# A language fluency scale for use in this subforum

Discussion in 'Linguistics' started by Fraggle Rocker, Feb 21, 2011.

1. ### Fraggle RockerStaff Member

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24,690
I have never encountered a scale for measuring language fluency. So I decided to create my own. It goes from 0 (one word) to 10 (100,000 words, i.e., someone like Winston Churchill). It's logarithmic (based on the square root of 10), reflecting the greater impact (in my opinion) of a small difference between beginners over a large difference between experts.

Feel free to use my scale in discussions on this board, so we all have a common reference for comparison.
• 0: 1 word. If you know less than one word then I guess technically your rating should be minus-infinity, but go ahead and round it up to 0.
• 1: 3 words. I think this is qualitatively different from knowing one word, but it's only one point so who cares.
• 2: 10 words. You can pick your favorite foods off of a menu, give a simple greeting or thank-you, recognize an insult (but hopefully not give one), etc.
• 3: 30 words. You can put a few important sentences together with vaguely correct grammar, and get yourself out of the most common kinds of trouble.
• 4: 100 words. You understand the most basic principles of grammar and, with a lot of arm-waving and some really patient natives, you might get around the capital city.
• 5: 300 words. A tourist who tries not to embarrass himself, you can ask questions and say a little about yourself. 5 or 6 is about what is called a "courtesy level" of fluency.
• 6: 1,000 words. This is the level of a 5-7 year-old child, depending on how precocious he is. You've taken a class or lived among the people. You have a good grasp of grammar although you make a lot of mistakes, and you can carry on a simple light-hearted conversation.
• 7: 3,000 words. This is the level of a 7-9 year-old child, and of most people who have studied the language for two years in high school or one year in college; also of an immigrant who's spent a year working very hard to learn it from conversation. Your grammar is quite good and you can discuss things that interest you, as long as the listeners are very patient and helpful. Depending on the country, you might be able to get along for an extended period, or even hold down a simple job.
• 8: 10,000 words. This is the level of a 9-14 year-old child. Most people who study a foreign language formally don't get much beyond this unless they emigrate and work in the country. Your grammar is almost flawless but you still can't understand so many of the words flying around that you feel a little left out of conversations and have to ask for help rather often.
• 9: 30,000 words. This is the level of a university-graduate native speaker who got good grades. You are very articulate and can compose and understand very complicated sentences. You may have a profession in which communication is one of the most important skills. You know many words that the average person doesn't know, but you still occasionally run into words you don't know, usually in specialties. Most intelligent, educated people rank somewhere between 8.5 and 9.5.
• 10: 100,000 words. This is the level of William Shakespeare, Winston Churchill, Jean-Paul Sartre and Jorge Luís Borges. You are a great orator and/or writer who inspires people with your command of the language. By the time you die there may be words in the dictionary that you created. My scale stops here, giving it a handy range of 0 to 10. You've probably met people who rank above 9.0, and you yourself might be there. But few of us will ever meet someone up near 10.0.
Remember: This is my own scale. No one outside of SciForums or my circle of acquaintances has ever heard of it, so don't expect to be able to use it in school without a lot of explanation.

It has never been calibrated. I don't know what percentage of the population falls into each range. In particular, the research behind my estimates, such as "this is the level of a 5-7 year-old child" is not very scientific.

It's based on vocabulary. I can't imagine how to measure proficiency in grammar and syntax, but I assume it increases with more words. In addition, all languages do not have the same size vocabulary, so 100,000 words might be an unreasonable upper limit in many cases. I don't mean to imply that some languages are inferior because it's impossible to reach 10.0.

The definition of a "word" is not the same in all languages. Highly synthetic languages like Chinese have a basic vocabulary of morphemes (about 5,000 monosyllables in university-graduate level Chinese) which can be combined in literally millions of ways to form new compound-words. German and Finnish, with their polysyllabic morphemes, are famous for their three-inch-long compound words. I don't know how to apply my scale to these languages.

So, with that explanation and those reservations, try rating your fluency in various languages on a scale that offers some semblance of standardization and comparability.

