Challenging myself to learn 100 WORDS EVERY DAY - Steve Kaufmann

In my last video, I shared my goal of learning 20,000 words before my trip to Turkey in September. Today, I’m going to show you exactly how I’m making that happen!


I’m not sure about this challenge.

I understand the importance of known words. For some people, the parameter of reading words is most important; for me, known words are also a good metric of reference.

However, if we push a specific number, like 100 known words a day, we run the risk of getting caught up in the numbers and not really in the quality of what we are doing.

Sometimes I review the yellow words in the same way Steve does, but I don’t find it really important at all. It might happen on those days of procrastination when I say, “Let’s see if I can convert some 3s”. But that’s it.

I don’t consider a word “known” if I only understand it in one context, and I know that the word has many different other meanings that I don’t know. I leave it there, maybe with a “2” or a “3”. When I know at least the most of it, I change it to “known”. The visual cue of seeing it yellow over and over again reminds me that there are more meanings to learn in that particular word.

Maybe it’s not the best technique, but it’s not the best approach to pretend that we know too many words that we really don’t.

On the other hand, I understand that sometimes we can be driven by an extreme challenge for a short period of time. 100 words might be reasonable if the two languages are close, but 400 as he mentioned, not sure. I think it’s way too much.



I agree. There’s nothing wrong with setting arbitrary process goals like “100 known words a day,” but the work that you do to acquire those 100 words should be work with intrinsic value. When I was reading Italian like mad I would often aim for 300 words a day, but I had to pick up those words incidentally while reading. I wouldn’t waste time sorting LingQs and manually adding words to know. That’s time better spent actually processing content.


The way I kinda see it is you go through the Vocabulary list to mark words as Known, which you already know, as opposed to an actual learning activity. It’s more showing the result of your learning, as opposed to the actual learning activity itself. I’m sure it does help to some extent with drilling the word, but my main vocabulary-acquiring activity is watching/reading while listening to content with the option to look up unknown words.

Personally, I prefer challenges which have variables I actually have full control over - namely, words read, hours listened, hours of speaking, words written. Known Words is just the result of the effort, but not directly controllable. Even LingQ (the company/several people in it at least) agrees, hence why they removed Known Words from the ‘quick stats’ drop down menu.


Great point. Didn’t consider it. :+1:

Remember, this is 100 words “the way LingQ counts words”. Every time a word has a different ending, it counts as a new word.

Which is stupid (pardon my French) for Turkish. The whole language is endings! The word “home” is “ev”, but you see: eve, evde, evden, evim, evimde and many others. They mean “to home, at home, from home, at my home, to my home, from my home, to your home, from their home” and so on. LingQ might count 10 or 15 words for “ev”.

Verbs are worse. Turkish verbs have more conjugated forms than French verbs. For example “bekle-” means “wait”, but “bekleyemeyeceğim” means “I won’t be able to wait”. How many “words” will Steve get that are all “bekle-”?

So in reality, he won’t be learning 100 new words a day. Maybe 10. All the others will be different endings (which he already knows) on those 10.


That’s just how LingQ works. The software counts every word form as a word (getting the software to count actual words would take tens of thousands of programming hours for each language - such a thing would be impossible to do in a capitalist system unless Steve was a multi-billionaire willing to sink his fortune into doing that, and even if he did, it would take years).

Anyway, it’s probably a good thing that LingQ counts word forms rather than words, since that seems to be how our minds classify them too. And yes, Steve will probably only be learning ten actual words. But so what? He’s still learning, and if he learns 100 word forms, that’s got to be a good thing.


I disagree. I prefer the way LingQ counts words. It’s a more accurate reality of our knowledge. Sometimes our brain is able to integrate all the variations, and sometimes it is not. Some variations may be easier and others much more difficult.
For me, every variation is important. It’s also important when we are able to recognize that a word is not correct, or when we recognize that a surname is just a surname and has no meaning. Or that a name is an original name in our target language and not from another language, and so on.

Measuring all word variations is a better metric than just root words.


Maybe 100 words/day is possible with a language like Turkish, where you are learning variants on a particular stem.

Before the Internet, serious language students were told to memorize 50 words for each lecture. Working on 50 words/class, with 3-5 classes/week, only about 20-25 words would stick in long-term memory.

That said, you might be able to do 50+ words per day if you used SRS flashcards, did a lot of aerobic exercise, or worked a really boring job.

I once met a second language speaker who had a remarkably large vocabulary. He told me he learned English vocabulary by working as a dishwasher. Every day before work, he tore out one page of an English-Czech dictionary and put it in his back pocket. He kept repeating all the new words to himself throughout the day while he was washing dishes. As soon as he knew all the words on one page, he tore out another page and started in again.

