Balancing new content and repeating old content

Hi there, apologies if this has been asked before I couldn’t work out the search function as nothing come up.

I’ve been learning Spanish for about a year on LingQ and I did a bit of Mandarin for my trip to China a couple years ago and have been picking that up as well.

When I listen to Steve talk and also the UnlimitedSpanish podcasts with Oscar they talk about listening to the same content many times (10s of times even). My question is how do you balance reinforcing existing content and learning new ones? Should you keep listening to the same content until you understand it completely without consulting the transcript/lingq definitions before moving on to new things? Or does that high bar mean you have a very narrow but fluent vocabulary?

It depends on the person. Some people are impatient enough to repeat listening to the same text several times and they open the new and the new ones. Some people are perfectionists or not so self-confident and listen to the same text 10 times or even more.
IMO, 3-4 times are enough before going forth. And every 5th day you can repeat all texts that you had during four days before. It works for me well.
And my second tip - combine two texts at the same time: one simple, maybe a bit boring but important grammar lesson and one more difficult but more interesting podcast in your target language. Following this way you’ll know and understand your new language better und use it more correctly in speaking and writing.


If the language is newer then I tend to repeat lessons many times. The more familiar I get with it, the less frequently I repeat content.

My spreadsheet tells me I’m a little over 70 hours into Russian (some on LingQ, some before I found LingQ–Duolingo, grammar workbook, teach yourself book), and I need to repeat lessons sometimes dozens of times to get the gist of them through listening. It is (slowly) getting easier. Being able to retrieve what I’ve read or heard takes many more repetitions, though I don’t always take it that far. Like most people here I think a large amount of input is generally the way to go…once you’ve gotten to the point the basic sounds and words start to stick a little bit in your head. This can take a long time (Russian, Georgian), a moderate amount of time (Arabic, Irish), or it can happen right away or very quickly (Portuguese, Danish). Portuguese for example I’ve only studied a little over 26 hours, but the words stick very easily and I don’t need to repeat lessons much.

After I feel that I can start to remember at least a little of the lesson, then I reduce the amount of repetition and move on to new material sooner. At some vague point later I mostly stop repeating and move on when I’ve understood a majority of the lesson. This is where I’m at in French and Norwegian and the words just start piling up with little effort while reading. Listening still requires some repetition sometimes, but I sense that its not too far off where I won’t need much repetition there either.

Edit: Reflections on my Arabic experience.

Arabic is usually considered very difficult in general to learn and pronounce. Many years ago, I took a full year of the language in college. We spent most of the first month working on pronunciation. Because of that effort, the pronunciation doesn’t feel difficult, even with 15 years of completely ignoring the language. Since the sounds are familiar, new words tend to stick with only a moderate amount of repetition.

Contrast this with Russian or Georgian. Most of the individual sounds in Russian are not difficult, but the combinations are. Georgian has both difficult individual sounds and sound combinations. In both of these languages it is very hard to remember words, even after repeating them many, many times.

The lesson I think is this: If the sounds (letters and combinations of letters) are familiar, the brain seems to remember words and phrases that use them easier than if the sounds are unfamiliar (I guess that’s obvious). Until the sounds are familiar, more energy is spent on trying to decipher the individual sounds and there is little leftover for connecting the sound patterns to meaning patterns. So more time must be spent on repetition early on. This is why I think its a good idea in the beginning to focus on pronunciation issues. Not for speaking necessarily, but to sooner reach the stage where input becomes optimal.

1 Like

When I first started out on LingQ I already knew what I was going to do…import Assimil German and work through the lessons.

The lessons are short…1-2 minutes each of of reading/listening. I typically read and listened to them a few times. Maybe a little more on difficult lessons. I would do this over the course of a day or two. At first I did try and make sure I understood everything, but eventually I determined this didn’t make a lot of sense for a couple of reasons.

  1. You memorize the story anyway, so to some degree I wondered if I was actually learning the words, or just memorizing the story, and therefore able to piece the meaning of the words together. I figured at this point it was best to move on regardless.

  2. Some words are just going to be a lot trickier to learn. There are STILL words from my “beginner” stages that give me trouble. They might look similar to another target language word or native language word but have an entirely different meaning. Or they don’t look like anything and it’s just tricky to learn. If you try to learn all these kind of words before moving on you will never progress. So just move on. If you don’t get it after a few tries…Move on. You’ll see that word again in a different context and you might learn it then. Or you may learn it, forget it, learn it again, etc. Eventually it will stick but it might take a while. There are so many other words that will stick that it doesn’t make sense to hold yourself up.

During my “Assimil days”, I also would import an article or two from an easy German news site. I tended to repeat these too since they were so short.

As I’ve progressed, I usually try to work on shorter articles/lessons in a repeated fashion, similar to how I’ve described above. Alongside I’ll import books, longer articles, etc. These I do not repeat since they are so long and frankly, I don’t want to read them again (makes it too much like work, rather than fun).

Having said all that, there are folks here that don’t repeat anything and have made it to high levels. So both strategies can work. The more you read, the more you are reviewing words, regardless of whether it is a brand new lesson/article, or one you’ve read before. You will see those words again. As you get to higher levels, that interval might tend to be long, but you will likely see them again.

Ultimately you need to find something that works for you. Whether it involves some repetition or not. I would suggest though that if you do some repetition, stick to evgueny40’s advice and move on after a few repeats.

