Here's how many words and how much time you need (probably)

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Le Baron
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Re: Here's how many words and how much time you need (probably)

Postby Le Baron » Tue Jul 27, 2021 6:34 pm

Beli Tsar wrote:The bigger problem I have is all the little functional words - prepositions, conjunctions, etc. etc. - that are high frequency, but hard to absorb. Beginner textbooks seem to cover fewer of these than they should relative to frequency, presumably precisely because they would overwhelm you. But when you start reading they are everywhere! They are so easy to muddle with each other. And they are often slippery things, without a direct gloss or equivalent in your own language, which is - for me - the one thing that makes a word really hard to absorb.


Absolutely :lol: . And the thing is, no matter how good the textbook or teacher, very often a native speaking teacher just doesn't always fully understand which things puzzle foreign students the most. I don't remember ever covering particle words in Dutch like 'toch, even, nochtans, eens, wat, pas...' I remember some cropped-up in the old Hugo three months course I did, but the approach taken in classes was to merely say/use them and seemingly hope students would divine the meaning! I remember being in the library in Brugge and asking a woman :'what does toch actually mean? How do I use it?' And she was hard-pressed to explain even though she knew perfectly well all its uses and senses. They're slippery indeed and hide inside sentences.

A girl at the language cafe (pre-covid) said to me she was in despair learning French with things like: ainsi que, encore que, autant que, bien que, pour autant, alors que, that sort of thing.

These sorts of things need time and to happen in conversation/reading over a fairly long period in order to internalise. I'm not sure that sticking a long list of those in Anki without a lot of context, would be something learned in a week or a month.
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Re: Here's how many words and how much time you need (probably)

Postby einzelne » Tue Jul 27, 2021 10:19 pm

It strikes me that every time when people discuss vocabulary acquisition they assume it has to be Anki and it has to be production, not recognition. Also, the OP was explicit that all calculations are for Indo-European languages.

It's extremely unproductive to learn all vocabulary actively and I personally believe that getting to the point when you can enjoy unadapted original content is vital to keep your motivation. To be clear, I hate all this "fluent in not time" nonsense. Yet at the same time, if I were told that 32 months is not enough to master enough vocabulary to read unadapted texts (not all of them of course, but the majority of them), I would never venture to start the language journey (as it is the case with Language III and IV categories, for instance).

I think C2 assumes that you can read complex unadapted texts and, I think, it's pretty doable in 32 months, given the formal condition of 98% known words. Actually, my personal experience says that comfortable reading starts at 99 or higher and I think 16k is underestimated due to different reason (but on the bright sight, cognates significantly reduce the number of words you actually need to study).

I'm not saying that C2—or even C1—in all 4 skills is achievable within this timeframe but 32 months should be more than enough to get you to the point when you can comfortably read newspapers, undemanding contemporary fiction or non-fiction on the topics you're interested in.
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Re: Here's how many words and how much time you need (probably)

Postby Iversen » Tue Jul 27, 2021 10:59 pm

A learner's vocabulary is bound to be mainly passive - that's how the brain is constructed. I have observed that the percentage of of known words I conceivably might remember if I needed them is creeping upwarts with time, but even in my native Danish I can't remember all the words I can recognize. I can't give precise percentages, it's all a matter of gut feeling, but I have asked myself this question quite often during my wordcounts (where you actually can assess the percentage because you look at hundreds, if not thousands of words), and I doubt that I can come up with even half of my total vocabulary in even the best of my target languages.

I have stated before that I only feel safe when my passive vocabularium has reached around a treshold of maybe 20.000 headwords, but I can survive a holiday on less than that. Actually I can talk until the birds fall down from the sky in those languages without using more than a fraction of those 10 or 20.000 words. OK, it ain't C2 in speaking, but it is fluent - too fluent, some might say who have listened to me. But only because I have a solid foundation on the passive side, and on top of that it takes training to learn to use your words.

To be concrete: I once did a test where I learnt 5000 Serbian words in three months with my wordlists (no Anki), and then you could add the 5000 I could guess before the exercise. If I had continued to study only that language for a year and travelled extensively in the area then I could definitely have reached 20.000 passive headwords within a year. But I could only have spoken it fluently if I had trained that particular activity, and I didn't.

As for the little grey words: you can't expect to learn all their uses in one fell swoop. First you should just learn to recognize those words, and then their idiomatic uses should come automatically when you see them in practical use. Learning all the uses of for instance Dutch "toch" from Anki cards or a dictionary is too optimistic.
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Re: Here's how many words and how much time you need (probably)

Postby Le Baron » Wed Jul 28, 2021 12:01 am

einzelne wrote:It's extremely unproductive to learn all vocabulary actively and I personally believe that getting to the point when you can enjoy unadapted original content is vital to keep your motivation. To be clear, I hate all this "fluent in not time" nonsense. Yet at the same time, if I were told that 32 months is not enough to master enough vocabulary to read unadapted texts (not all of them of course, but the majority of them), I would never venture to start the language journey (as it is the case with Language III and IV categories, for instance).

