Cramming: Can you do too much listening/reading/studying in a day for language learning?

I am an intermediate/beginner of german and recognize a good amount of vocabulary. I could easily ask directions, “how are you”, “where’s the bathroom”… that kind of stuff from previous trips. But I certainly never got to full speed comprehension or speaking with any sort of meaningful content.

I have decided to make German my priority for the next few months for a personal engagement this summer, a good friend is getting married, and try to really Improve as much as I possibly can In that time frame.

On paper, spending 4, 5, 6 hours a day or whatever just listening and practicing as much as I can sounds great… but does that really help you learn faster than spending an hour or so a day?

It seems to me that daily repetition and practice is more important than how much information you can cram in during a single day… Almost like my brain can only take in so much information in a single day.

Has anybody had success with high volume cramming or is it a waste of time?


"On paper, spending 4, 5, 6 hours a day or whatever just listening and practicing as much as I can sounds great… but does that really help you learn faster than spending an hour or so a day? "


“Has anybody had success with high volume cramming or is it a waste of time?”

Yes. Everyone. Everyone learns their native language by cramming 16 hours a day for at least 10, 12 or more years.


It’s an interesting question.

I suspect studying for six hours per day is much better than one. You will make progress much faster.

However, there has to be a cutoff. I do not think 17 hours per day is better than 16. Either way, you’ll be exhausted and hate the language. The optimal maximum study time per day is different for everyone. Personally, I can only handle about 1.5 hours per day of studying on my own (I can handle longer classes though). After that point, I get extremely agitated and stop enjoying it. Trying to study too much too fast caused me to stop studying Chinese for several years. So in my case, you absolutely can’t say that studying 6 hours per day was better than 1 hour would have been because I might have stuck with it at 1 hour per day.

I think if you’re motivated and enjoying it, your brain can take in an incredible amount of information in a single day. Unfortunately I’ve had college courses where I spent 12 hours reading before an exam because I slacked off during the semester. For classes that were interesting (microbiology), I did well on the tests and still retain much of the information to this day even though I learned it in just a few cram sessions.

If you have enough time, several hours a day is for sure better than one hour.
I give my students at our language school 4 hours a day.
But of course, the study must be very various (auf Deutsch: verschiedenartig, abwechlungsreich): we read, listen, speak, play some language games and write a bit.
In this way 4 hours pass quickly and nobody is tired and bored.

1 Like

Going from English to Chinese at 1 hour a day, I’m not sure this is likely to give you any real result, imo.

I think you would need to stick with it for many years to get to even a half decent level, and I think that process is a lot harder to sustain momentum for.

The 1 hour a day thing mostly seems to work for closely related languages, or for time poor situations where the learner already really knows how to go about it.

At the end of the day, your “study” needs to be enjoyable, if you are getting agitated and not enjoying it at 1.5 hours a day, then you are probably doing something that’s not right.

Conversely, if you are really enjoying the process you will naturally find more time in your day.

1 Like

I am happy with my Chinese. I can have conversations about a variety of topics (though my grammar could certainly use help), my pronunciation is very good, and recently I’ve realized my listening is much better than I thought. I can understand native-speed podcasts at least 70% of the time. If you consider that “no result” then I guess we just have to agree to disagree.

Keep in mind, I do 1.5 hours of self study on average, plus 6 hours of classes and private tutoring per week. I am new to Lingq but not new to Chinese.

Honestly, I don’t enjoy studying like some of the people here do. It’s not the focal point of my life. I have hobbies I like more. However, I really like the results and so I have the discipline to keep going even when I’m not having enormous amounts of fun.

Whoops, sorry, that sounded defensive. I guess my point is that people can make progress at their own pace depending on how much of a priority language learning is. I think 1-1.5 hours per day is a perfectly fine amount if one does it every single day. It will take a long time to make progress in Chinese, but a lot of us don’t really care about that. I am young. If it takes me 1 year or 3 years to go up another HSK level, I don’t really care, because I know I’ll get there eventually.


I’d imagine (without having any proof whatsoever) that there are probably diminishing returns after a point.

Which is to say, for example, the ‘value’ or gains in adding an additional half hour of study per day probably begin to decrease after a point. To my mind there would likely be two primary reasons for it:

  1. Ability to be attentive and engrossed in the study declines with more time added.
  2. I strongly believe that a lot of learning simply requires time for the brain to process it. Not study time though, just for time to pass.

So if I were to draw a conclusion from my own (proofless) reasoning:

The more the merrier for study time, just don’t expect the gains to be linear. There will probably be a dropoff. Also more study time may be well spent in encountering more breadth of material per day (as opposed to studying the same limited material, but for longer).

