What learners can do with a certain vocabulary size.

0-500 word families500-1000 word families1000-2000 wordfamilies2000-5000 wordfamilies5000+ word families
SpeakingVery difficult. Mostlyone word sentences.Many set phrases andmemorized chunks oflanguage are used.Gesture is a maincommunication strategy.Mostly incompletesentences and someoriginal constructionsbut still a lot of nonverbal communication.Communication isbroken while the learnersearches for words.Very poor word choice.Daily conversation withdifficulty, mostlybroken. A fewcomplete sentences butcharacterized by poorword choice. Mostlytransactional languageis used.Daily conversation withsome ease. Somewords with multiplemeanings are known.Unpredictableconversation is difficultCan speak well onmost topics. Somevocabulary problems inspecialist areas.
ListeningVery little is understood.Only the very predictableof conversations arepossible. The mainlistening strategy is to tryto get a rhythm for thelanguage and catch theodd word. The language still seemsto be full of noise. Manywords are recognized,but many can't berecalled quickly enoughto enable fluentcomprehension. Shortterm memoryoverloaded.Most words arerecognized, but notcomprehended quickly.Native text is stillmostly a blur. Topdown listeningstrategies are mostlyused. Comprehensionof highly structuredtext possible.Comprehension ofpredictable TV andradio is possible.Determining inferenceis possible. Many jokesare still a mystery.Inference mostlyunderstood. TV andradio can becomprehendedprovided the topic isnot specialized.
ReadingPictures and illustrationsprovide a lot of anycomprehension made.The odd few contentwords are recognized.Native speaker texts arewell beyond the learner.Dictionary use is themain reading strategy.Slow and tedious.
The dictionary remainsa main reading strategyfor native texts exceptfor highly predictabletext.Most words areunderstood but notfluently. A dictionary isregularly called upon.Most native text can becomprehended if thetopic is not specialized.
WritingOnly the most basic ofsentences can be made,characterized byextremely poor wordchoice. Mostly setphrases. A few complexsentences are used andthen only basicconjunctions. Tends toread as if it had been'translated'. Poor wordchoice. Writing longer textswithout a dictionary isalmost impossible.Word choice needswork. Somecollocations areknown, but most arestrange.Predictable texts can bewritten without theneed of the dictionary,but the dictionary isalways nearby.Unpredictable topicsrequire constant use ofa dictionary.The dictionary is rarelyused for predictabletexts except fordiscriminating betweendifficult words or forfinding 'forgottenwords'. Extensive useof the dictionary forspecialist texts.