A very fair point and 2 years 8 months of dedicated study should certainly be enough time to get people to something far more than upper beginner/lower intermediate.
einzelne wrote:I think C2 assumes that you can read complex unadapted texts and, I think, it's pretty doable in 32 months, given the formal condition of 98% known words. Actually, my personal experience says that comfortable reading starts at 99 or higher and I think 16k is underestimated due to different reason (but on the bright sight, cognates significantly reduce the number of words you actually need to study).

I'm not saying that C2—or even C1—in all 4 skills is achievable within this timeframe but 32 months should be more than enough to get you to the point when you can comfortably read newspapers, undemanding contemporary fiction or non-fiction on the topics you're interested in.

Here I'm more inclined to disagree. I think C2 means a person is totally at ease with the language in practically all its forms and diversity and has essentially 'lived' it. I don't think reading and reading knowledge is anything like enough of a basis on which to declare proficiency of that kind. And that separating these out as 'C1 reading'..'B1 listening'..'A2 speaking' is really a sign of unbalanced attention to the four skills.
I wouldn't necessarily place production of language over the other three core skills, but reading - which seems to be a chosen end goal for a lot of learners - is only knowing one part of a target language. As we know many languages are often quite different in their written/spoken forms, yet recognising written representations of vernacular speech, as in novels and other fiction, requires experience of both. Also seeing such language written doesn't capture how it really is. Learning to recognise/memorising a written word and recognising it on a page is not the same as recognising it for speech - someone else's or your own.

At the very least listening should be developed to the same/similar extent that reading is developed, otherwise I'm inclined to the say the person does not comprehend the target language properly. Immersion in the country and well-guided intensive courses definitely speed up the process and the usual time-frame in that scenario is between 2-3 years to get properly functional. I can't see why people think they can learn on their own in the time-frames usually posited.
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Re: Here's how many words and how much time you need (probably)

Postby smallwhite » Wed Jul 28, 2021 2:29 am

luke wrote:
smallwhite wrote:
GandwolfTheGrey wrote:Time needed per level:

A1 - 1 month
A2 - 2 months
B1 - 4 months
B2 - 8 months
C1 - 16 months
C2 - 32 months

Has s/he been learning for 2 or 3 months?

That's an interesting take on making the time projection algorithm more realistic. I.E., it would be more accurate to say A2 = 1 month + 2 months. But the algorithm still seems to suffer from the fact that it was created by a human (human factor) :lol:.

I’d just like to know whether the numbers are cumulative or not as it says “per level” (so non-cumulative and the A2er has learnt for 3 months not 2) but fellow posters are saying 32 months for C2 (cumulative) so I’m not sure.
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Re: Here's how many words and how much time you need (probably)

Postby einzelne » Wed Jul 28, 2021 4:43 am

Le Baron wrote:Here I'm more inclined to disagree. I think C2 means a person is totally at ease with the language in practically all its forms and diversity and has essentially 'lived' it. I don't think reading and reading knowledge is anything like enough of a basis on which to declare proficiency of that kind. And that separating these out as 'C1 reading'..'B1 listening'..'A2 speaking' is really a sign of unbalanced attention to the four skills.


I was just responding to the original post and I thought it was mainly about the vocabulary you need to understand podcasts.
Listening is a nice bonus and with the Internet today it's almost impossible to imagine language learning without audio, so I take it for granted. The thing is, when it comes to listening, people automatically assume understanding TV series and movies. I don't think you can realistically achieve high level of comprehension here (although it is possible to become comfortable with radio and podcasts).

As for test requirements or a well rounded approach to learning languages, I'm quite pragmatic from that perspective. I study for myself, for my own self-development, not for language certificates. Say, I want to enjoy German literature in the original. Why do I need to practice speaking? The ability to hold a smalltalk won't bring me closer to Rilke. The vast vocabulary will do. I'll get it faster, if I practice passive recognition only — no need worry about noun gender, no need to cram irregular verbs or preposition+cases. It all comes naturally after the massive exposure via reading (and listening). Then, if you really need it, you can start activating your passive knowledge. But the truth is, the majority of adult learners (for whom language learning is a hobby) don't need it.
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Re: Here's how many words and how much time you need (probably)

Postby Beli Tsar » Wed Jul 28, 2021 10:05 am

einzelne wrote:It strikes me that every time when people discuss vocabulary acquisition they assume it has to be Anki

In this conversation, isn't it more to do with the fact that we can get real, concrete figures from Anki? Only someone who has been tracking vocabulary acquisition very carefully indeed could give these types of figures for other methods of learning - perhaps Iversen and one or two others, but Anki here gives us a baseline of what's possible, if nothing more.
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Re: Here's how many words and how much time you need (probably)

Postby einzelne » Wed Jul 28, 2021 7:17 pm

Beli Tsar wrote:In this conversation, isn't it more to do with the fact that we can get real, concrete figures from Anki?