Steve mentioned this in a video I watched not long ago (although I think it was an old video) and he said something about some people listen to the same thing over and over again, 50+ times, but he admitted he got bored with listening (or reading) something that much and that you should only do as much as you enjoy. If you’re no longer enjoying it, then you will no longer be learning.

I second what ericb100 said about memorizing a text instead of really learning it. I think that’s what happened with me when I was learning using nothing but Anki flashcards. I would memorize the word that went in the cloze sentence I had created, but I didn’t recognize it when I read it elsewhere, or I wouldn’t be able to bring it to mind when I wanted to speak it in a different context. Running through my flashcards, it appeared that I had learned it, but when tested in a real world environment, it turned out that I hadn’t. (It’s kind of like being able to sing along to a song on the radio, but if the music is removed and you are asked to recite the lyrics, you usually can’t.)

I have a goal of an hour of Polish per day. I will read a few texts, meet my new LingQs goal for the day, then I will spend the remaining portion of my hour looking at the flashcards and re-reading material in order to advance LingQs that I have already created. (I am often not sure about how to rank LingQs when I make them or successfully remember them in the future, so I find working with the flashcards helps because if I get them right a couple of times, they will automatically advance a level. That takes the guesswork out of it for me.) But sometimes I just do the bare minimum on LingQ to make my goal and then spend an hour watching a cartoon in Polish and then in Polish again with English subtitles. (Okay, so admittedly that has a review baked into it, although I tend to think of it as watching in Polish and then watching with English subtitles just to get all the stuff I missed the first time.)

1 Like

I’m going to go back to the “intuition” thing. This time I’m going to bring up the analogy of language acquisition to golf. In either pursuit, if you put in the serious time, almost no matter what facet you focus on, you WILL get better (better grasp of the language/lower score for 18 holes). Someone who puts in a couple of hours a day on the green will eventually have consistent 80-85 games and break into the high 70s occasionally. They may never hit par 72 and they may develop some awful form, but their stroke count for 18 holes will continually go down until they reach a plateau (and a pretty good plateau). Same with the L2.

Some stories, not all, I can listen to over and over because I have an emotional connection to them. I like stories about people triumphing over poverty or severe hazing and still treating their tormentors with kindness after they (the hero or heroine) rise to victory. I’ve listened to Happiness on the Bridge in Japanese so many times and Maupassant’s The Father so many times, I feel like I could play the lead role in either of those for radio or television.

I don’t mind ambiguity, but I absolutely will not stick with something I cannot understand at all. When I’m in the car, and thus without a transcript, I sometimes follow a Japanese podcast for the first three minutes and then I will completely lose the bubble on what the topic is about and never get back on track. In those instances, I’ll switch to another podcast by the same author or switch to another podcast entirely.

There could be Steve, Luca, and every other famous polyglot imaginable lined up giving me free advice to stick with the podcast I only understand for the first three minutes before the bottom falls out. Trust me! Trust me! If you keep listening to this incomprehensible stuff you’ll have a quicker breakthrough. I still won’t do it.

Just like if a golf pro tells me to stop working so much on my long drive or my putting game, I’ll keep doing what I enjoy doing and reach my goal just the same.

I’m in no hurries. Like I’ve mentioned before, I’m not looking to pass a test within a certain timeframe to immigrate anywhere, I’m not looking for a job, I’m not looking to date or form a romantic connection with anyone who speaks my languages, etc. I’m just enjoying the languages for their own sake.

In some ways I like challenges and roadblocks, and then tinkering and figuring it out on my own. Even if it takes a little longer than somebody else. Doing it my way.

1 Like

Thanks for the responses guys, definitely a variety of responses! It sounds like the answer is to move on once you what you want out of it, if you get stuck on the same sound/word/phrase just move on and maybe you’ll get it in another context later, if you get bored of it move on, if you enjoy it or you reckon on the next listen you’ll improve go for it.

For my Spanish this would generally be two listens as its at an intermediate level and longer texts that I’d get bored of listening to many times, for my Chinese this could be 5 times listening to the same mini stories. The common thread here seems to be that you should be aiming for some amount of new content every day, I’d stopped looking at new stuff in Chinese because I noticed that I didn’t understand most of story one on a re-listen but I probably should fit at least one piece of new content in there to keep widening my vocabulary “pool” even if its shallow.

There are a lot of good responses here. I think I’ve pretty much done all of them in my Spanish journey.

In summary, I basically just do what I want. If I want to understand more and I like the voice and teh material, I’ll read it again. If I find it too easy (or too much of a struggle) I would move on. Nowadays, I generally read or listen to something once (or less) depending on if I like the material. If it’s something I really enjoy, I’ll do it more.

Overall, I think the general trend, and Steve’s commentary coincides with this, is that the earlier you are in your learning journey, the more you are likely to repeat the same stuff.

1 Like

I agree. If a content is too easy or too hard for me, I would move on. If I find a content that I like and/or enjoy, then I will do it more. If it comes to history, I can read and listen to it over and over again.

1 Like

Repeating old content for me is too boring. I know that it might be important but I prefer to stay motivated doing more engaging things. So, I always read new things all the time.

Although, in few weeks I want to start training myself in comprehension listening very short videos (1’-2’) more and more times. But I can’t go with longer content otherwise I get too much stressed out.

I’ve found a good compromise for myself in terms of repeating an old content - I import consecutive news broadcasts, and listen/read them only once. Because actual news doesn’t change that quickly, I’m confronted with the same words and concepts, with the added benefit of learning about things in different formulations and interpretations.