1 Like

It’s ok, it’s a good discussion. Personally, I never believe anyone’s self assessment, especially in Chinese. To understand native Chinese podcasts takes around 8-10k hours listening exposure. I’ve never met anyone that is any different here. There is some variation, but it is always on the plus side. At one hour a day, you would need 30 years to get to that level.

This is the latest Beijing 87.6 FM podcast, how much do you understand? →

I find it pretty easy, but certainly don’t get every word.

There is a distinction between; 1 hour a day, 4 hours a day, and 12 hours a day. 1 hour a day won’t get you there, unless it’s a close language. 4 hours a day is ok, but for a language like Chinese you are looking at 6-8 years to get to a meaningful level.

The gains are linearly dependent on time of input – provided you are awashed in native content, it is just a matter of putting in the time.

What isn’t linear is the language ability curve, which is more S-shape.

Draw a graph. Put hours on the horizontal, and put language ability on the vertical.

The graph is S shaped – but everyone has pretty much exactly the same number of hours on the bottom to get native like.

7 billion data points are walking around the planet on this.

Did you have some argument or evidence to back this up? Simply stating “this is how it is” is really not persuasive.

I gave what you said some thought and it still doesn’t add up for me.

For example if my wife were to say “Please unload the dishwasher later”. That takes all of 7 seconds to say, tops. She could take 14 seconds and give me an additional directive. I’ll remember both.

However if I extrapolate that to an hour’s worth of instructions, I would clearly remember lots more but for each additional instruction my ability to retain or remember it diminishes. For an hour’s worth of instruction, I’d probably remember like 40 (randomly guessing!) of the 500+ items.

To be able to remember each successive item as well as I do the first, I’d have to start investing more and more time going over that list for each item added.

Similarly if I spent 5 minutes in the morning, and then 5 minutes in the afternoon learning a new word for a language, I would almost certainly be able to consistently recall each word the following morning. However that retention would decline substantially if I allocated the same time per word, but spent my 8 hour working day learning words. I would not remember all 96 the following morning.

I also don’t think everyone has the same number of hours to get native-like. I have never learned a single subject in which my peers have advanced at the same rate as I have. Some excelled more than I despite not turning up to the tutor lessons and workshops as I did, while others burned the midnight oil trying to understand things which were easy for me.

So on both counts it seems a little incredible that my personal learning gains from percentage of my time spent on learning (1 hr a day, 2 hrs per day or whatever) would be linear. It also seems incredible that people would take the same number of hours to get native-like.


That video will not load for me no matter what I try. But I meant I understand 70% on topics I am interested in, like the Skeptoid Chinese podcast. I used to have a good knitting podcast but I can’t find it any more. But if you put on a podcast in English about Chinese affairs, I probably wouldn’t understand a lot of it, because I am not up to date on who’s who and what’s what. So I’m happy for now to just listen to content that relates to my interests.

Certainly my Chinese is nowhere near an excellent level. I’d call it intermediate or low intermediate. I am happy with it though and I’m able to do a lot of interesting things. Just now I had a funny 45 minute conversation with a Chinese classmate of mine who barely speaks English today about hot guys, married life, etc. That is so valuable to me, but to others it might be a completely worthless result after several years of study. Each to their own.

How did you come up with the 8-10k hour figure? And what do you consider a “meaningful level”?

One last thing to consider is that study time can change as our priorities change. Someone who spends 1 hour per day this year might move to China next year and spend 8 hours per day fully immersed in the culture. I think it would be quite rare for someone to spend the exact same amount of time per day for years on end. So the 6-8 year figure is probably not accurate as people who start out spending 1 hour per day may well end up actually spending more later on.

That is how it is.

Everyone takes pretty much exactly the same time to learn their first language. Billions of people - all exactly the same time - you can agree or disagree - doesn’t change the facts.

The time spent to learn a second language to a C+ level is also pretty much exactly the same for everyone – it depends only on how closely that language is to your first and how much time you spend awashed in native content.

Do 1 hour a day it will take you 8 times longer than 8 hours a day.

Sure, you can waste time “studying” a language, but time awashed in native content is the only predictor of success in language learning.

The 8-10k hour figure is the bare minimum you would need to “meaningfully” understand the podcast I linked to, or any randomly selected conversational chat show that native speakers would want to listen to.

It’s a bare minimum, but really, you need at least 20-30k hours awashed in the native content to be able to get any native podcasts, without a problem.

There aren’t any exceptions, not in the hundreds of C+ level non native speakers (coming from English) - nor in any of the 1 billion native speakers.

Good luck.

