Active Reading vs Freeflow Reading for Intermediate and Above

Coming to LingQ to stir up another discussion.

I’m a very active translator while reading. I don’t think there is anyway to avoid this in beginner stages but as an intermediate reader I’m thinking if this might be counterproductive. So when I say “very active” I mean I make VERY sure every blue word (or obvious phrase/expression) I LingQ has correct translation for the context it’s in which can take between 2 seconds to 5 minutes if the meaning is difficult to find in my 4 Portuguese dictionaries (using my Brazilian wife as the last resort). Whenever I’m reading a conversation transcript where there’s a lot of slang this slows down everything so 2000 words of reading could take me around 45 minutes to 1 hour. But if I just free flow read my target language (not checking anything or only checking quickly to see if there is a good translation) it takes me 15 minutes which is a little slower than the rate of the real time conversation of about 12 minutes, and I understand the conversation just fine. So it got me thinking. If I only have time to read 2000 to 4000 words a day with this very active style (meticulously producing 100-200 LingQs), could I actually be hurting myself at this point considering I could read 8,000 to 16,000 words in 1-2 hours a day instead of 2,000 to 4,000 and pick up a lot more of the basics I’m still missing and eventually I’ll get those slangs/expressions down the road? I do get a kick out of the fact that I can now listen in on Brazilians talking (videos or in my daily life in Brazil) and even though I can hardly contribute to discussions, I am catching a lot of their slang which I feel like I’ve only gotten because of my arduous daily task of dissecting everything I read and hear. There is a lot of slang I doubt I could ever pick up naturally without asking somebody or consulting a dictionary but I’m assuming I’ll get so much more out of my time if I’m not worrying about it and focus more on inputting as much content as I can to get more of a handle on the main bulk of the language as opposed to understanding every little subtle expression that is said. Has anybody experimented between the two and feel one is better than the other?


I wouldn’t say that I consciously experimented between the two.

If I’m reading and I don’t know what something means, I’ll do whatever I can do try to find out what it does mean and then move on. If I don’t totally understand the concept of what’s going on, I may write it down (or you could use the “tag” feature in LingQ which I think would work well) and then find out the rest later.

If I have no idea or just can’t find a good meaning/hint/defintion/whatever, which can happen with slang, regional vocabulary, or older language (like Don Quijote in Spanish), I’ll just create the link, even if it’s blank or just a “?” and move along.


I think you should continue doing a bit of both. It’s good to make full use of your reading and interpreting skills. In the slower approach it seems like you’re really focusing on language, and on the other you’re really just looking for meaning with as little extra info as possible. It’s a good mix of top-down and bottom-up. I’d also say that taking some time to read easier material without LingQ or any outside assistance is pretty useful. It sounds like your reading speed is coming along nicely though. :smiley: Slang is interesting because it’s much more social vocabulary, and if you’re not directly involved with the social groups, it’s quite hard to get meaningful exposure where you start incorporating it into your own speech. I think you’d ideally have a few individuals that you’re very close with and those people would speak more informally with you. Cultural knowledge is also a big obstacle for a lot of slang too. Your method of asking meaning directly is probably one of the best things that you can do, and I imagine you learn some fun things about popular Brazilian culture.


The question you pose has also been something on my mind as I’d say I’m roughly somewhere in the wide threshold of an intermediate Japanese learner. While I read on LingQ, I pretty much do what you do by the sounds of it trying to understand each word and sentence to the best of my ability, which as you pointed out is time consuming and a bit on the taxing side. However as I’ve been reading novels for almost a year at this point I have noticed that even while doing this my reading speed does increase. At the beginning a 2000 word chapter would have taken me around 2 hours to complete with simple slice of life novels. At my current proficiency I can do a 2000 word chapter in just under an hour with a pretty good understanding, of course assuming it’s roughly in my reach. However more often than it’s the looking up of the yellow lingqs and understanding them in the new context that slows me down during this process.

I recently started reading a new series titled the melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, which has been a step up from my usual readings resulting in a 2000 word chapter taking a bit closer to 1 hour 30 mins on a typical day. The style of writing has been a bit of a departure from what I’m use to as the author likes using long sentences which really push the ability of my comprehension of grammar and word function, resulting in more active reading as otherwise most of the nuances of the situation would be lost on me.

