Acquiring words: learning curve?

I just listened to Steve’s last video on words count. I have been wondering since my debut 5 months ago what was the typical learning curve regarding words count. I am now around 800-900 known words in japanese. Let’s say I learn 180 new words each month. That doesn’t sound very fast. If I need 25 000 words to be fluent, it’s gonna take me a while. Should I expect words to accumulate faster after a certain count? Is there a typical learning curve? Would you share your experience on that matter?

I know Steve said once he could mark as known 100 new words a day (in romanian if I’m not wrong). That shows I guess that the more words you already know, the more new words you can acquire fast. But I guess that works well within latin languages. I’m wondering if that applies for “insular languages” like Japanese. Or is it just a fact that the more words you know in a specific language, the faster you learn new words? That sounds maybe intuitive, but I’d still be happy to have comments on this.

With Finnish, I had a lot of troubles but after maybe 10-15000 words (the way I count them) the grammar started to make sense, and after that, the learning of new words accelerated. With Russian my main problem right now is, that I cant pronounce a lot of the words just yet, because I’m not used to the language. So that makes it kind of difficult, to remember new words I guess. With Italian, where I don´t face the same troubles as in the others, I feel my learning curve is more “smooth”, and not this “gas-brake” learning curve as with Finnish & Russian.

Don’t know about Japanese, but Chinese vocabulary is pretty simple. Even more advanced terms are made up of basic words, which makes it easy to learn and accumulate vocabulary once you have many basic words down. I find it doesn’t take much study after a certain point. If you already know the two basic characters in a two-character word, you just remember they go together to make this new word. Pretty easy. Not like English where we have a new word invented for everything. So, Chinese vocabulary acquisition does indeed speed up.

German, to an extent is similar. There are many compound words made up of simpler words, or common word parts. A lot of it is similar to English too, so I’ve found it’s not as difficult as Chinese when first starting up. As cribbe said with Finnish, once the German grammar makes sense and you can start reading things, you’ll start learning new words faster.

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I believe that our vocabulary must have (at it really has) 2-3 parts: 30-40% -active vocabulary that we can use by speaking, 30% - passive words that we can qiete easily understand but we never use, and 30-40% that we can quess but we needn’t to learn.
If you divide your new words in mind into 3 parts your acquiring could be faster.

Some funny examples I like of literal translations;

猫头鹰 (Owl), lit. “cat-headed hawk”;
长颈鹿 (Giraffe), lit. “long-necked deer”.

Handschuhe (Gloves), lit. “hand-shoes”;
Schildkröte (Turtle), lit. “shield-toad”;
Nacktschnecke (Slug), lit. “naked snail”.

One in Chinese & German: Vacuum cleaner;

吸尘器, lit. “dust-sucking device”;
Staubsauger, lit. “dust sucker”.

More in German with funny pictures: 24 Words That Are Better In German


I totally agree evgueny40. Although I am not an English teacher, neither a native English spoken person, this stands for my mother tongue. Usually 2000 Greek words are enough for everything!
Yeah, believe me!

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Yeah, I’ve noticed it too. =D

This word was extremly easy for me to remember:
水龙头 (faucet, tap), lit. “head of the water-dragon”

Yes this is similar in Japanese, yet many compounds dont make sense as the sum of their parts… But for instance “future” is composed of “not-yet” and “come/past” if I’m not wrong. So its easy to remember. I can guess tons of words by their writing, HOWEVER, I’m faaaaar behind concerning the spelling. That’s the main problem actually. I have a lot of lingQs at 3 that I cant get to 4 because of that.

I think the main reason to learn faster is because when you have more words either by passive or active vocabulary, you have more freedom of choice from what to read next and of course more options for things that you would enjoy reading, so reading in a constant schedule from things you enjoy will make you progress faster each time, because as you get more words you open more “doors” to read other things.

But that is generally speaking regardless of which language you’re learning. Probably the languages we already know has also a great influence on that too. New languages with totally different vocabularies, phrase patterns and words compounds shall be quite more difficult to get new words than the languages similar to the ones we know.

That’s the same in Chinese and another good example. Future is 未来 “yet to come”. Made up of 未 “not yet” and 来 “to come”.

I believe Steve has commented on the shared or similar vocabulary between Chinese and Japanese, and Korean as well. So if it’s anything like Chinese, you’ll find this sort of thing happening a lot. Even more “advance” or “technical” terms you’d think there would be new words for are actually made up of more basic words like this.

