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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.

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.

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.

Back to the short SRS cards.

For a while, I tried doing longer SRS (spaces repetition system cards) and it’s really put me off from doing my reviews. You may have heard of them under names such as “massive context cards” or “massive context with clozed deletions,” etc. With these longer cards, the failure rate is higher and the boredom rate is even higher than that. It almost feels like reading the same boring book over and over again. In fact, it’s not almost, it feels exactly like that.

Because of this, I’ve gone back to what has kept me interested in doing my reviews for 2 years now… short cards.

Short cards are great because they can be read in just a few seconds and you get reexposed to the word you were targeting. It’s quick and painless and you can work through 50 reviews in a short amount of time. After that, get your input from extensive reading, vids, etc.  SRS is just meant to be a stoploss or a way to efficiently learn rarer words. You need to broadly explore the language in order to become more natural in it.

The long cards though… they are just a disaster. I don’t even want to review them. When I see them, I just glare at the screen.

In summary, don’t follow the latest trends in language learning, just goes with what keeps you processing your new language as painlessly as possible.

Twitter @loafyi

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