I’ll be honest here for a moment with this approach, most of the time after I’ve completed a 2000 word chapter in this way the idea of starting another one isn’t exactly the most appealing, so it’s uncommon for me to read more than one chapter a day doing this. However, to supplement this I do a lot of free flow listening in the form of podcasts and shows (trying my best to make them level appropriate and not just a mess of words that I can’t understand) and I don’t go chasing words unless it really stands out to me.

That being said, I have plans on trying free flow reading in the near future but I feel like it wouldn’t be a generally pleasant experience with something too far above my current level. My thinking goes something like this: A lot of the joy in reading is understanding what’s going on in and around the characters and if you were to choose something too difficult and engage in free flow reading you would miss a lot of that unless you were to do multiple readings. However, if you choose something too easy sure you could bang out maybe 8000 words a day, but in order to understand what’s going on you would already have to know mostly what you are reading, which would be more simplistic content generally resulting in lower engagement.

With this as my flow of thinking I liken the experience to walking and weight lifting. I think the concentrated slow reading builds your brain the basic building blocks and refines them overtime, requiring that initial resistance to build new neurons. While free reading keeps you healthy and moving forward but in a bit of a more holistic manner.


I’ve been thinking something similar. Engaging in some content that I’m not having to look up much if at all. One thing I’ve thought about often in the past is that it might be a good idea to get faster at reading material that I’m at 98% (or whatever high level) of comprehension. I’ve wondered to some degree whether there would even be some knock on effect with listening. Having the ability to process sentences and meaning in a faster manner. We can always slow down or stop while reading, but when listening this is not the case unless we interrupt the speaker. Would getting better at processing reading faster have this knock on effect? No idea.

In any event, this weekend I had decided to go back and try to read all the articles on which I can now read pretty much without looking things up. It is enjoyable to be able to read without looking up, and I think it could be good to progress on quicker comprehension as your brain sees more of these words there is less struggle and time to get to the meaning. It becomes speedier with practice.

There are a lot of researchers that make the argument that extensive reading (no dictionary/easy reading) definitely improves your ability to process meaning quickly among other benefits. You might be interested in checking out ERF a bit? Evidence that ER Works | The Extensive Reading Foundation


Thanks for the link. I’ll take a look. I think some of my thinking was a result of someone talking about extensive reading. I think I misunderstood at the time that they were suggesting something more along the lines of that very tiny incremental step up in reading and not so much about speed of comprehension and or even the potential knock on effect too listening but maybe I got more out of the discussion than I thought. It certainly makes a lot of sense.

I think at this time…maybe a few months ago, Steve was talking on one of his videos that he still likes to go back to the mini stories and calling it his “gym”.

My very active and nitpicky reading style has also increased with speed over time. But as you mentioned with yellow words, I also often catch myself double checking if the meaning has changed for the context. I’ve read a lot at this point that it’s not too often I have found a new meaning for the context and I realize more often than not I’m sometimes keeping yellow words around for longer than I should.

What I discovered when I thought this out a couple days ago was… I’ve been reading without focus. Once I put myself on a timer and committed my full attention to reading, it turned into a brain game and my speed went WAY up, even if I do stop to check words and phrases (which I do MUCH faster when on the clock). So what I’ve figured out is, if I read something (my experiment was with content 15% or less in blue) I can free flow it in about 130 to 150 words per minute. But honestly holding myself back from checking anything distracts me and even if I press on, it feels very unpleasant that I’ve “lost” a word that I could have checked or highlighted a sentence for a future review and now I might never get it back. So when I allowed myself to check things but restricting myself to only do it when I knew it was very necessary, my reading speed is around 100 words per minute on average but has shown higher now that I’m really into this “game” of upping my speed and I’m not skimming nor skipping. I am reading everything. In fact half the time I’m reading it all out loud at a fast pace. SO because of this I’ve now read 15,000 words per day for the past 2 days. It’s kind of dumbfounding because just a week ago when I wasn’t timing myself I was slowly getting through about 3,000 words a day in 2-3 hours (so like 16 wpm) of reading because I was distracted, reading slowly, taking lots of time to check things, etc. I was forcing myself to hit my daily quota of 3k and ya I wasn’t too thrilled about starting a new lesson either. And to be clear this is for conversational YouTube videos and podcast transcripts. I know I won’t have a 100-150 wpm for novels yet.

Thus I’ve noticed immediate payoff with inputting SOOOO much more content. I’m reading over my weekly quota in 2 days time. So at this rate I’ll be hitting my 1 million words read goal in 2-3 months (depending on what happens when I get into novels) instead of 1 year. So I suggest people (maybe not beginners, but definitely people in intermediate stage) read with stopwatches because it’s worked really well for myself.


