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How Many Words for English Proficiency

English Speaking Skills: How Many Words for English Fluency?


       Here are some rough word counts according to Jakob Gibbon, 2023:

      Advanced: With 4,000-10,000 words your communication goes beyond everyday conversation  and into specialized vocabulary for talking about your professional field, current geo-political and local events and news, opinions and vocabulary for more complex abstract verbal vocabulary.  This is also the C2 level in the Common European Framework for Reference (CEFR).

      Fluent: 10,000+ words.   At around 10,000 words is considered near-native level of vocabulary, with the requisite words for talking about a wide range of topics in detail.   Most importantly, you recognize enough words in every utterance or sentence so that  most frequently you understand the unfamiliar ones from context.  That means you can easily add words to your vocabulary if you read English a lot.

    And just so you know: Estimates of words known by the average native American English speaker vary from 10,000 to 65,000 words.   

     Don’t stop now deliberately adding to your vocabulary!  It’s no wonder that  proficiency in American English speech communication continues for native-born Americans throughout their life.  They are adding vocabulary, along with accurate pronunciation for professional words, scientific words, geo-political words, necessary words (like pandemic, corona virus), and skill for persuasive and information giving speaking communication, and skill for stimulating social conversation and presentations.

     Research suggests that the average American hears between 20,000 and 30,000 words during the course of a 24-hour period according to Rebecca Lake, 2014.  That’s a major source of  “continuing education” for English speech communication, a source for increasing vocabulary and honing or making better the skills for communicating information, emotion, doing presentations, even refining body language to emphasize ideas.

      Relatedly, many (most?) professions in the education world, tech, medical, lawyers, etc. require continuing education.  Got to keep up with the profession and improve communication within the organization.  Such is lifelong learning.

      In the human development of proficiency for English speech communication throughout the lifespan (that’s what native-born speakers of AE do), just remember that the best kind of practice for English speech communication skills is deliberate practice where the purpose is to get better.

      Along with expanding their spoken vocabulary, nonnative-born persons can experience “pronunciation drift.”  Pronunciation drift is real and happens when AE pronunciation has gotten sloppy or inaccurate or the speaker has forgotten how to do American English speech sounds accurately or has forgotten the pronunciation rules.   Most likely is drift to  accented- English (Chinglish, Spanglish,  Indian English, Arabic English, etc.)  Most likely is also drift or movement of articulators (tongue, lips, jaw) to go lax and not tense, with decreased force or range of movement, and into difficult to understand consonants and slurring of words.

      Fact is, the kind of work environment makes a difference for vocabulary development, pronunciation  (and other English speech communication skills such a voice inflection or presentation skills). 

     Do you work in an organization where verbal English communication takes between 30 minutes and two hours or more?  If so, then you can do deliberate practice of clear English speech daily.

       Or does your profession call for less than 30 minutes or even less than 15 minutes of oral communication in English speech?    A good number of professions call for  extensive  computer work (or other forms of solo-work)  where hearing and speaking  English may be very limited.   Especially for the second circumstance, it’s not surprising that persons with English as a second language forget skills and may have very limited opportunity to deliberately practice American English speech skills in work and daily life. Deliberate practice of clear American English is the remedy. Take every opportunity to practice accurate and clear English speech by reading aloud anything from books to your children, online newspapers, several pages from a fiction book, or abstract or portions of a research article.

      For English speech communication, deliberate practice strengthens the accurate motor or muscle memory—including adding to vocabulary.  Deliberate practicc can be done no matter what stage in the lifecycle.  Ack, you could be 99 years old and benefit from doing deliberate practice to improve your deficits or make your strengths even stronger.   In other words, producing  strong, vibrant, accurate English speaking for a vocabulary of 10,000 words to 65,000  benefits with deliberate practice, no matter the life circumstances or age.

     Do native-born speakers deliberately practice pronouncing new vocabulary for work and social life? Absolutely!  One strategy is to pronounce words after a news broadcaster or entertaining program while streaming or while viewing YouTube.  Another strategy for native-borns is to enter vocabulary words to their smart phone, on the computer, or a notebook, and deliberately practice the pronunciation over and over until it is fluently and easily accurate.

     Funny thing is, deliberate practice for the motor and muscle activity of English speech takes about the same amount of time as “mindless” practice.  But the results are accuracy, proficiency, and long lasting… and deeper learning.   More on  “deeper learning” later.

