How many vocab is required to be able to read things comfortably?

Agreed. And to be honest, even though I can decipher stuff like university studies on the usage of basic Japanese grammar structures because I’m quite familiar with grammatical terms, I rarely feel ‘comfortable’ while working through them. It’s not just because of what I need to look up: it’s also a matter of needing to dredge up readings from within my memory or guess them (and in my case, avoid reading them in Mandarin instead). Being comfortable with reading is partly a matter of vocabulary, but also partly a matter of familiarity and practice: knowing the translations of 20k words will help a lot, but if you’re not used to seeing them, you’re probably still going to struggle for a bit.

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Definitely a lot of words I didn’t know. They also had some trick ones in there. It was interesting to see the success rate before you answered.

I am absolutely terrible on those expressions from multiple verbs pasted together or idioms.

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I’m pretty sure I was lucky with some of the ones that I didn’t know :sweat_smile:

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That was fun but I did terrible

It felt like I had to guess on almost every question, so my real score is probably a bit lower if you remove the ones I accidentally got correct.

I had to take the English one after for a bit of a confidence boost

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There really is no easy answer to this. If I had to estimate based on WK, my custom Anki decks, and my stats on Koohi, my passive Japanese vocabulary is probably somewhere around 12k words. And I still have to look up many, many, many words depending on what I’m reading. Some thing are easier than others. For example, I’m currently reading The Promised Neverland manga, and I’m finding it pretty comfortable - I can sit and read an entire volume in one sitting. I read it a lot slower than I would if it were in English, but I can get through a volume in around 2 hours and I probably only need to look up 10% of the words or less. What I’ve definitely found is that the more you read and the more your vocabulary grows, the better you get at intuitively deducing a word’s meaning from context and its component kanji.

On the other end of the spectrum, I just started reading the second volume of Sword Art Online (the LN, not the manga) and it is chockful of words I don’t know. According to Koohi, it has something like 1800 unknown words. And that’s after I already read the first volume and learned around 2,000 words from it! I use Koohi to prelearn words before I begin reading, and I really don’t like to attempt more than 30 words a day as my long-term retention will totally collapse if I go much faster than that. On some days, this limit barely gets me 4-5 new pages, and on others it will get me an entire chapter of 10-12 pages.

That’s what is really the most frustrating at the stage I’m at. My vocabulary is decent enough that I can read many things - and if I’m willing to skim over words I don’t know or bits I don’t understand, I can follow a story pretty comfortably but miss out on details/nuance - but the comfort level of that reading is wildly inconsistent. Sometimes I come across sentences that blow my mind because I understand them so poorly, and I have a moment of “I DON’T KNOW ANYTHING ABOUT THIS LANGUAGE AT ALL AGHHHHHH!!!”, and other times I can read comfortably and get immersed in a story without even consciously considering what language it’s in. And I can oscillate between those two extremes even within the same book or manga.

The reality is that it is a long, long grind to truly being able to read anything you want comfortably. It will probably take years at a minimum, and a strong passive vocabulary of 25k+ words. The best thing you can do is just accept that this is the case, pick something you’re really motivated to read, and dive in knowing that you’re going to be drowning for a while before you approach anything resembling smooth swimming. Like the rest of us language learners, you’ll hit a series of highs and lows, peaks and valleys, feelings of extreme accomplishment, and feelings of utter defeat - but if you keep it up and keep your end goal in sight, you will continue to gradually improve even if it doesn’t always feel like it.

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Also start with books or manga with furigana and get yourself a good dictionary app (or use jisho.org). Dictionary lookups are a lot quicker and less painful when you can type in the phonetics and then glance down the list for the word with the right kanji.

(Like @sycamore I find vocab memorizing to be a bit boring so I’d rather learn words in context.)

Oh good grief yes! Find a language textbook! Find a grammar guide! Find some bilingual stories! I wish people would stop with this idea that you need to grind flashcards for 1-3 months before you’re allowed to do any fun stuff.

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Same. I feel like it would be clear in context but I got so many weird compounds and got 17k. I did it again and got a lot more idioms but fared better:

Kinda proud I remembered this :smiley:

That threw me off for a bit, since the word 留学生 had like a correct percentage of 15%! At first I thought it might be my own correct answer rate. But when it started fluctuating I realized.