I track my vocabulary by highlighting new words and expressions in my reader, for instance. That's how I discovered that 98% is not enough and comfortable reading starts with 99% (better yet 99,5) known words.

Without Anki I can definitely maintain the pace of 30 words per day while also reviewing 100-150 words. Not every single day, of course, and I don't strive for 100% retention rate. I'm quite a formalist, especially when it comes hapax legomena. While reviewing, I just read the word and try to recall its meaning; if I cannot do it, I read the whole phrase to get the context; if I still cannot recall the translation, I use the pop up dictionary. I repeat the same batch of words for 3-5 days, then I switch to a new one. I don't fight with 'stubborn' words, since my experience showed that it's useless. Then, after several months or a year, I can go through the book again, usually, out of curiosity. On average, 1/3 of highlighted words would be instantly familiar to me (this wonderful feeling: "OMG, I cannot believe that back in the day I didn't know this word. It's like second nature now!"). I don't track the exact number of words, but I think such a chill approach increases my passive vocabulary at the rate of around 5k word per year (provided that I read at least 1h in a target language, or around 2 books per month and review new vocabulary time and then).
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Re: Here's how many words and how much time you need (probably)

Postby GandwolfTheGrey » Wed Jul 28, 2021 9:35 pm

I'm glad this has generated some good discussion but also a little frustrated that a lot of the important details I took care to go over in the introduction were glossed over by a fair few. Or perhaps I wasn't as clear as I had intended. I also don't think it's fair to discount my estimates on the grounds of things like "people lose motivation" etc. Yes they do. And those people will not achieve what I said because they are not studying the minimum amount of time 7 days a week. That's why I was specific about this. If you slack off and study 10 minutes a day after 5 months, good luck getting to C2 in your lifetime. With my below-clarified rules of the game in mind, let the games begin.

1) Meant for Indo-European languages ONLY, and that applies for both native and target language. I've only dabbled in languages outside this family so I can't even give an educated guess. But hey just for fun, double it. There ya go.

2) The minimum daily time commitment is active, dedicated studying and does not include all the passive comprehensible input that any dedicated learner is also assumed to be getting along with the studies. I didn't factor this into the figures because it's all but impossible to account for due to variables I can't measure, such as whether you're distracted or not while listening to a podcast. Granted I can't know this with certainty for study time either but I think it's fair to wager that if you've decided to sit down and learn a language, you're not going to stop every 5 minutes to look at the pretty birds. Study time is study time.

3) Though I might slightly bump up the word count figures for each level, I should also clarify that this is for distinct vocabulary. Knowing all the conjugations of one verb does not count toward the total. This is also not meant to be fully activated vocabulary. Yet more conjecture that I'm sure I'll be called out for but, I highly doubt that I've come anywhere close to using 16k+ unique words actively in my native language in the last five years of my life combined. Then again maybe my inner Ozarkian limits my expressive capacity, who knows. Ultimately, there's a reason the frequency lists exist and that's because we don't use all the words we recognize, simple as that.

4) While I didn't initially mean it to be the case, on further reflection I think it's probably a lot more realistic for the timeframes to be lengthened. These are "as is" figures so B1 at 6 months means B1 at 6 months total, not 10 months. See my revised timings below.

A1 - 1 month
A2 - 3 months
B1 - 6 months
B2 - 12 months
C1 - 24 months
C2 - 48 months

Curious to hear more of your thoughts!
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Re: Here's how many words and how much time you need (probably)

Postby devilyoudont » Wed Jul 28, 2021 10:52 pm

1) I would guess hour targets are more appropriate than month targets. It's easy enough to have 75% empty months. I think with smaller units, we are more honest about if we are fucking around or not.

2) Just to note, non-IE languages would take more time as well as require more words. Extra time is needed because 1) the words are more unfamiliar, and 2) some other aspect of the language is likely to be extremely hard for you (sounds you can't hear, grammar which feels like it's from Mars, logograms, whatever). You'll need extra words because there are a ton of words you'll get for free in IE languages. These free words allow you to keep participating in a convo or reading a book even tho you only recognize these words by sight because they are cognates to a word from your native language. You won't get significant volumes of these words in non-IE languages, which effectively means you need more words to operate at a B2 than a learner of Spanish would need.
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