Castilla, though.

  21. Daniel, I'm embarrassed to say, as an educated native English speaker, that you beat me (35.7K). I must say, that final column on the second page is a nasty bunch. There is a big difference between recognizing a word and providing a definition. I guess I can take some solace in the fact that I can at least spell most of them. :)

  22. aio

    do not feel bad, i might have satisfied myself with "recognition" a couple of times which, well, would drop me as low as your level

    (ducking fir cover! after chivying you up)

  23. Kepler, It was a joke: lighten up :)

    This me la saca la mas phrase was the first thing I learned upon arrival en San Juan de los Morros, and I didn't even know what it meant at the time.

    Another example of my first words:

    I went to a convention en Valencia with my husband whose boss sat at our table.I was in the middle of trying to figure out what I was hearing and many words were messed up in my head.The boss's wife opened her purse and took out a broken cigarette.I thought it an opportunity to practice a few words I had learned so I exclaimed to her in great confidence:

    Ay no, tu cigarro esta pelando bola!

  24. Daniel,

    Very impressive. I am an engineer and am considered to be "well read" and I got 34,900, which is at the upper end of native speakers. I will say that I was scrupulous about not checking words that I did not know the definitions for a certainty, even if I recognized that I had seen them. There were many that, if I read them in context, I would have known the meaning. But since I could not, with certainty, define them without that context, I did not check them as known.

    Robert N.,

    I had to chuckle about your story of your father saying he was "embarazado". I made the same error in the early stages of learning Spanish. The extremely odd looks I got from my audience were priceless. Assuming that there is a Spanish cognate to an English word has gotten me into trouble on more than just one occasion.

    As for some of the really obscure words in that test... well, I am reminded of a Mark Twain quote: “Don't use a five-dollar word when a fifty-cent word will do.”

  25. speaking of "embarazado"

    In my first weeks in the Us of A I used the expression "terrible" out of context. That is, I used it the way it was used in France to mean "great" "fantastic". Needless to say that it took me a while to understand why my US friends were giving me such blank looks on occasion after I tasted some of their food or commented on some of their possessions or actions....

  26. Roy

    As I wrote to AIO, maybe I am closer to 35 than to 40 :)

  27. Anonymous2:44 PM

    The first time a friend of mine came to Vzla he said a few things that made us all laugh.
    At a restaurant trying to compliment my mom's arepas he said: las toallas som mujeres (las tuyas son mejores). My sister got gas forn the car and he said the quiero pegar por la gasoline (pagar). Because verbs end in ir ar er he thought [lokingly] that polar was a verb. He had a nose operation y "ahora me siento mujer" (mejor)


  28. Got plenty of excuses for my mediocre score, which shall remain undisclosed..

    1. Ultimate Honesty
    2. Splendid Laziness
    3. Bad memory (I've known all of those words at one point or another, they "ring a bell", Deja Vu")
    4. No space left in the brain, when you add native Spanish, French, and approximately 80,000 words of street slang in most languages.
    5. That little test is obviously flawed, they picked precisely the words I forgot.
    6. Multitasking combined with global warming.
    7. huh..???

  29. More misunderstandings:

    When I arrived in Venezuela for the first time by myself, I managed to get myself to the domestic terminal and book a flight to Margarita all by myself. However, when the desk agent asked me how I was going to pay for the ticket, she asked me "Como quiere cancelar la boleta?" This confused me because I didn't want to "cancel" my ticket. I wanted my ticket. Seeing that I was not understanding her, she decided to change the word, but she changed the wrong one and asked me "Como quiere cancelar la vuela?" Well, now I was really confused! "No. No quiero cancelar la vuela! Si, quiero comprar la boleta!" At this point, she went and found another agent that spoke English who explained that "cancelar" meant "pagar" in this context. "Oh! Con efectivo, por favor."

    I got my ticket along with a dose of humility.

  30. daniel4:13 PM


    paroles, paroles, paroles....

  31. That was fun; I'll pass it along.

    I took the test twice, first time quickly and scored 38,200, second time slowly and got 40,400. My criteria was if I could explain what the word meant and/or give one or more synonyms.

    BTW, the second time through the test there were 12 words on part 2 that I didn't know. Now I can look them up and learn them, take the test again, and see what the numbers are for a perfect score.

  32. Daniel, I will have to settle for lording my superior spelling over you. Of course, I probably should have assumed you cheated, knowing you. ;)

    The topic many have alluded to here, false cognates, also comes to mind, both as a reason why a Spanish-speaker's score might be inflated, but also for the anecdotes (good ones, all, in these comments). My favorite personal one was telling some Mexicans I was "confusado" about something, which made them look quite...confused. One of them figured it out and said, "Confundido?", to which I replied, "Eso tambien!" The real humor is that I was exactly right, but only figured it out a few seconds after blurting out my reply.

    Then there is my daughter, a native English speaker, who sometimes says to me, "Como se dice en Ingles...?"

  33. It's even funnier in the US when you hear other native Spanish speakers use words you think mean one thing but they use for another.

    I'll never forget the Dominicano that insisted he needed to change the "carpeta" because the old one was past its prime (he meant rug), or the time he told me he would be on the "rufo" (roof).

    Roy: Glad you made the flight!!