Last edited: Feb 21, 2011

3. ### NCDaneRegistered Senior Member

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155
Although it will be difficult to locate authoritative citation
on the internet, I am quite sure that the OP scale vastly
overestimates vocabulary size, even for Shakespeare.

Googling indicates that Shakespeare uses a total of over
800k words, but gives vocabulary sizes for unique words
ranging from 17k-29k.

Even the higher number is so far short of 100k that I wonder
if any English speaker aside from a few lexicographers has ever

Try Part C this vocabulary test on for size if you think you
know more than about 10-12k words:

Vocabulary Test

Giving myself the benefit of all doubt I scored 60/100 correct
for an implied vocabulary of 15,000 words, and I think I was
stretching it.

I would be willing to bet less than 1% of all college graduates
have a 30k-word vocabulary, and I might be willing to throw
in their professors as well.

5. ### DywyddyrPenguinaciously duckalicious.Valued Senior Member

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18,953
24,000 on test c.

7. ### chimpkinC'mon, get happy!Registered Senior Member

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23,500 on C...and I've been chipping away at an undergrad for a long time.

OTOH I tested at a college sophomore level in 8th grade, and that was a looong time ago.

In every day and every way, I am failing to live up to my potential.

8. ### NCDaneRegistered Senior Member

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155
Oh really?

Oh really?

You know what, guys?- I don't believe you.

But I shall make it a point to single you out on the "Find all posts by..." option
because in the unlikely event I am wrong, anyone with a vocabulary like yours
must have made some pretty damn good posts here. Fascinatingly good.

9. ### DywyddyrPenguinaciously duckalicious.Valued Senior Member

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18,953
Yup.
Despite the "incorrect" spellings.

10. ### NCDaneRegistered Senior Member

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155
I just so happens that I have taken a look at the last four
(I think it was four) threads you started, on the premise
that for all the genius you must display on a mere reply
a threadstart should be incandescent with brilliance.

Alas, that slug of a thread about the UK census was, well,
it was a slug, as in those wormy things which leave mucous
behind where they have crawled.

I attend these boards, chatrooms, whatever you want to call
them for grown-up intellectual discourse.

I have noticed the venue being innundated with people like you
who take pride in flaunting your arrested intellectual development,
arrest taking place in what we in the US refer to as Junior High School.

Children like youi believe it is a form of sophistication to make a
joke of everything, and the stupider the joke the better.

Grow up. Please grow up. And until you do go away.

11. ### DywyddyrPenguinaciously duckalicious.Valued Senior Member

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18,953
And you assumed this because...?

You forgot to add the words "in my opinion".

And here you are: insulting me as if it were the playground.

People like me?
Hmm, and you've read how many of my posts? On which topics?
Oh, and please stop assuming. All it does is make you look more ridiculous.

Strangely enough I was castigated only week or so ago for being too serious. Can't win, it seems.

You're really funny. Did anyone ever tell you?

12. ### chimpkinC'mon, get happy!Registered Senior Member

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4,416
Waitaminute...I've got a postcount about five times the size of yours...making you a far fresher face, and you're telling me to grow up and get lost?

I believe I have some choice vocabulary words to respond to that...but since I'd rather not be banned, I'll bite my tongue.

Suffice it to say I don't consider myself brilliant or stupid, merely above average.

At least I'm not pompous though.
Tell me, do they hand out pomposity or certify arrogance with the PhD?

BTW, the word is generally spelled inundated, not innundated.

Last edited: Mar 31, 2011
13. ### NCDaneRegistered Senior Member

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155
Because you are likely to submit your best quality on a topic

I did not forget anything. What I had in mind was something
such as "it is obviously true that..."

An insult can be as artistic as any other form of discourse,
especially if the target deserves to be insulted.

Do you understand plain English?- I said I had looked at four
shouldn't it?

In this vein let me convey an anecdote to you: someone once
sent the inestimable G. B. Shaw a worthless compostion, the
manuscript having some device placed within to indicate if a
MS and sure enough he had not gotten past page 1.