I’ve sometimes reread certain things but my brain likes novelty more often now than when I was a kid and I could easily re-read / re-watch something 20 times haha. Currently I’m LingQing sentences containing words/phrases I’m seeing many times but never remembering or words/phrases I’d like to output in the future and using this as my “gym” since it removes the need to re-read a 2000 word lesson to workout out say 20 LingQs. But what I love is going back to a YouTube channel or a TV Show that I could NOT understand months ago or it took me multiple days to read through, and now I can breeze through it with no problem. Also I would believe reading faster will certainly lead to knock on effects with listening, especially when you can’t allow your brain time to translate so much.

This guy on Youtube discusses the pretty crazy positive effects discovered in research on extensive reading which got me obsessed with upping my reading game: How To Develop Spoken Fluency Through Reading | Extensive Reading Conversation 1/4 With Jared Turner - YouTube

I believe he discusses some of those research studies in the site iMeoWi shared :slight_smile:


Ya I’ve been enjoying the amount of content I’m exposing myself to with the more free flow approach (not super strict but much more free flow than before) but I would say I believe I benefit a lot if I’m taking my time to soak in a new word or phrase, but I can’t honestly say if that’s the case, or if the number of exposures across multiple materials is really what does the trick. We’ll find out, as I’m focusing on keeping my reading speed up this week and since I’m quite strict about what I let into my Known Words stat, I’ll be able to compare last week (intense reading) with this week .

Yup good idea, I’ve decided to just use the question mark tag and definition and screen grab these words/sentences to review later instead of slowing down my reading.

And what about comprehension ratio? My comprehension is always at 100% in German if I am using some sort of bilingual translation in English or reading short lessons in sentence mode(active reading). I guess with free flow reading we must embrace the ambiguity because not every sentence is going to be comprehensible? Extensive reading is somehow beneficial as it allows your subconscious mind to be immersed in the language?

It would depend on the content if I were to 100% free flow read without any checking, but like I said, I it really bothers me to let a word go unchecked so I am checking words and not truly free flow reading now. I’m just reading with a stopwatch now to pressure myself to read faster and more focused (at near 100% comprehensible speed unless I decide to move past a word that I can’t QUICKLY find a correct definition for) and still checking/LingQing at a much faster speed with keyboard shortcuts and pressuring myself not to dwell so much on the definitions if I can’t find a decent one in the moment and just come back to it later (which isn’t happening very much with my current material but it certainly could with others). If I was only freeflow reading then I would be losing the point of LingQ at my current level which is finding words, but I do see the point of what some have said in the forums about having a “graduation” point and dropping LingQ for a language and freeflow reading 100% after most content of your usual content has a very low amount of new words. SO my main take away from my original post is, test yourself with freeflow reading right now with 500-1000 words, do it with a timer, and see how it goes. You’ll probably realize your reading speed/comprehension is quite high and you don’t truly need to check / re-check every single little thing and the tools (dictionaries) are holding you back and shaking your focus more often than they should. Thus you’ll probably recognize you can read more per day than you already are doing and you can use the tools less than you originally thought necessary.

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I know you read 15000 words per day but you were reading out loud. What about your pronunciation ability? Are you pronouncing words correctly?

Your thoughts please regarding Matt’s opinion about balancing the ratio between Listening and Reading?Do you agree with it?

Matt recommends only 20 minutes of intensive reading every day which I think is far amount. Otherwise it is very mentally taxing and time consuming.

