In real life and, now more than ever, online, hardly a day goes by without you engaging in some type of convo. But whether you’re having a serious convo about marriage with your boo, making your way through holiday small talk with your relatives or trying to find the right way to tell your boss you’re quitting, sometimes it can feel like you don’t have the words to say what you mean. But the truth is, there are plenty of words in your vocab to get you through any situation that comes your way.
According to a study published in Frontiers in Psychology, by the age of 20, a native English-speaking American knows 42,000 dictionary words. Yes, 42,000! It also found that, as we get older, we will learn one new word every two days. So by the age of 60, we will know an additional 6,000 words.
But figuring out that number wasn’t quite as easy as researchers and language experts expected. “Our research got a huge push when a television station in the Netherlands asked us to organize a nationwide study on vocabulary knowledge,” states Professor Marc Brysbaert of Ghent University in Belgium and the leader of the study. “The test we developed was featured on TV and, in the first weekend, over 300 thousand Dutch speakers had done it.”
Seeing the popularity, researchers developed English and Spanish versions of the test. To gather data, they relied heavily on social media. Remember those Facebook and Twitter quizzes popping up in your newsfeed asking how many words you knew? Yep, those were all part of the process to complete the study and gave researchers an unparalleled amount of access to data.
The test was simple: You were asked whether the word shown on your screen was real or not. A total of 70 of the words were real and 30 were mad- up letter sequences, all derived from a list of 62,000 words researchers compiled for this test.
This is already the largest study of its kind, and researchers have plans to extend the list to include 75,000 words, in order to improve accuracy. “It also gives us a snapshot of English word knowledge at the beginning of the 21st century. I can imagine future language researchers will be interested in this database to see how English has evolved over 100 years, 1000 years and maybe even longer,” notes professor Brysbaert.
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