The insulted writer sent GBS an angry missive:
"You did not even read two pages".

Shaw replied:
"you do not need to eat the whole egg to know if it is rotten"

I assume I look wonderful!

You? Serious? Hahahaha, but maybe I will do some more looking anyway.

I hear enough real laughter from my real, face to face interlocutors
to have confidence in the effectiveness of my sense of humor.

14. ### NCDaneRegistered Senior Member

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155
To tell the truth I have not yet looked at any of your other posts

I will, I will!

Brace yourself!

If you really do have a 20K-plus vocabulary it should be a snap
for you to come up with something equivalent but clean enough
to get by the KGB around here.

How becomingly humble of someone who knows as many words
as Shakespeare knew, perhaps more.

I must have been born pompous, because I sure don't have any PhD.
Where did you get the idea I did? Oh, wait- I have figured it out.
You really do need to read more carefully.

Oops.

15. ### chimpkinC'mon, get happy!Registered Senior Member

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4,416
So, in this sentence, while you are not directly stating that you are here to start flamewars, you are stating that you feel perfectly justified in insulting someone, behavior that could, and appears to be, starting a flamewar.

Do you only engage in this sort of behavior on the internet, or do you do this in real life? Considering you live in North Carolina, I'm inclined to assume the former, especially around non-academics.

I advise you to never go into a biker bar if you value your current facial shape.

If your mental muscle is all that, let it shine alone, it will win you admiration here. Being rude to people, though, will not.

There's no need to be so self-important, here or in real life.

EDITED: ah, no, I see you're not a PhD. I see you ARE a frat rat. That explains everything.

I think Phi Theta Kappa sent me some promotional crap, but why in the name of the Gods should I cough up my money to them? So I can stick their logo on something when I graduate?

I have real things to spend my money on, bills to pay and such.

The thing I'm looking forward to isn't the college diploma, it's that first direct deposit of the first job that I have that doesn't pay poverty wages.
All the rest is just crap that's supposed to impress other people, and I do not care what impresses other people. In fact I have an amazingly low opinion of those who focus on impressing other people.
I wonder what on earth is wrong with them.

Last edited: Mar 31, 2011
16. ### leopoldValued Senior Member

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17,455
11,250 part c i got 45 words, i recognized maybe 10 more but wasn't quite sure of the meanings.

17. ### NCDaneRegistered Senior Member

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155
Anyone who claims as big or a bigger vocabulary than William Shakespeare
deserves all the flaming he can get.

My behavior doesn't differ much according to who I am around.

Never been in a biker bar, and don't plan to start now.

And as for "my current facial shape" is that your idea of wit,
or style, or what? FYI it sounds to me like a JHS effort, and
I suspect JHS is exactly where you are stuck now. You will
remain stuck there until you start finishing your homework,
so why don't you begin a good habit for a change and hit
those books right now?

I am not here for approval, but if someone needs to have
his head handed to him on a subject which I know something
about, well then, I am availalbe.

Of course there is.

If you do not know what Phi Beta Kappa is, then you are not likely
to have ever attended an accredited college.

FYI I have never given any money to it, and have not heard from
them since the early 1970s. However, induction was then proof of
much greater than average collegiate academic acheivement, and
indictees have a right to take some pride. Induction is NOT proof
of genius, but then, I am not the one who claims to know as many
words as the greatest literary artist of our language.

18. ### NCDaneRegistered Senior Member

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155
According to part B I was around the same.

I think extra credit is due for knwing a few of those part C words, though.