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Overall it goes like this ( for almost all languages in the world)

  1. 5000 words- b2 level-basic speaking fluency, you can talk and maintain the flow of any conversation unless it’s very specific field. Your reading comprehension should be around 90%+ for news, movies subtitles and around 80% for novels

  2. 10 000 words ( usually it’s c1 level) your reading comprehension should be around 95%+ which means you can read news, watch anime with subtitles with ease now, novels/books- around 90%

  3. true comfort (c2) - 15 000+ This is where you are supposed to encounter like 1-2 new words per page in literature books. Novels language is heavily filled with descriptive words that you usually never encounter in daily media thus such a need for more vocabulary. Mangas on the other hand usually don’t need to utilize descriptive words this is why it’s much easy to read compared with novels.

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At the risk of sounding rude, I really can’t agree with these numbers at all.

While there is a correlation between vocabulary size and fluency of speech, there’s a lot more that goes into speaking fluently than simply loading up one’s vocabulary. The two things are completely different, and one can easily have several thousand words in their passive vocabulary and not be able to produce those words fluently into grammatically correct and comprehensible sentences. But even if I ignore all that, I’m not so sure 5,000 words gives one the ability to maintain the flow of any conversation outside of very specific fields, unless by “any conversation” you really just mean basic introductions, pleasantries, and very basic everyday conversation.

At 5,000 words?! There may be languages where this is true, but Japanese is certainly not one of them, and neither is English. There is no way with a 5,000 word vocabulary that someone is reading news articles on a variety of topics like politics, economics, medicine, military affairs, etc. etc. with 90% comprehension. My lord, if learning a language were that easy, I’d be fluent in a dozen of them! Even a newspaper specifically written down to children would be a reasonable challenge with a vocabulary this small. Most elementary school children have a vocabulary at least double this size!

While it would be wonderful to think that “true comfort” comes at 15k words, I’m not so sure it’s true. The average English speaker knows around 20,000 words, and an educated and/or well-read English speaker easily knows upwards of 30k. That’s double the amount that you claim provides someone with “true comfort”.

Personally, I would define true comfort as being able to read smoothly and fluently without the need to look up any words simply because every single word in the text is either firmly in one’s passive vocabulary, or the reader has enough experience and intuition in the language that the meaning of any unknown words can easily be deduced from context. I don’t think this happens at 15k words in Japanese. You may be starting to approach this degree of fluency at 15k words, but you’re definitely not there yet. Though I guess, depending on how one defines “true comfort”, it could occur at any size vocabulary. 1-2 unknown words per page in a novel (which could easily span 500+ pages) doesn’t really sound like what I would call “true comfort”.

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I tried both of the tests you linked to (thanks!), but the disparity in the results is pretty huge :joy::


I’m dubious about the number, but the level isn’t that impressive anyhow. I’m not saying that’s bad either though, but it wouldn’t be much for a native adult, I guess. For the other test though…


That’s… significantly higher up the scale. (Also, the irony that I got this score without knowing which reading to use for 並 in the sentence after the result… It seems that なみ is the correct reading.)

I think the difference is a result of the fact that the second test presented me many more words that could be written in kanji than the first, which gave me an advantage: sure, the words themselves were hardly written in kanji, but the options were in kanji, and that helped me to guess what it might be, at least in terms of meaning. (And I can make guesses based on on’yomi by looking for possible equivalents in Mandarin.) The four-kanji idioms the second test gave me were also in kanji, and that made it much easier for me to guess their meaning. For the first test, I feel as though I was getting lots of obscure words, and most of them were native Japanese (i.e. couldn’t be written with kanji/didn’t use on’yomi), so I was stuck or had to guess, most likely incorrectly. That would explain the difference. I guess this also shows that how good a test is also depends on how balanced the test items are in terms of word types in Japanese.

iv read these numbers on the polyglot site with studies. Honestly, they also correlate with my experience. I think I started to consider myself quite proficient in English/french around the 10-12k mark. But obviously for some people it can be a diffirent experience.

Natives use around 5000 words on a daily basis. And actively use around 20 000 if we take all layers of language into account. Obviously, they know much more ( closer to 60 000 passively if im not mistaken, but its a very rare use)
I don’t think you will ever reach the true comfort level of native, we always going to stumble upon new words, its inevitable for foreigner. + it’s just unproductive to study 10-20k+ more sophisticated words in order to have 99% reading comprehension instead of 98%. You could learn another language on a solid level for the same amount of time.

