What is the size of a native speaker’s vocabulary?
The answer is not so simple. There are two sides to a person’s vocabulary. The first is the number of words they use on a daily basis. This is their active vocabulary. The second is the number of words that they recognise, but may not use themselves. This is their passive vocabulary.
For instance, most native speakers would understand the word ‘ajar’, which means ‘slightly open’, as in the door is ajar. But it is probably not a word that they use very much. Perhaps they never use it!
Lexicographer Susie Dent says that most native speakers of English have an active vocabulary of 20,000 words and a passive vocabulary of 40,000. I have seen other sources that claim most people have an active vocabulary of as little as 12,000 words.
Still, for an English learner, that is a lot of words to learn to catch up with the natives.
But there is a way to improve your vocabulary without learning new words. That is, to transfer some words from your passive vocabulary into your active vocabulary.
For example, you might be fond of the word ‘maybe’, but you can always try to use ‘perhaps’ more. Perhaps you usually write For example. You could try using For instance instead.
It’s all about making an effort and stepping outside of your comfort zone.