19. ### leopoldValued Senior Member

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17,455
17,500 part b i got 70 words

20. ### chimpkinC'mon, get happy!Registered Senior Member

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4,416
They sent me promo material, I skimmed it, the advantages of joining did not look worth coughing up the $60. My community college GPA is a 3.92...I'm at the point where I'm maxed on creds and have to transfer...but I also have to work full-time. I wish my health were up to TWO JOBS. It is not. I will be attending remotely-probably this fall as my health is going south again and I'm guessing more surgery's in order. (I'm going to lobby for frontal sinus obliteration with coronal incision, bone cement fill, and steel plate installation. That may be like taking a bazooka to hunt ducks, but this will be the third op. Having a multiple antibiotics-resistant infection in your head gets old after nine years.) I'll be taking as many online courses as I can-from the brick-and-mortar university that happens to be handy, of course, as moving's a pipe dream, as is going to college full-time. If I do that the lights don't stay on, the car doesn't get maintained, the groceries don't make it into the fridge. The potential for better futures generally get sacrificed on the altar of the present emergencies around here, and that's the way it is.:shrug: Phi Beta Kappa wanted$60 for enrollment.
I need groceries and gas more than I need their snob factor.

And quite frankly I don't think your test is entirely accurate, it's far too truncated to be so...but I've read many of Shakespeare's plays and didn't have to resort to a dictionary.

I also used to write and perform slam poetry back in my 20's, before I married.

But you've basically admitted here you've deliberately set this up to abuse people, and I do not appreciate being abused. I'm going to put you on ignore after I report you.

Fraggle, I think, merely wanted to assure that people could speak intelligently, not cause the guys to start metaphorically whipping out their trouser snakes and waving them at each other.

Since I'm female, I'm not interested in showing off who's got the biggest...vocabulary.

Goodbye, NCDane.
I would say it was nice talking to you, but I don't lie.

21. ### Spud Emperorsolanaceous common taterRegistered Senior Member

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3,899
Not quite how you saw the thread going hey Fraggle?

I must say I'm with NCDane at the moment though.
It gives me the shits (my vocab knows few bounds) when someone is saying how bloody smart they are and cannot come up with half baked, let alone decent retort.

I had a crack at the test and came up with a result of about 11,000 -12,000 words based on part B. I would have go 120 more points if they could spell blouse.
My boredom threshold (low) meant I couldn't be bothered counting in part C but I reckon I was travelling (English spelling you knobs) at about 40-45%

I'd be interested to see how Captain Kremmen would go. That guy has got a serious vocab.

22. ### parmaleeperipatetic artisanValued Senior Member

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3,015
Uh, she wasn't claiming to have "as big or a bigger vocabulary than William Shakespeare"; rather, she simply posted her score on a vocabulary test of dubious merit--and on that note:

A test which takes perhaps all of five minutes to complete is unlikely to reveal a whole helluva lot about the size of one's vocabulary. For one, it hardly takes into account the many jargons and cants of various disciplines--note: "Mechanics use around 5,000 words; artists use 5,000 words; "educated" people use from 8,000 to 10,000 words; and lawyers use 23,000 words. " "Educated" people?! Are we to conclude that mechanics and artists are not "educated" people, and that lawyers are something far more? Methinks lawyers--as well as philosophers, anthropologists, medical professionals, et al--oft employ highly specialized jargon, and for much of which there is very little overlap between disciplines. And how about all those curious neologisms that we come up with everyday in philosophy (and I suspect in many other disciplines): do we only count the ones (as proper English "words" for our vocabulary tally, that is) that don't sound too terribly French or German? Where does James Joyce fit in this scheme: ought we count jewgreek as a "word"?

You may very well know "something" about the subject, but you seem to be extrapolating an awful lot from this silly test. Not saying that it's completely useless, just that it ought to be taken with a few grains of salt.

Anyhows, I got 22.25 k. A few of the words I didn't recall having stumbled upon before, but some knowledge of Latin, German, Spanish, and a smattering of Greek, French, and Canine, helped suss them out a bit. (Though my Hebrew and Yiddish didn't help much.)

And finally, as to the "if you know so many words, how come you don't use them?" argument: some simply favor ordinary language, economy, and parsimony and whatnots. Wittgenstein and Chomsky immediately spring to mind here--W. mightn't have known so many words, but I'm fairly confident that Chomsky has got a good number of 'em in that noggin of his.

23. ### parmaleeperipatetic artisanValued Senior Member

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3,015
And I'm pretty certain that "yew" oughta be spelled "you."