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So for the stats you quote, are you saying that for example a person should be able to read the news at 90%+ comprehension with 5k words in their active vocabulary and some unknown and much higher number of words in their passive vocabulary? I mean sure, that could very well be true, but it’s not meaningful to someone who is earnestly trying to read native material in a foreign language.

Because a passive vocab of 5k words is not granting anyone the ability to proficiently read news articles aimed at native adults. It’s just not happening.

If you’re talking specifically about active vocabulary and everyday speech words - then fine, I won’t disagree with what you said in your second post, but that’s not an answer to the question of the required vocabulary size for comfortable reading. OP wants to know how many words he should be able to recognize to be able to read a Japanese visual novel, manga, etc…

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If you’re just wanting to be able to read through with a dictionary and constantly have a bunch of words to look up, then like 7000 words will do the trick. Can’t say I would call that comfortable, but if that’s what we’re calling comfortable then yeah.

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I think for me it’s less about a specific number and more about amount of internalized grammar + a process for dealing with new vocabulary (because there’s always gonna be new vocabulary…).

Like, there’s a difference between:
“–, I – the obelisk – evil monster!”
and
“Oh crud, I gotta destroy the – to defeat the – --!”

I’m not sure where the line is, but at some point I noticed that instead of looking up words to unravel a whole sentence, I could see what words I didn’t know and was looking those up to fill in pure vocab gaps. I think that’s the biggest change I’d identify with as being “uncomfortable” reading vs. “comfortable.”

I think the line to get to that point is as much practice as it is vocab/grammar. It takes a bit of time to be able to see なければならない variations in practice and instantly peg whether it means “must” or “must not” for example.

Beyond that point, as long as you’ve got some strategy to deal with the parade of vocab, I think reading can be comfortable even without knowing a lot of the words in what you’re reading.

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Yes, they should be able to read daily news with just active vocabulary. I’m not talking about natives here. You probably just overestimate 90% comprehension. It’s not proficient reading.
at 80-90% almost every new sentence will be filled with a few unknown words. It’s a lot.

To answer op question-
10-12k words+ for mangas, anime/movies with subtitles.
13-15k+ for visual novellas and books+

By comfortable comprehension I mean 95-98% like it was described here

Even in Chinese - In the magazines/news/movies just only 500 hanzi cover 80%- will you be proficient? no. 1500-92-94%- still you wont be able to read chinese novels comfortably because those lacking 4-6% will heavily impact your reading. And you need another 2500 hanzi for that.

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It’s a cool article - and perhaps I was overestimating 90% comprehension. But I think the problem I’m having with the initial claim of 90%+ news comprehension at 5k words goes beyond that.

When I read an article for native Japanese adults, I fall somewhere between the 80% and 95% comprehension examples demonstrated in that article you posted. But I know a lot more than 5k words in Japanese. Of course, some of the issue comes with which words we’re talking about. I read a LOT of light novels and text-heavy fantasy video games. I don’t read a lot of news. Many of the words in my vocabulary are probably more literary and/or descriptive words used in literature moreso than in news articles about, say climate change, and certainly moreso than in everyday speech.

It still seems a stretch to me to imagine 90%+ comprehension of news written for adults at a mere 5k words since the news can cover such a huge variety of topics (law, medicine, science, technology, politics, sports, weather, etc. etc.) - but I’m more convinced now that actually general word count is probably not the best predictor for comfort level in reading any one specific item until you get to very high levels of proficiency. Then of course there’s the issue that we define “comfortable” reading differently.

Anyway - I appreciate the article for sure, but we may not fully agree on this.

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People do indeed tend to overestimate what 90% comprehension means, since “90%” sounds like a lot.

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To elaborate, imo people tend to greatly overestimate how much they’ll be able to comprehend/underestimate how many words they need to know in order to do xyz in general. I’ve been quite guilty of this as well.

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well if i recall correctly the studies were conducted for european languages. Average person with b2 certificate should be able to read news articles.
with chinese/japanese comprehension is probably lower (70-80%?) due to the existence of kanji/hanzi. Because a person with n2 certificate only knows half of common kanji. Same with Hsk 6- 2500 hanzi vs 4000 common.

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I don’t know about this… I rarely encounter a kanji I don’t know (at least rarely without furigana), but there are so so many words I encounter that I don’t know. And the furigana part is important, because even if a native doesn’t know a rarer kanji, there’s a high chance they still know the word using the kanji if they see the reading.

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