Can You Learn 100 Words a Day?

    Steve Kaufmann
    Dec 6, 2017 · 5 min read

    Is it possible to learn 100 words a day? I am going to look at the case of two different languages, Czech, which I learned a few years ago, and Greek, the language I have learned most recently.

    100 Words A Day With Czech 🇨🇿

    With Czech, after studying for one hour a day or so for six months, some days more some days less, mainly listening, reading, and saving words at LingQ, my statistics showed that I knew 25,000 words.

    This meant that I was able to recognize the meaning of these words in context. It didn’t mean that I could use them, nor that I really fully understood the range of their meaning or wouldn’t again forget them. But at least in one or several contexts, I didn’t need to look up these words since I understood them.

    That is how the system calculates which words the user knows. If we don’t need to look it up, we must know it, at least in this context, and at least right now, is what the system says.

    Czech is a very inflected language; nouns, adjectives, and verbs change depending on their function in a sentence. Therefore this word count is larger than it would be for some other languages, like English, that have fewer different forms of essentially the same word. This way of counting each form of a word as a different word is sometimes considered unfair or inaccurate.

    This is a matter of opinion. As long as we don’t brag about how many words we know based on this statistic, I prefer this approach. I find that I need to learn the different forms of words, for tense, case, or person whether in Czech or any language.

    Each form of a word is a different expression of meaning, a different word function, one which I feel I need to learn and get used to. That is why I often like to save them as separate terms at LingQ.

    LingQ not only calculates the words that a user knows, but also calculates the number of words or phrases that a learner has looked up and saved. These are the “LingQs created“ in the learner’s profile at LingQ. This number for me for Czech after 6 months was 20,000.

    Of these 20,000 “LingQs” that I had looked up and saved, 7,450 were terms that I eventually deliberately learned, by moving their status to “known”, either manually or by reviewing them with flashcards. So I deliberately learned less than one third of my “known words”.

    My other “known words” were simply new words that I didn’t feel the need to look up or save. These were words that I learned incidentally, because of other words that I had already learned, or because of my ability to infer from the context.

    Of the 20,000 words that I looked up, 7,450 were converted to known, but I also knew other words on this list. In other words, my “known words” total, after 6 months of Czech studies on LingQ, was actually well in excess of 25,000 words, the way LingQ counts them. If we divide even the 25,000 known words by 180 days, we arrive at 139 words per day. So in Czech, yes I was able to learn more than 100 words per day.

    100 Words A Day With Greek 🇬🇷

    Now let’s look at my experience with Greek, which I started about about nine months ago at LingQ.

    There were a number of interruptions, I spent a month in Ukraine and a month in Greece and Israel, traveling with my wife and Chinese-speaking friends. I also spent another few weeks trying to learn a bit of Hebrew before going to Israel. Let’s call it eight months or 230 days.

    Here the numbers are not as good. I have only managed to learn 8,800 words in eight months, only about one third as many as in Czech during a six month period.

    The number of LingQs created, or terms that I looked up and saved, is somewhat greater, 26,000 compared to 20,000 in Czech. But the significant difference is that most of my known words were deliberately learned. Unlike in Czech where most of my “known words” were learned incidentally, and only one third were learned deliberately, in Greek most (68%) were learned deliberately. These are the 5,990 terms from among my 26,000 saved “LingQs” that I converted to “known”.

    If I divide the total known words in Greek by the number of days (230) I get only 38 words a day, nowhere near as high a number as in Czech. Why?

    The reason is simply that Greek is a bit of an outlier among European languages, as this very interesting map of the lexical proximity of European languages illustrates. Greek is kind of out there by itself. In learning Greek, at least at the beginning stages, there aren’t so many words that I recognize from other languages that I know.

    Czech, on the other hand, shares 40% vocabulary with Russian, which I had already studied before starting Czech. By that I mean many words are the same or recognizable, like “zitra” (Czech) and “zavtra (Russian) for tomorrow etc.. Czech grammar is very similar to Russian grammar. So, if we stay with languages that are close to languages we know, I believe we can learn 100 words a day. The further away from languages we know, the tougher it will be.

    As an example, after studying Czech, I spent some time learning Ukrainian and then decided to do a Polish 90-Day Challenge at LingQ. I was able to learn over 300 words a day!

    I do find that I am picking up momentum in my Greek, though. As I learn more words, I am able to infer the meaning of other words. I am also able to read and listen to more interesting content. I am hopeful that my words learned per day will increase, maybe to 50 per day or so. Time will tell.


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    Steve Kaufmann

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    Steve Kaufmann speaks 16 languages and is the co-founder of LingQ, a web and app language learning resource.



    A place to share knowledge on language learning and the edtech startup world. Want to learn a new language? Check out!

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