Does it help or hurt to study material that's more advanced than your current level

While studying german, my german friend said that you should always read material that is too hard for you. I have a few thousand words or so in my lexicon so I thought it would be easy, but it was not. I tried reading “twilight” in german, but it was simply too difficult to read at that point.

Now, after about a month of Russian, I am wide eyed looking forward to Russian poetry and literature. There is so much interesting material with the benefit of being on lingq so reading is made easier, but do you find it better to stick to begginer material until you can understand most of the words?

Is their any benefit to slowly going through advanced texts where most of the words are in blue or do you find that to be too inefficient to be of benefit?

Yes, but I would suggest you do comparative reading until you get more advanced. Get a paperback of Twilight in English, to compare to the German version, and get the German audiobook as well. Go sentence by sentence listening, reading checking the English version and looking up words. Slowly but surely you’ll start building up vocab.

This will still be very slow and tiring, so I would suggest this as a secondary activity, along with following a good intermediate course to build up vocab more gradually. But it’s true that challenging yourself in this way will have great benefits on the long run.

It is all about motivation. I find beginner content unmotivating. I think people should press on as soon as they can. It is not necessary to understand all of the words in beginner content, but 70% is a good number. I found that the challenge at the beginning to understand and make sense of the language made it interesting and kept me at it. But once over the hump I jumped into authentic material , even with 50% unknown words. I just kept plowing on until this became a manageable 20%. And this was when LingQ was a lot slower than now. But ultimately it is up to you. Do whatever keeps you going, keeps you at it.


You only learn words by encountering them. That’s my philosophy.

I think you should tackle stuff with unknown words because tackling them makes you learn them. We all start with pretty much 100% unknown words and eventually we manage to make sense of it. It’s no different for the level above where you’re currently at.

The only thing i would say is just keep on listening. I don’t listen a whole lot and it’s impacted me negatively. I can read French now - as in i can understand pretty much anything i read. But if someone says the same stuff i don’t understand it most of the time.

I’m working on that though.

“…even with 50% unknown words”

I always wondered, when you write these posts, how you define unknown words. Are you including both status 1-3 LingQs and blue words?

I don’t think there is any question that reading Twilight will hurt you.

Also, I think if you are taking a book, or story, that you already know, and going through it again - then you have to really want to go through that story a second, or third time - regardless of the language.

Just try to change as much of what you enjoy doing in English over to your target language. Additionally, keep a look out for things in your target language that you wouldn’t necessarily engage with in English, but you find really enjoyable - and keep going with that material, in particular.

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What, overall, do you mean by the word “hump?” I guess for me it is the point where I can read native-level content, not understanding all the words but still understanding the general meaning and some necessary details.

Due to lack of intermediate material, I’m pretty much stuck doing this with Hebrew. As it stands, half is in blue with the rest mostly in yellow. It’s awfully slow, even with a ‘popular history’ book. I feel like there is some benefit, but at the moment it’s like swimmming in treacle.

I started on some dialogs with transcriptions for Korean which were probably too advanced for me at the time. I had 50 -70% unknown words by LingQ’s standard (ie: blue text) when I began. I was unable to make much sense of it - mostly just hearing phrases and understanding parts but not the whole for many sentences.

The draw factor was that at least the speakers sounded natural and actually like they wanted to be doing what they did. Strangely enough that made all the difference and I continue to work with those dialogs because they are easier to listen to.

Now those dialogs are over 70% (some over 90%!) known to me with the remainder being in various stages of “recognizability”. More than that, I actually understand most of the sentences at least enough to get the gist of whats being said.

I won’t argue its an efficient approach at all, but clearly some degree of difficulty can be overcome simply by having content which is somewhat more interesting.

However clearly this is not the whole story. I went through a phase of grabbing news articles and importing them into LingQ. I went through a fair bit of content that way. I did learn a number of words but what became clear is that there is a point where the content is too far above that even interest in it won’t save you.

I will get back to it in future months but right now it feels like that time is not well spent.