Ya I guess by outloud I mean I’m whispering it but I’m not too concerned about that hurting my pronunciation ability at this moment. It’s more of a way to keep me focused but I do believe it would be bad to do this at beginner pronunciation level. I certainly don’t have perfect pronunciation but since I do live with a native speaker of the language I’m studying I am being corrected and hearing the language quite often outside of reading. Surprisingly, I don’t think I’ve seen that video of Matt’s so I’ll certainly check it out. I do have a concern about my reading/listening balance and I have been incrementally upping my listening time slowly, slowly and I hope to log more hours consistently soon. But between the two I’ve been seeing more obvious gains the more I read. And that includes gains in my listening ability as well. Not in the last two days because I’ve only just upgraded my reading speed but that’s just as an overall observation from BEFORE LingQ and AFTER LingQ. Before LingQ all I did to study was meet and talk to Brazilians with awful Portuguese and while living in Brazil. But wow, my listening ability was dreadful. I was never watching videos or pumping podcasts into my ears all day like Matt suggests but I don’t think it would have made much of a difference because it would be incomprehensible. Even when I was pumping pimseuler and Glossika into my ears for a while it didn’t do much for me because the amount of new words per track was so limited. It was only after I started reading a lot and exposing myself to a LOT of new words every day, my listening ability took a BIG leap. Beyond my own experience, granted relatively short term, I’ve also found 3 guys (2 of whom Matt interviewed) who were heavily listening or 1 was ONLY listening. Two of these guys came to the realization that they wish they had starting reading much sooner because their overall ability spiked immediately once they did so. The third one mostly read from the beginning and surprised Matt that he didn’t give a crap about SRS and just read like a beast all the time and is one of the few “success stories” Matt has included on his channel. So I think the value per minute you get out of reading far outweighs the value per minute you get from listening. So I think that why I’ve been naturally inclined to focus more of my time on reading than balancing my time with listening. Anyway, I’ll watch that video later and see if it stimulates and further thought on this.

I can tell you that my listening skills have progressed a lot than my reading skills in German. I am far from doing free flow reading even for materials aimed at the A2 level. I always need some sort of translation help. However, Germans stopped speaking to me in English. Just yesterday the bank manager talked to me in full-fledged German for 30 minutes discussing technical details and not for once she switched to English and not once I said please repeat yourself.
At this point, I have done 1810 hours of active listening, in the last 35 days, I have done 210 hours of active listening, spending 6 hours every day. I think Listening to audiobooks really increases the intensity/improvement. I checked data points online- a 10-hour audiobook contains 100,000 words.
Matt has a valid point with an extensive reading approach you can really slack off with your listening skills since you are comprehending a lot through reading massively. That’s the only danger that lay ahead otherwise if you are self-disciplined and ready for a long slog then you may catch up with your listening ability. Thanks to Covid’s unusual situation, trust me, more likely, I may end up slacking off with my listening skills in German because I would be having other responsibilities to look after. Only because of having a lot of free time due to Covid I have been able to do this heavy listening approach first. You can always pick up reading later on.

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Since I can’t respond to your last response above I’ll respond to this one. I just watched the video you mentioned above for reading/listening balance. I fully agree with his suggestion of 70% reading, 30% listening up until one can understand most of what they can read and then flip the ratio to 30% reading and 70% listening. I believe that is what I’m achieving in terms of hours of time spent on each. But I would prefer to bump up my listening hours to fill up most of my dead time but I’ve had a harder time doing recently. Since with reading I’m always able to learn new words. With listening, I rarely learn new words unless it’s a podcast targeted toward learners and it defining vocabulary and expressions with simpler words in my target language. I focus on those types of podcasts more often currently since I can’t rarely learn a new word by listening to audiobooks without reading it with LingQ first. Anyway, congrats on your great results in listening ability, I know I can’t listen to a banker talk to me for 30 minutes without getting lost yet. It’s very interesting to me that your reading is lower than your listening ability but since you mentioned audiobooks, I’m wondering if your reading ability of conversational German transcripts is much higher and it’s just written books that give you a hard time and you are judging yourself on. I noticed that a few weeks ago when I read a short book targeted toward lower teens, and it was very chock full of vocabulary I’m never used to seeing/hearing in conversation (more descriptive detail and such). Heck I also read a podcast transcript about Shakespeare and quoting Shakespeare sonnets in Portuguese, and that was completely incomprehensible to me, as it also is in English haha. I’ll have to dive back into those teen books to see where my comprehension level is now with those.

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I can tell you that I bought a few physical books aimed for 9 years old. Germans sell such books on local ebay once they are done with reading them. I really like the fact that the sentence structures used in such books are so simple and short in length but the range of vocabulary that is used on each page makes it almost impossible to do free flow reading.
As for transcripts, I never used subtitles while watching TV shows, nor did I study them here. However, I listened to 4 audiobooks unassisted and then I watched 7 seasons of dubbed “Homeland” series in German, I really understood a lot and language sounded like it was flowing…it is just my wild guess that listening to audiobooks has a spillover effect…

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While studying at the university, I remember that we had two types of reading: synthetical reading when we had to understand the gist of read texts and analytical reading when it was important all words and all expressions. The proportion was circa 200 pages of synthetical reading to 20 pages of analytical reading for every month in German and in English (my first language was German and the second language was English).
I believe it’s a good proportion and so I advise my students that they should do the same.