  34. Roberto N,

    Or when my ex husband tried to deposit money in the Blood Bank in Pittsburgh!

  35. Oh, no...Spanglish is just a sad thing. I used to think it was funny, a new creation, etc, but after all it shows you are neither here nor there and definitely not in both places. You don't have a broader vocabulary, you just try to hang around to whatever you can. One should at least have a good command of one's mother tongue. It is normal if you forget this or that word, but when you are just making out everything it only shows intellectual laziness.

    On the false friends:
    A young Scottish woman in Venezuela told me once she was "muy excitada" porque sus padres estaban con ella (they were visiting her), it was a bit difficult to explain it because she was very excited and there were Venezuelans listening.

    On another occasion, an Asturian bloke told us in Glasgow in front of other people he was constipated so it was hard to work. I had fun with that one particularly because he was usually very rude to everybody.

    But this kind of things happen within a language as well. Also in Scotland I heard a US American teacher saying at a school she didn't have any pants (because she had just moved and she was waiting for some boxes). I reckon that's a classic but it is still funny.

  36. Kepler,

    Everyone is lazy in some way or another.Better to use one's intellectual prowess in ways that actually matter:)

    Lighten up or somebody might find a a bit of Spinach between your teeth:)

    It is not how many words you know in a language, and I won't stoop to bragging here but it is just a huge possibility that I know more words in Spanish than your typical Venezuelan).


    It is HOW we use our words that matter, and to determine this one must ask oneself what is the objective.I am sure I can communicate better in my native language for my own objectives than I can in Spanish,as I am sure even the most ignorant Spanish speaker can meet his objectives in Spanish better than your trulyCAN :)

  37. Anonymous5:25 PM

    Thanks Daniel. It is really a test for polyglots. No chance of making it if you didn't take Latin or if you don't speak French, Catalan or Spanish. I spent 20 years translating complex texts and there were quite a few words I had never seen. Treacherous little test.

    FP, you made me laugh con lo de la arepa.

    Gold. (40.000)

  38. Firepigette,

    I think you are the one requiring lightening up plus some enlightment when it comes to anything outside your pop psychology or North Carolina's flowers.

    I don't think those speaking Spanglish are using their "intelectual powers" in a better way than others, but they do have extra impediments outside thei subset of Latino-migrant community.

    People in the Latino community that move things in the States o elsewhere tend to avoid Spanglish as much as they can, trying to stick to English or Spanish as much as they can, even if sometimes they can't help, which is natural. They don't brag about mixing everything up. They are aware it is an issue.

    An illiterate farmer in El Tocuyo or Oaxaca has a better command of the language than an average Spanglish speaker and he will in fact be understood more easily in Galicia or Toluca, Valencia or Lima, than that the Spanglish speaker.

    And the Spanglish speaker will always have more problems -all things considered- than someone earnestly trying to stick to one language at a time.

    The total vocabulary is definitely just a parameter and yet you do brag with that statement about the number of words you know in Spanish.

    By the way: my command of English is weak and I have always admited that.
    Now, the very sentence you use in Spanish to show off how well you speak the local idiolect - later pretending it was "just kidding" - was wrong by all means: it is wrong in standard Spanish but, more importantly, no one would use that word choice with that laísmo case in Venezuela - not even Soto.

    I'd rather focus on my own language or talk about the obvious problems facing someone who uses something similar to a Pidgin.

    You pretend to give lessons to people in the Spanish and English community alike.

    And you think that is a sign of your superior intelligence.
    Be it.

  39. Kepler Querido,

    Como puedes decir eso when tu escribes el mas funny Spanglish on these blogs?

    If you want to concentrate on your own native language may I recommend you write only on the Spanish blogs. Lol!

  40. This comment has been removed by the author.

  41. Firepigette,

    My poor level of English is something different from "Spanglish".
    Perhaps you should check out what Spanglish means.

    Spanglish makes understanding more difficult and annoying for anyone outside that very specific idiolect, more than just faulty English or faulty Spanish with the usual interferences and syntax errors.

    You have no idea about linguistics but keep on talking and talking about it and criticizing others in blogs about Venezuela and telling them they don't understand you. On top of that you have the chuzpah of bragging about your Spanish!

    You lived for decades in Venezuela and you have Venezuelan daughters, I just lived for a few months in Britain. Your Spanish is definitely not better than my very poor English and that's fine, but you show off with it, which is ridiculous and quite different from using it to communicate things.

    I would suggest you mind you own business. End of conversation from me.

  42. Kep,

    Here is a story I would like you to ponder:

    If you look at some of the classical Nasruddin stories in as detached a way as possible, you soon find that the wholly scholastic left brain hemisphere approach is the last one that we should stick to at times:

    Nasruddin, ferrying a pedant across a piece of rough water, said something ungrammatical to him. ‘Have you never studied grammar?‘ asked the scholar.
    ‘Then half of your life has been wasted.‘
    A few minutes later Nasruddin turned to the passenger.
    ‘Have you ever learned how to swim?‘
    ‘No. Why?‘
    ‘Then ALL your life has been wasted — we are sinking!

  43. Javier12:47 AM

    Hi there: Good finding Daniel. I thought I'd be better than 23,300 but guess living in Miami does not help much


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