Copyright 2023 by Clear Talk Mastery, Inc.

P for American English and Syllable Pronunciation for Clear Speech

This is our Number 3 in the series of recommended sequence for consonants and vowels.

      Like Number 1 which has the word “probably,” this video also directly instructs for the American English (AE) consonant speech sound P.

       Ninety, 90,  sovereign and non-sovereign entities have English for their official language including India, South Africa, Nigeria, to name a few. (See For more information on “other” Englishes, see http://www.cleartalkmastery.com/blog/2023/03/17/assessment-why-bother/.)   However, the pronunciation for the consonant speech sound P is different in other Englishes than American English. The consonant sound for P in American English has a puff of air after the lips are pressed together.  If  listeners cannot hear that puff of air, they cannot accurately identify it as an American English sound for P.  Instead, they are likely to perceive the AE speech sound for F. 

  To do “clear English speech,”  perceptually enhance or make it very easy to hear the puff of air for AE.  Make the puff of air loud.

 For deliberate pactice here for the consonant sound for P, press your lips together firmly.  That tension or stiffness will make the fast twitch muscles grow bigger, stronger.  For American English proficiency and mastery, you want the stronger fast twitch muscle fibers in your lips.

      Advice for proficiency of AE– practice many times! 

      That’s why I (Antonia Johnson) am posting this recommended sequence of English speech pronunciation video tutorials (also on YouTube)—to help you get lots of deliberate practice.

     English speech proficiency is accuracy in words.  In the Accent Reduction Tip Number 71 below, you get video and audio and direct and guided instruction for the AE consonant sound P for the word “anticipate.”  Plus, you get coached on syllable pronouncing syllables clearly and accurately.  “Clear Speech” is a style or mode of talking where each spoken syllable is clear, not slurred together, so the listener can hear each syllable.  All syllables in English have a meaning.

      Consider doing this video tip speech instruction (about 2 minutes) multiple times.  Aim for AE accuracy each time.  Of course, you are getting accuracy on many speech sounds when you deliberately practice words.  Deliberate practice means your goal is to get better!

Clear Talk Mode and the Task-Dynamic Model of Speech Production

Clear Talk Mode and the Task-dynamic Model of Speech Production

Why read this?   It’s for people who are a little intense about getting the best out of learning.


Does the nature of the speaking task, like the nature of the movement task, change the dynamics of the system?

Did you ever do running in a race?    Did you do a sprint—50 or 100 meters or yards?   Or long distance?  Then you know that  act of running changes the tenseness of muscles, the rate, and rhythm  of movement compared to walking.  Those features of the muscle actions are also different for sprint (relatively short distance “as fast as you can”) compared to long distance or marathon running. This is called the task-dynamic model  (Kelso and Tuller, 1984, Saltzman et al, 2010) and hierarchical task-based control model of speech incorporating sensory feedback by Parrell, B. et al. (2018).

For human speaking, these task-dynamic modes are called registers or speaking styles , or speaking modes.  One speaking style or mode is  “motherese” or the speaking pattern mothers all over the word use when talking to young children.  What do you hear in “motherese” – higher pitch, emphasizing words by going up in pitch, emphasized sounds and movement of the articulators—lips, tongue, jaw, teeth.

Other modes in English have been  investigated  beginning in the 1920s and summarized by Denes and Pinson (1993) and later studies also summarized by  Smiljanic and Bradlow (2009). These research investigations included  the effect of the  range of sound intensity (loudness) on intelligibility , the effect for intelligibility when talking over background noise, the features of English speech when the task is to talk clearly to persons who have a hearing impairment, and the style called Clear Speech.   Very limited study has also been reported by Smiljanic and Bradlow for the style Clear Speech for other languages or Clear Speech style of talking in English for non-native speakers of American English (AE).  In 2000, Antonia Johnson published her dissertation which compared a   Clear Speech prescribed mode or style of speaking to conversational style in non-native speakers of English.

Briefly, research study determined that features of  clear speech in English includes greater speech volume (louder), feature enhancement for consonants (e.g. making fricatives like S, SH, F, V, TH lengthier in duration), feature enhancement for vowels ( e.g. using greater opening of the mouth for the first part of  long vowels A, I, and O,  and extending the duration time for the English short vowels A and O and changing of formant frequencies and change for vowels).