After a year and a half of washing dishes all day long, he had learned all the words in the dictionary, and went and got a different job.

Learning active vocabulary is a whole different ball game from recognizing words. Active vocabulary seems to require over-learning, so that you can produce each term or phrase when prompted. I think the dishwasher worked on memorizing example phrases, as well as individual vocabulary words, and kept at it until he had every worc and phrase down cold, so he was able to use the phrases in conversation.


It matters for language students watching his videos. They may think it is reasonable (and may attempt) to learn 100 new words a day in some other language. If they can’t, they may think they are “bad at languages”.

It is good to learn, but I disagree that he is learniing “100 word forms”. How many times do you need to learn that “-den” mean “from”? In English, you wouldn’t read “from home” and then “from work” and then “from the beach” and then count “from” as 3 new words. But that is what LingQ does in Turkish.

Steve is learning 10+ new words, and sometimes more: sometimes there is a new ending combination he will need to figure out. That counts as “learning”. But most of the endings he has seen hundreds of times already. They aren’t “new”. They don’t need to be “learned”.

That is simply false. My mind doesn’t classify “say” and “says” and “said” as three different words! It classifies “Dog” and “dogs” as one word.

I agree. It is not reasonable to expect a computer program to do everything a smart human can do. If the method LingQ uses to count learned words isn’t perfect, so what? It is still useful and meaningful to many users.

You may think it does, but that’s because we’ve been conditioned to think of them as one word, but the evidence suggests the human brain is a lot more complicated and messy than that.


I have a rule not to watch a video if the preview picture shows someone looking amazed or shocked with their mouth wide open.

On a more serious note, I can’t even imagine learning ten words a day, never mind 100. And words usually don’t translate directly, which complicates matters. And a given word might have many meanings which correspond to several English words. Thus filer in French is literally to spin but also to give and to depart.


Would you be so kind to share that evidence with us! Because I tend to agree with @gaoli that, at least once you have an understanding of the fundamental grammar in a language, you can anticipate the different forms of a newly encountered word. When I encounter a new word in a Korean text, for example, I have no problems to immediately recognize all the derived forms in the same text. It’s probably easier in Korean then in a germanic language as the stems usually don’t change. But it’s like that in Spanish, too.

In addition, my impression is that we usually tend to subsummize different things under one term. Show a child some flowers and teach it that it is called “flower”, and after a while it will be able to use this term for other flowers, too, even though you don’t explicitly denoted them as belonging to the very same category. Our brain makes much use of assoziations. If things seem similar or connected, we will connect them mentally. Their is a reason most people can’t differentiate between correlation and causality.

The main issue I have with statements as in the video is that the term “word” is not used uniformely in the context of languages. On LingQ it actually means string, which makes me wonder why they don’t simply use that term, and I personally tend to use “word” as a synonym for “lemma”, which would count all different forms as one word. Linguists might choose anything in between those two extremes, and I am not even sure they do it uniformly. This leads to two problems:
First off - as already stated - unexperienced learners might get a completely wrong impression of what they are required to achieve in order to learn a language, and may give up. And secondly, it isn’t a uniform measure across several languages. 100 new words in the LingQ sense is a lot more if you are learning English or Spanish as compared to Korean or Japanese.

A better measure imho would be to set a goal in terms of what you are capable of in a language. Like beeing able to hold a simple conversation, asking for the way or ordering a coffee. Or beeing able to read a news article. Or beeing able to write diary entry. This would also account for basic grammar knowledge that is required as well as the ability to differentiate between different context-sensitive meanings of a word or the usage of idioms. And it would account for the different weights these aspects have in different languages and based on how you are planning to use it.

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I don’t think that “brain more complicated and messy” has any connection to your idea that “dog” and “dogs” are classified as two different words, in the minds of English-speakers. After countless years of analyzing how people think, a lot of data has been gathered. You can’t just throw away all the data and decide “thinking” is “how the brain works”. Maybe it is in the sense that “smiling” is “many small muscles working together”, but our minds are not conscious of those muscles. We just know “smile”.

It is easy for a computer program like LingQ to define a word as “a string of letters between spaces”. That works for several languages. It doesn’t work for Chinese and Japanese, and the LingQ mini-stories for those languages often make mistakes. For example “Susan goes” is marked as one word.

Humans learn speech without any writing. There are no spaces (or pauses) between words in speech. So the human mind doesn’t think “string of letters” for “word”. In Chinese or Japanese, there is no plural “dogs”. Does this mean that those speakers have a fundamentally different mental image of two dogs than English speakers? I don’t think there is any “evidence” for this theory.

In his last video, Steve emphasized that the LingQ method of word counting shows study activity. That makes complete sense. Seeing the same word used in a different way (including a new ending) helps learning, and shows active study. It shows pushing beyond things that are known and comfortable.

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