Do known words mean anything?

For some reason I’m reminded of Warren Buffett and book value vs intrinsic value. The value of a business is the 2+2=5 more value than simply what it has in the bank and in sellable property that allows it to generate revenue, yet he records his gains only when they post to book value, because it consistently even if not closely lags the real one. It seems like known words are like this: there’s no reason you can’t just look up every word in a text of a language youve never seen; languages are difficult precisely because words are never transferable in their entirety–“go” has a translation in every language, but to give just one example, we also say to children “how does a cow go?/moo”. its a tiny example, but its the relationships between words that require exposure to learn, not the words themselves

is lingq’s premise just that the number of words you know will inevitably correlate to how much of this word-relationship exposure you’ve gotten? I ask this because I am trying different strategies with languages, French for example, which I reached an intermediate level with years ago, I’m reading stuff with very few unknown words and listening at 2x speed to really solidify the basics of syntax. But maybe this is a waste of time (since that stuff is certainly simple and seldom thrilling) and instead should always be trying to stretch the difficulty, like you do with a muscle group each time at the gym. What is the experience of people who have had success learning a language primarily through LingQ?

I think many people look for a balance. Easy stuff becomes boring and it doesn’t challenge you, but spending a ton of time doing stuff well above your level is also not good because you’re flooded with new words and it’s easy to get discouraged. So you want to do stuff where you are challenged but not overwhelmed, and then you can intersperse some easy stuff in there to help recharge from the harder stuff you did earlier.

The known word count is an interesting topic. I think from Steve’s perspective, the known word count is the number of words that you determined you recognized within the context you found it. This doesn’t mean that you would have understood it in every context, but you did in that one, so it counts. Obviously, if you see it later and you don’t recognize it, then it will move to unknown again. Don’t sweat it when that happens, just keep going.

As far as what the count means, it’s safe to say that the higher the number, the better you are at understanding the language, but don’t assume that means that you can speak it. Beyond that, it’s tough to say.


Your gym intuition is exactly right: no gradually increased difficulty, no incremental gain.

It is simply the nature of your biological neural response. Like a muscle indeed.

The stage when you do not push yourself anymore and plateau has a name in linguistics: it is called fossilization.


Your method is likely to change depending on the level you are in the language and what your weaknesses are. For instance, at the beginning, you may do lots of re-listening, as you can’t understand anything, but at the more advanced stage, this is probably unnecessary. Or if you have a large reading vocabulary (eg. you know another language in the language family), but can’t parse the words when native speakers are speaking, focus on studying and listening to material with relatively low New Words, but with unclear audio and a wide variety of accents.

I’d say, examine what you think your weaknesses are, then alter your method to address those weaknesses. As a general rule of thumb though, it’s a good idea to always be studying material with at least some New Words. This is just because vocabulary accumulation is a mammoth task and it’s very likely you can still improve on it. By having material with at least some New Words, you are killing two birds with one stone, that is solidifying the words you already know, but also increasing your vocabulary, as @Caldazar mentioned.


I think there’s a balance, as others have pointed out. I think you certainly should be “stretching the difficulty” (unless of course you are completely satisfied where you are). I think you should always be striving to see new words.

I also do think there’s benefit in reading/listening to easier material to solidify and perhaps more importantly recognize and understand QUICKER. That way we aren’t lost after two or three sentences because we are still deciphering in our head what was read/said in the first sentence. We may know the meaning of it all without aid…we just aren’t fast enough yet. If we are always reading/listening to the difficult stuff, then I feel we are kind of training ourselves to be slow. We can accelerate on the difficult stuff too, and I think it’s beneficial, in order to try and pick out the pieces that you do know and try to piece it together at the accelerated pace.

Known words to me is just a mile marker. I don’t really know the ultimate destination, but I do know I’m further along than where I was. I just keep pushing along, and it’s always there to tell me I am making progress, however incremental it is.