Since 2000, we at Clear Talk Mastery have scientifically analyzed assessment for almost a thousand different people with  63 different languages and from  64 countries for intelligibility (pre diagnostic assessments, mid-course and end of course assessments).

The task for our student-learners has been  to acquire clear English speech—to increase intelligibility or understandability of their American English speech. Johnson discovered in the dissertation work that in order to go into the clear speaking AE mode and learn the six strategies which native-born speakers of American English use when speaking clearly, non-native born speakers of English needed more.  They required specific enunciation instruction—what features of the 23 consonants and 14 vowel sounds to enhance,  precisely where to position the articulators of tongue, lips, teeth, jaw, instruction on making articulator muscles stiff and tense, which speech sounds to lengthen in duration and which to produce quickly.  These we called Tactics (Tactics are details for strategies.)

Notably, the task-dynamic model was our important guide— the task was for student-learners to acquire a clear speaking mode which made  AE (American English) highly understandable to all listeners (native born English speakers and non-native speakers of English).

A sidebar:  Based on the speed of being able to use strategies of clear speaking derived from previous and our own research, we have concluded that all languages have  a clear speaking mode— probably used at a minimum when talking in noisy environments from childhood or perhaps talking to a person with a hearing impairment (like a grandparent) when the purpose of the speaking task was to be understood.  For example, who hasn’t noticed a toddler aged 18 months up to age 4 requesting an item from the mom or caretaker when in a noisy room? 

We found that the style of clear talking or Clear Talking Mode when first learned— along with specific enunciation instructions—produced a predictable mode or style of speaking.   Student-learners reported using high energy, high attention when first learning the Clear Talk Strategies with the added enunciation instructions (including Tactics).   The features of this mode when speaking in a sentence included pauses between the words (and syllables) as the talker was processing in the brain the “plan” for the next word and a quick review in the brain of the accuracy of the previous word.  Our instruction for AE speech sounds including for learning purposes to hyperarticulate the consonants so they were at least double loud and double slow (for lengthier duration consonants) and double fast (for quick AE) consonants.  The rationale for this hyperarticulation was that the brain learns faster when the movement or action is highly salient—easy to feel and hear.

Accurate vowel pronunciation for 14 AE vowels was instructed after “mastery” of consonants (about 80-90%) using the clear speaking mode.  For home practice, to speed up learning, student-learners used maximum effort, maximum accuracy of positioning of the articulators, hyper or very enhanced feature of prolonging appropriate AE consonants and maximum tensing the articulator muscles.  By 2017, our observations during instruction and assessments made it clear that this learning mode has unique characteristics so we gave it a name – we called this Workout Practice, or Workout Mode of Clear Talk.  There is more to be said on this, which I will get to later.

Importantly, we emphasized that in daily life  when talking with other people, the optimal Clear Talk Mode or style of talking would be a mode where the articulator muscles continued to be stiff and tense but not maximal tenseness and the pauses between words not as lengthy.   This mode or style we called Careful Clear Talk Mode.   Because muscles and the brain or central nervous system were learning a new series of patterns (procedural learning), it was impossible for student-learners to make the change quickly in speech gestures of the consonant- to- vowel -to consonant speech sounds in a word.  For example for the word “tag”, to  push the tongue to the roof or top of the mouth hard and quickly for the T consonant then push tongue forward (and flat) for the AE short vowel A, then raise the back of the tongue blade to the roof of the mouth at the back of the mouth for a  G consonant  — these series of speech gestures  were impossible for nonnative speakers to do as quickly as an adult native speaker of English or a child because native speakers of AE  had literally years of practice.  In other words, it was impossible for the non-native learner to imitate the speed of a native-born adult AE speaker. 

Based on much research, including our own Action Research (ongoing assessment which directed change in instruction), we adhered to the Task-Dynamic Model  of  human movement and speech production.  It was a mode we were instructing—much like a physical trainer would instruct a runner eager to succeed in long distance running.

Like other physical activities, speech is central nervous system (brain and nerves) and muscles.  Just as there is the Task-Dynamic and Hierarchical Task-Dynamic model for Motor Control (motor means movement), there is also a Task-Dynamic Model for Speech Production.

For efficacious clear AE speech instruction,  we used diagnostic pre assessment,  mid-course and post course assessment.   More on this later.

copyright 2023, Clear Talk Mastery, Inc. All rights reserved.