An example; 感应器 (inductor), lit. sense-respond device.

If you know the basic words to feel/sense and to respond, then you can learn the word for induction/inductance.

So again, once you have amassed a core of basic words, your overall vocabulary will increase more easily and rapidly. It is just a steeper climb at the start.

Can you give a link to Steve’s comment please?

sorry I dont remember the one I was referring to, but I think I found a similar one by googling. But I haven’t read it throught.

I remember it had generated a long discussion on this forum. I dont want to start it over again. I was just curious to make a reasonable prediction on how fast you can acquire words in a totally new language, as opposed to the extreme case of Steve’s Romanian, that went like crazy-fast because he knew already all thoses latin langages.

Are you asking about Steve’s comment on the similarity between Chinese, Japanese, and Korean vocabulary? I’m sure I heard him talk about it on a number of different Youtube videos. Don’t recall which ones though.

However, I’ve noticed the similarities without even studying the other languages. Visited South Korea at the start of the year and noticed the area in Seoul called Myeong-dong sounds very close to the Chinese characters 明洞 (Mingdong).

I also studied Chinese martial arts with a Korean master who gave all the terminology in Korean. I later learned it all in Chinese and it was all pronounced very similarly. The popular Korean martial art Taekwondo is pronounced Taiquandao in Chinese. A Dojo (Japanese for training hall) is Dojang in Korean, which is closer to the Chinese Daochang.

I think Japanese is generally much closer to Chinese than Korean is, but they all share a significant vocabulary enough to where it makes learning one after the other easier.

"That’s the same in Chinese and another good example. Future is 未来 “yet to come”. Made up of 未 “not yet” and 来 “to come”. "

Actually, that is exactly the compound I read in japanese, multiple times, the one I was just refering to . That is not however the translation google gives me when I translate future into japanese (将来). Wasn’t aware that Chinese compounds were also used in japanese.

about Korean, I heard recently that the grammar is very similar to japanese’s.

将来 is used in Chinese as well. It often has a slightly different meaning of “in the future”, where as 未来 is only used as the noun or adjective “future”. As opposed to “yet to come”, the literal meaning of 将来 is “will come”.

I’ve seen other two-character Chinese words in Japanese sentences where I obviously don’t understand the rest of it. There seems to be a lot of that.

“Should I expect words to accumulate faster after a certain count? Is there a typical learning curve? Would you share your experience on that matter?”

If you start with some beginner content, and then, after that, add native content – at lingq, you will notice that the word count will often follow an s-curve type shape. That is, it increases reasonably slowly during beginner content and then more steadily accumulates as you engage with, and add, native content, before failing back into a diminishing returns pattern. To the point where you can add native content with over 1000 unique words, but only have a few new words show up, as an example.

An inexperienced learner will often have a double s-curve shape to their word acquisition. With the “joining” of the two s-curves often indicating a point where they hit an “intermediate plateau”. This often reflects that they didn’t get onto native content soon enough.

When I was only with hiragana/katakana, reading beginners texts, I got the first 500 words rapidly. This is predictable since the first hundreds learned words are the more popular. After 3 months, I switched to real content. Now I read wikis, movie reviews, etc. I will read about 150 new words each day. Typically my average daily reading has 150 new words and 150 lingqs. I’m good enough with kanji --I spend a lot of time studiing them- that I dont struggle too much with the meaning of words. However as I said before, I’m held back by the prononciation. Regarding the number of new words to impose to oneself on each lecture, I took Steve’s advice to prefer real content with lots of new words. At first it was a pain to constantly have 2 or 3 new words in each phrases, but I quickly got used to it. Knowing the kanji helps a lot I should say. But the known words increase in “compte goutte” :slight_smile:

Most people “acquire words” through repetition. You don’t really “get” words at the beginning. Typically, it is only after many, many years that a word will sink to the long term memory, and (for practical purposes) stay there. There are exceptions, but very few. Conjecture, but I would say - after a few years, typically you will get words filtering into your long term memory at a rate of roughly 10 per hour of “attentive exposure”. This rate often follows a typical s-curve pattern, as the years go by, eventually slowing to a rate of 1-2 per hour of “general exposure” (or even much less). – exact numbers are; what languages you know, and how you learn, dependent.