I spend 3-4 hours per day learning Russian. The most important thing I have come to understand is that I need to to find the most productive way of using my time. I am not sure that I have got this 100% right yet! I use a circular method which seems to work quite well for me. I go through a text translating it and Lingqing all the unknown words, then I use the multiple choice flashcards to learn the words, then I listen to and read the text again. This is spread over several days. So I will translate the first day, listen to other texts for which I have already learned the words, and do other translations. The following morning I do flash cards, then repeat the process. My object is to create texts that are mainly white. If I understand most of the text, then I feel that I have improved. If I have forgotten some of the white words, I simply Lingq them again and repeat the flash cards. When I can follow the gist of the text, I move on to another text. In the afternoons I watch Russian lessons with music, just for a refreshing change, I love R for Russian on Youtube.


Oh, it’s a good method especially if it suits to you.
I believe that besides some general parts everyone must have his own method.
For example, I can’t lerarn only by listening.
Until I see the word, I can’t remember it!
But the best thing for me - to read+ to listen+ to write + to use in a spoken language.


“The time spent to learn a second language to a C+ level is also pretty much exactly the same for everyone”

Can’t see how this is true, I know many people in my country who aren’t at a C+ level in their native language, but they’ve been immersed in the language since birth. Without wanting to sound like a dick, how do your “facts” explain that?

Yeah, there’s no way of putting that without sounding like a dick, sorry.


7 billion people on the planet. 6000+ languages. Everyone, pretty much all of them, no matter where they are on the planet, reach C+, listening and speaking, all at the same - after 40 k hours listening and around 5 k hours speaking.

I don’t need to, or care to, explain it.

Reading and writing are socio-economic dependent. Not sure if that was your point?

You can also quibble that the average native speaker really only lives at a B-level? And am not sure if that was your point?

Either way, good luck with quibbles. Your main issue, I believe, would come down around flaws in language ability testing.

Some good language tests - “the half hour cab ride to/from the airport with a talkative driver test” , “the how long can I regularly hang out on an internet chat forum in my target language without anyone picking up I am non-native test”, “the multiple-conversation in a group at a crowded noisy bar test” “the front page, middle page, then back page, newspaper reading test” “the listen to 15 minutes of a native chat radio program (one time without pre-practice), and then write out in the target language what the conversation was about test” etc.

Second language acquisition is essentially the same thing as native language acquisition, but dependent on how close to your language it is.

If you are going from English to another language - then look at the US foreign service numbers for hours to “fluency”. All the same numbers for similar languages.

These are B-level numbers - enough to bluff your way.

Add an order of magnitude (for highly dissimilar languages the minimum numbers, imo, are around 10-20k hours listening to native content and around 5 k hours each speaking, reading, writing) and you can pass the above tests.

Students at the Defense Language Institute take 7 hours of lessons a day. DLI is probably the gold standard for language learning, so if they can do it, you can as well.


I find with listening my mind tends to wander after a while, unless I am reading the text at the same time - pretty much like in English, where I can have the radio on and not even hear it if I don’t concentrate. However I also find that reading, listening and llingqing at the same time is a bit draining compared to just reading. My advice, such as it is, would be to vary what you do or your mind might become stale. I found that while reading and listening helped immensely with, well, reading and listening comprehension, my writing and particularly speaking ability lagged. You have to practice what you want to improve! In my experience 5-6 hours of just reading and listening (at an intermediate stage) can be more draining than classes where activities are mixed up. Having said that, I have only done private lessons, not group classes, so can’t really comment on how worthwhile group classes are.

In regards to repetition I find that reading a whole book through to the end really helped solidify words in my memory, compared to reading short articles all the time, because of the natural repetition of words and themes, and particularly the exposure to the different grammatical variations of a word (this is for Russian, not sure if this is applicable to German). I have imported books into lingq and find the steady decrease in blue and yellow words as I progress to be quite motivating and chapters become more and more intelligible and enjoyable as I progress. Some books were a bit tough at the start with tons of unknown words, but once I got past the initial slog it was very worthwhile.


Hey, wato,
I am currently at a lower intermediate level in Chinese. I know Russian works quite different than Chinese, but I think the base of this question will still apply. You stated you uploaded entire books onto LingQ, and that while the content was rough, aftee getting through the “initial slog” that you actually enjoyed it. I uploaded my first chapter of my first book that I plan to read in Chinese. I saw the amount of Blue words, and was slightly worried I would never finish this chapter as it seems at the moment impossible. I was wondering at what level did you start trying to read through actual books in Russian? And what sort of books were you reading (authors)? That second question is more just out of curiousity.

Thanks in advance.

  • Cody

*P.S. Im typing this on my phone and bound to have mistakes on this post. Please pardon them. Thank you.

1 Like