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When will I get somewhere in the language?
When will I understand what the hell’s going on?

This guide is written for those people who have never learned a foreign language before or have tried and failed. Most importantly this guide serves as an estimate for about when you’ll have advanced passive understanding in your new foreign language. It doesn’t mean you’ll be jabbering away fluently with perfect grammar.

So how will we estimate how long it will take?
By using a large arbitrary number of course! ヽ(´ー`)ノ♪

Actually, while the exact number is arbitrary, the amount itself is from my personal experience in getting to advanced passive understanding in Japanese. Advanced doesn’t mean you’ll know everything and it doesn’t mean you’ll be able to fluently produce the language by spoken or written means. However, you’ll be able to read most common texts (Not academic or specialized areas outside of your interests) and you’ll be able to understand common media and conversation at about 98% of the time.

The large arbitrary number I’ve come up with is 100,000 repetitions.
Once you’ve allowed your brain to process around 100,000 snippets of comprehensible text over a period of time, you should be at around the 98% level of comprehension in your language of choice. Snippets of text? I’ve used this term because they’re not always sentences and they’re not always phrases or single words. Personally, I try to shoot for the 3 to 10 word range for each “item.”

100,000 doesn’t mean 100,000 DIFFERENT items. It simply means that you’ve ton 100,000 repetitions of the content you’ve collected. You might only have 10,000 different items but have reviewed those items 10 times each. Obviously, if you review the same item 100,000 times, you’re not going to get anywhere. Shoot for the 8,000 to 12,000 range depending on how strong your memory is.

How long will this take?
That depends on your daily volume of comprehensible language items. How much of your day can you devote to this task?

This is an important question because people often just like the idea of being able to understand/speak a new language but when it comes down to actually doing the huge amount of work required, the slink back off into the monolingual shadows. There’s nothing really wrong with that though. Some people just don’t enjoy the process of learning languages enough to see it through. Some of us like to learn multiple languages. You’ll have to ask yourself where you fall on that spectrum.

How long and how much:
Around 274 items a day for 1 year.
Around 137 items a day for 2 years.

Which one fits your goals and life? For me I did something like the 2 year plan give or take some months.

If you think these timeframes seem too long or like too much work, you have to re-ask yourself the above question about how badly do you want this new skill. It takes a ton of time to accumulate the vocabulary you need understanding even the most commonplace media. If you wanna keep track of your numbers then you’ll probably want to do your studying using a Spaced Repetition System like Anki.

What’s next? Well, once you’ve completed this task, I’m sure you’ve found movies, books, and people that you enjoy spending time with that involve your new language. After you have this foundation, it’s simply a matter of gaining more and more words and practicing outputting them properly.

Good luck!


It’s funny because I recently wrote a post talking about reviewing less  and ever since I wrote that post I’ve been spending a lot more time blasting through cards in anki.

I’ve got decks going for Japanese, Polish, and Mandarin right now and things are going very well, indeed.  I think it’s due to my new 5 card “limit” per day.

You see, this isn’t really a limit and more of an incredibly low starting point to get you in the flow of doing something(anything) at all in that language. I now often find myself knocking down 5 cards an hour in each deck instead of doing 5 a day. I’ve just really been in the mood lately.

Some SRSing things that work for me:

1. Keep cards extremely short. (I can’t stand massive context clozed deletion cards)

2. Keep your decks to under 1000 cards each. My first sentence deck in Japanese was over 5000 cards and when large parts of it got boring, I felt like it would be too much of a hassle to fix it. If you keep your decks limited to something like 1000 cards, your decks evolve over time with your interests and style to keep you progressing as well.

Well, that’s a strange title.

Basically, that’s what I’ve decided to do along side my Japanese and Polish studies. I’ve got a couple Mandarin decks I’ve downloaded from the shared deck section in the anki program. Right now I’m gonna work through one set of decks that have sound and one deck that doesn’t.

This is ZERO STRESS. I’m just gonna do 5 or 10 cards each day to get my brain primed and ready for if I ever decide to start studying Mandarin hardcore. Not only will this get my brain ready to tackle this language, I’ll also build up a nice amount of vocab with hardly trying.

If you have a language you’ve had your eye on but don’t want to take too much time away from your current language of choice. You might want to try this low stress way to get your mind ready to get some ass when you’re ready for full time study in your new language.

Just a quick thought about reading Japanese news that may aid in your frustration.

At the beginning of each article there is usually a in-depth description of the location of where an incident occurred. This is written in Kanji and it’s usually very hard to guess the reading unless it’s a very common place that you’ve seen many times.

Forget about it.  Skip all the wards, prefectures, districts, etc… and get the meat of the story. I think many Japanese learners get put off from learning to read the news because the first thing they’re smacked in the face with is ateji names of locations they’ve never heard of before and won’t be able to remember anyway. Skip that crap and let news ease in as a part of your language learning education if you are so inclined.

I’ve really begun to think this lately. A lot of language learners who use an SRS (Spaced Repetition System) for memorizing sentences and vocabulary or what-not spend a very large amount of time reviewing rather than exploring in the language.

