I live in Germany, and I have learnt German up to a B2 level course. My German is good enough to survive but not enough to get in a university to study subjects using German language, for getting a degree (which I have already done elsewhere as I live in Germany for an academic job). There are friends who studied German to a higher level and did the higher level German language examinations, but they are still not so accustomed to using only German and there are still things that they do not understand and they may sound weird by usually words not fitting the context.

I am interested in knowing how many words or how big a vocabulary one needs to have in Germany language to efficiently perform like a normal native German speaker in the office work. And if there is any official vocabulary list as suggested by the A-B-C level German language system?

  • 2
    A, B, C are way too artificial. Just read the newspapers (if you understand taz other kind of journalism, like die Welt is easier to read) and also novels if you don't mind exceeding the minimum of words you need.
    – c.p.
    Commented Apr 3, 2015 at 15:37
  • Depending on whether you count "abhängen" and "abhängig" as one or two words, I'd say between 1000 and 2000.
    – Emanuel
    Commented Apr 3, 2015 at 20:13
  • 6
    Office work can be to read, answer or correct the correspondence as well as doing copies and boiling the coffee. So the question is very vague. Commented Jun 9, 2015 at 13:40
  • Get hired by a software company. The employees sit in front of the display and stare on it most of the time. This saves communication effort ;-)
    – harper
    Commented Jun 9, 2015 at 14:16
  • 2
    Wenn dein Deutsch-Level wirklich B2 ist, warum stellst du deine Frage hier in diesem Deutsch-Forum nicht auf Deutsch? Siehe auch: meta.german.stackexchange.com/a/830/1487 Commented Dec 16, 2015 at 6:34

2 Answers 2


It's hard for me to add something to this …

However, I will do because that in itself does not qualify as a good answer.

The basic point is that solely a number of words is highly irrelevant for speaking and understanding a language fluently. It is, as the author of the blog post states, a lot more important to understand context, place unknown words into a context, infer them, and continue talking about the subject using the vocabulary you have. It is also (as is implied in your question) important to know which word 'sounds' right in a given context – for example the close but nowhere near identical sehen and schauen/gucken. And finally, German is one of the languages where you can be a lot more fluent with a smaller percentage of words, because we have so many regional synonyms. (Alster/Radler, Sonnabend/Samstag, (Dach-)Boden/Speicher, Schippe/Schaufel, Brötchen/Wecke/Schrippe/Semmel, Pfannkuchen/Eierkuchen/Omelett, Berliner/Pfannkuchen/Krapfen/Krebbel … See the Atlas der deutschen Alltagssprache for more details.)

Furthermore, you asked specifically about the office context. That makes your question even harder and more impossible to answer. Consider someone working in the finance office. They'll need to know a lot of words concerning taxing and financing, that someone doing human resources or business trip stuff doesn't need. Conversely, both of those departments have their own set of significant words. If your 'office job' includes calling customers and talking on the phone, your vocabulary will need to be larger still, because you need to again know those regional synonyms I touched earlier.

Likewise, to answer your final part, if there is any official list of words that one needs to know for any of those language levels that go further than the personal pronouns, articles and present tense forms of sein and haben, that list is probably bad and should be abolished immediately.

Trying to think of something equivalent to the Chinese menu test the author of the blog post talks about, one of my first ideas is a Schafkopf test, i.e. attempt to understand and explain phrases/words used in a typical four-player Schafkopf game (it's most played in political Bavaria as far as I know). Note that most Germans (90 %+) would fail this test, even if you explained the rules of Schafkopf beforehand. Want a try?

  • Die mit dem Hund drauf
  • Blau ist die Hoffnung
  • Wenn's ginge
  • Schellinsky war ein Pole
  • Eichel fressen die Säue

Answers in the spoiler:

Mit der Schelln-Sau
Mit der blauen Sau (standarddeutsch grün)
(farbloser) Wenz

  • 4
    Der verlinkte Blogartikel (den du dir in der Antwort zu eigen machst) ist ziemlicher Quark. Der Autor baut erst einen Popanz auf, den er dann in aggressivem Ton zerreißt. Er hat einen Spanischtest mit 96% der Punkte bestanden, obwohl er nicht 96% des spanischen Wortschatzes beherrscht, sagt er - niemand behauptet, daß der Test das aussagen würde. (Kein Muttersprachler kennt 96% aller Wörter ...) Ebenso testen die als "akademisch" abqualifizierten Prüfungen mit voller Absicht nicht die Kenntnis einzelner Wörter ...
    – chirlu
    Commented Jun 9, 2015 at 9:29
  • 3
    ... (weiß er, was und bedeutet?), sondern das Verständnis bzw. die Kommunikationsfähigkeit - nur kommt er da ohne und nicht weit. Insofern versteht er die Testanforderungen genau verkehrtherum (nicht: diese Wörter mußt du können; sondern: typische allgemeinsprachliche Texte mußt du verstehen können, erfahrungsgemäß braucht man dafür ungefähr diesen Grundwortschatz).
    – chirlu
    Commented Jun 9, 2015 at 9:33
  • Wir haben die Unterhaltung im Chat fortgesetzt
    – Jan
    Commented Jun 9, 2015 at 12:18
  • We continued the German discussion in chat
    – Jan
    Commented Jun 9, 2015 at 13:36
  • "Kein Muttersprachler kennt 96% aller Wörter" - Ich würde sagen 50% aller Wörter im Duden zu kennen ist weit über dem Durchschnitt.
    – gnasher729
    Commented Dec 17, 2015 at 23:21

After a couple of years learning German I'm still not convinced that its number of words is finite (actually it's infinite). But as a guide to answer your question. Is there a language for which such an information is available? You might want to see in the Duden. After looking up a word there, it often appears

Dieses Wort gehört zum Wortschatz des Zertifikats Deutsch.

You can also infere a lot from the frequence it's used. For, say, the verb machen it appears

Häufigkeit: ■■■■■

Wheras for other less used words, like Unwort:

Häufigkeit: ■■□□□

There are more accurate dictionaries out there which assign frequencies. For a word with a frequency of 6, der would be 26 = 64 times as frequent as the word.

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