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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!


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’m writing this because I think a lot of people get disheartened when they put in a long study session every once in a while and still can’t read the book they wanted to or watch and comprehend the movie they’ve been looking forward to without subtitles. When you’re trying to assimilate an entire language into your mind, it’s obviously going to take a while. However, you can still see motivating progress but you must learn how to stretch out how you perceive your study time quite a bit.

+ If you want to look at it from a calendar-like perspective. (only if you’re studying every single day)

Don’t look for progress after a day, week, or even a month of studying. Start looking at progress quarterly.
Every three months, go back to that book or show you were looking forward to and rewatch it. Do you understand more now? You should be able to after 3 months of diligent study. Not textbook study, real study.

Pick apart real  dialogs in your foreign language and devour the words and phrases. Then reread from your study material again and put it together in your mind. Throw those items in a spaced repetition system program like Anki to make sure you don’t forget them if you so desire.

+If you want to look at it from a vocabulary-like perspective. (helpful for people who don’t study everyday like the cool kids)

Don’t hope to see progress after you knock down a 100 word vocabulary list. Look at your progress after you’ve knocked down 1000 words/phrases/sentences. You need these large numbers before you start regularly seeing the words you’ve worked so hard to accumulate in daily texts/media. 1000 language items may seem daunting but we’re talking about an entire language here. You’ve got to make the commitment or what are you even doing?

If you want to tie it back to checking your progress quarterly, this is a little over 11 language items a day plus reviews and enjoying other things in the language for fun.

As for me, I stay at a pace of around 10 new items a day plus review and immersion. This is a fairly easy pace to stick to. If you are super motivated, you could easily do more than this a day and see results much faster.

Twitter @loafyi

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