Lately, I’ve been focusing a lot on words when I initially encounter them. If i think they’re interesting or they have a kanji in common, I’ll write them down on my whiteboard or a post-it note and stick them on my wall by where I sit. When they’ve been up on my wall for a about a week, I just erase the board or throw the notes away. I then repeat this process as I go push through the language in the wild.

As far as SRS goes. I think the reviews should be snorlax-level lazy.I’m doing 2 main decks now. A Japanese deck and a Polish deck.

I have them set to show 2 new cards a day and the sessions are set at a 5 card max. Obviously 3 old cards and 2 new cards if there are any in queue. If I really feel like it, I’ll go further along in the decks for more reviews but most of the time, I don’t.

After you get to a certain level in a language, the huge review sessions are almost counter-productive in my opinion. If you’re going to use an SRS, be very restrictive on the time you spend on reviewing content and better utilize than time by letting your brain have a chance to be exposed to more and more new words and content.

When I was going heavy into the 10,000 SRS sentences project for learning Japanese, I barely ever reviewed more than 30 sentences a day. I spent most of my time adding cards and trying to read them in a Japanese accent when I entered them. I feel my Japanese is at a respectable level and the core of my knowledge came from that period. I think I got to around 5,500 sentences before I got bored with the method and starting playing with Japanese in other ways.

Hopefully you all will get some use out of these kanji ladder examples.

Similar radical ladders: Heisig devotees gotta love the turkey radical.



Same kanji ladders:






Lately, I’ve been doing a lot more deep thinking to increase my reading speed and recognition of kanji. Most errors in my readings come from the kanji that look very similar to other ones.  I’ve taken to learn these kanji in groups in their jukugo context.

For example, taped to my wall next to me are the words 斜め 塗る 徐々に 除く。 These words have a radical in common and studying them in this context really makes the brain hone in and focus on the differences in each character.

Also, start laddering words with common kanji together to make extremely quick progress: 優しい、優秀、秀逸、免許、許す、許可。 It’s that simple.

I hope you get the point of why it’s done like this. I’ve been using this method by surrounding myself with the laddered words on post-it notes all over my apartment and on my whiteboard so they’re inescapable. Also, this post is entitled “kanji meditation” because it works the best if you really take a second to think about the radicals involved in each kanji and how they flow together. I’ve been combining this method with reading to spot the words in the wild and my results have been very encouraging these past few weeks. Give it a try.

Step 1.)  Start with a scenario about buying tickets at a train station

Step 2.) Pack it with grammatical terms early on to create a barrier of entry for the learner.

Step 3.) Sprinkle in business dialogs so you can learn the words “economics” and “negotiations” to start your 20 word vocabulary

Step 4.) Have a 3 page lesson about the many exciting ways of asking for and telling the time

Step 5.) Give it a catchy name like “Learn Brazillian Portuguese without your cerebral cortex in just 5 minutes a day”



I’ve noticed a lot of people stress out about their SRS reviews. A lot of them are going through hundreds of cards each day and stressing out. I propose that people worry less about reviewing and more about moving forward.

The thought is simple:
If you never see a word, you have absolutely ZERO chance of learning it.
If you see a word once, your chance of learning the word has increased infinitely.

Of course some review is necessary but I think reviewing time should take up a lot less of your language learning time in a
day than you might think. What I like to do is add a lot of cards to my SRS, but only allow them to be added to my deck at a rate at about 7 cards a day. Also, it’s crucial to change the setting to “add new cards randomly.” This ensures a good sampling of what’s added to your deck and not an “in order” card addition from things you added several days or a week ago.

Give your brain a chance to encounter as many new words as possible during a study session. This is especially true when you are starting a language in a brand new language family where you can’t rely on cognates too much.I would much rather have some vague familiarity with 1000 words than to know 100 words extremely well. At the starting
stages, it’s much more important to have a broad passive understanding than a sharp understanding in a narrow range.

Since you’ve planted those seeds in your brain from seeing so many words, you’ll have a chance to grow those memories stronger and stronger when you see the words in the wild or when you’re doing your reviews.

I’m writing this post to ask people who know more than 2 languages… or those who are learning their first foreign language how they got past the beginning stages.

Every time I start to play with a new language I get this massive feeling of discouragement mainly because I’ve come so for in my first foreign language, Japanese. In some ways it makes me feel really good about how far I’ve come in Japanese, but other times It reminds me of the pain of starting a new language and knowing almost nothing in comparison. I want to become a polyglot but when I look at a new language I feel like I just don’t have time with my science studies and Japanese studies to take on a new language. This is very frustrating.

In a perfect world, I would get paid to just learn languages and translate part of the day. I’ve almost come to the end of my bachelors degree in Biology and I have to spend a certain amount of time maintaining science knowledge and getting ready for a possible career in science.

So back at the topic at hand. I”m asking this because I’ve forgotten.  How do you mentally cope with getting past the beginning stages in a new language? I feel like I never really experienced this acutely because I was listening to Japanese since i was like 13 by watching subbed anime and randomly playing with beginners lessons before I really got started learning the language seriously at the age of 22 or so. By this I mean I think I remember already having the “melody” of the language in me by the time I started.
Thanks f0r any comments.

Twitter @loafyi

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