Monday, October 22, 2007

How many words?

How many words do you know in your native language? Not really sure, are you? A coworker of mine had a dictionary of the 20,000 most common words in English. I thought this sounded like way too many words and I thought that surely there would be some obscure words in there. Being at work, I couldn't take much time to look, but I did a quick flip-through figuring I could quickly spot some words that he wouldn't need to learn. However, all the words I laid my eyes on were really common. I did not find any strange words so easily.

There is a test to determine how many words you know in Japanese. It is intended for native speakers, so you will not find any English on the page. I took the test sometime last year. It said I knew 8,000 words. There are actually 3 tests, but I only did the first one. The interesting thing is on the results page, it says how many words a Japanese student knows, and it is divided by schools. It looks like this:

Elementary School (grades 1~6): 5,000 to 20,000 words
Middle School (grades 7~9): 20,000 to 40,000 words
High School (grades 10~12): 40,000 to 45,000 words
University/College level: 45,000 to 50,000 words

Now compare this to how many words you need to know for the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT).
Level 4: 800 words
Level 3: 1,500 words
Level 2: 6,000 words
Level 1: 10,000 words

In Steve's Oct. 9th post, he mentions that kids learn 1,000 words per year. I can't imagine learning a thousand words a year. That is about 90 a month. If this is true, I think it must be that kids are exposed to 1,000 new words a year, and they learn some right away but others take more exposure to really learn them. I'll tell you, there are a lot of words in English that I'm familiar with and have seen many times but I still don't really know what they mean. I know the kind of situation they are used in, but not knowing the precise meaning does not hinder my understanding the rest of the story. But I just cannot figure out the actual meaning.

Lately, I've noticed a few new words (to me) in news articles on Yahoo! News. And I think to myself, "What is this word? I have never seen it before!" Why on earth do journalists have to use uncommon words? They should be making their reports clear and easy to understand. I've also noticed editing errors! Why do they have errors? That is unacceptable and unprofessional. Can they not read over their work carefully before releasing it? Are they working alone? There should be another person who can proof-read it.


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