Recently, I've started studying 21.000 word list from the internet. I cannot learn anything from that because when I translate to my native I don't understand the meanings. So that's where my question comes from. If I learn 9000-10000 words will I be able to speak like a native speaker and understand every topic (I will learn the most important ones)?
How many words you know is pretty much irrelevant (once you get beyond a certain number). You need to understand how to put them together and how to pronounce them in order to "speak like a native speaker". Get that in place, and then you can start expanding your vocabulary.
There is an article on The Economist's website (which I quote in part) that gives some interesting figures:
Several years ago we mentioned TestYourVocab.com here on the blog. Not long ago, the site reached its two millionth test result, and so the researchers have put together some data:
- Most adult native test-takers range from 20,000–35,000 words
- Average native test-takers of age 8 already know 10,000 words
- Average native test-takers of age 4 already know 5,000 words
- Adult native test-takers learn almost 1 new word a day until middle age
- Adult test-taker vocabulary growth basically stops at middle age
- The most common vocabulary size for foreign test-takers is 4,500 words
- Foreign test-takers tend to reach over 10,000 words by living abroad
- Foreign test-takers learn 2.5 new words a day while living in an English-speaking country
As you can see, 10,000 words will get you to the level of an average 8-year old. You will need between 20,000-35,000 words to sound like an adult native speaker. However, I am a little dubious about these figures. An adult should be able to make much better use of a 10,000 word vocabulary than any 8-year old, since his thought patterns ought to be more sophisticated.
"It's not the years, honey. It's the mileage." -- Indiana Jones
I agree with Mick that sounding like a native speaker has very little to do with the number of words you know. Just because you can give me the book definitions of (for example) "dirty", "grimy", and "squalid" doesn't mean you can use each in the correct context.
Personally, I think fluency is more about phrases than words, and more about idiom than vocabulary. For example, do you know what I mean when I say
My soda has gone flat
She flatly refused my proposal
She has a nice singing voice, but she keeps going flat.
Some English words have as many as a dozen different meanings, depending on context. A fluent speaker would know most or all of them, or at least be able to take a good guess.
Of course not! There are about 180,000 fundamental words in English (more than 3 million definitions, phrases, Idioms), and learning all of them is definitely futile, because it will take 30 years to memorize and put them in use, therefore you need to work on the 20,000 to 40,000 words almost all native speakers know; I have never agreed with the sentence: "Proficient speakers of English know 15,000 words or so.", it has to be somewhere around 200,000 , because English is the largest language in the world and Bear in mind that 90 percent of its words have more than two meanings (It depends on the dialect you aim at). Two years ago, when I was fifteen (I was so eager to learn words since childhood), I found a new website that really developed my vocabulary, it was called Wordhippo, with the help of that website I have reached a good point in vocabulary so far, but I'm still not able to understand English well. -Why? - The reason is that I have never been to any English speaking country and the most accurate answer is that I still have more important business to do and that's why I forget words easily. The point is that you can't be as good as you want at English until you are Submerged or (better to say) Absorbed in it. Don't worry about the number of words, just focus on Usage Frequency and Common Phrases if you don't want to take your time. In the end, I'd recommend you to use the website I mentioned.