If you would like to read Russian poetry or literature, you can try doing it.
But I think the best way is to mix some hard texts ( for pleasure) and some easy content for the better understanding of your new language.
For example in Russian you can read and listen alternately to my course ‘Лучшие русские стихи’ (for pleasure) and the easier content for better comprehension - from the courses Базовые модели, Простые тексты.
Good luck!


As for me, I may say that for 2000-word text I usually prefer to have no more than 200 of unknown words+lingqs, if it is something more than that it is really hard to read, I lose concentration and motivation.
If u really want more than that, and book is really interesting to you, you may download it on your native language and look there from time to time while u reading on your target language, in case u lost an idea of whats going on.
Personally, I found useful new iOS multitasking feature - I simply upload a book on my native language to ibooks and open it in additional window.

Yep, I worked through a lot of texts like that in Russian. Often, I wasn’t even reading the text since I understood nothing. I was just looking at lists of words with their translations. Every now and again, I would mark a word as known if I knew it from English or German.

To answer the question in a more general sense, I think it would be a rare situation in which it would actually hurt the learner. However, I think that there are many situations in which it would be less efficient than using material closer to one’s level.

In my experience the worst thing that can happen is you’re wasting time. I definitely feel that using too easy content is a waste of time as well.

I feel learning difficult content should be eased into, because no matter how many times you read it, it won’t make sense. If learning difficult native content was the answer, then everyone would jump straight into advanced novels and movies.

I would be patient before indulging in difficult things. It all depends on your ability to learn and pick up on new things I suppose. Some people can do it I guess, but I would ignore people that give the advice of “I just jump straight into it.” When my mind is untrained, I don’t know what to listen for, which made learning very difficult material for me a waste of time.

If I find the content difficult, but I recognize a majority of the words, I still go through the lesson anyways.

I just kept plowing on

I seriously wish it was this simple. Even with help, I can’t just simply “plow through”. I usually just end up giving up and finding something easier.

I did this with one of Putin’s speeches. I couldn’t make sense of anything and I came back to it a year later and it was a better experience. I really think there are diminishing returns when it comes to learning things that are too difficult.

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Hi Steve, it’s a pleasure to be able to contact you here at LingQ. I’m a big fan of you. Actually people like you, AJ Hoge and Luca are my motivation in languages. I’ve been listening to your videos and audios and in many of them you mentioned that you were struggling with Korean, you gave it many breaks to focus on a different language and so forth, and you were planning to get back on track with it, so my question is: How do you feel in 2016 with your Korean?, are you comfortable with the language? Again, it’s a huge pleasure Steve. Best regards!

The material we engage with has not only got to be interesting it must be somewhat challenging, but not daunting. A mix of easy and difficult texts, easy and difficult tasks is what I aim at. I am currently going through the Story of Nina in Russian, highlighting words and phrases, flashcarding them and reading and listening again. Offline, I am writing out the 1800 sentences from 50 Languages and listening to the audio on MP3 player while I work out at the GYM. Then I am translating them from English into Russian, which is an interesting way of learning useful sentences. So, I am reading, listening, writing and translating and (speaking a little).

I also belive that we have to deal at the same tine with different materials in different levels ti study a new language and not to be bored:

  1. something challenging ans exciting from the field which you are interested in - from History, Maths, Poems, Philosophy etc.
  2. something from your level of comprehension to go ahead in vocabuulary and in some typical constructions
  3. and for Grammar languages like Russian or German some grammar exercices to go ahead also in the term of grammar.

There’s a lot of good observations and advice above.

The biggest problem I’ve encountered in tackling more advanced material is that because there is so much that is yet to be learned you risk missing that necessary repetitive exposure if successive materials are not related. Each new item will have new vocabulary and constructions unrelated the previous. You feel like you’re making no progress, and to a degree you’re not because you’re not getting the repetition that you need for learning.

I recently read my first novel in my target language, and it was (is) above my level. But it was a very good read, which motivated me to continue. Because the entire book was by a single author telling a single story, many of the new words and constructions repeated throughout, which is a boon to learning. I enjoyed that book and got a boost of confidence from having made it through it, so I sought another.

For my next challenge I chose an e-book that is a collection of stories by different authors. That was a mistake. Each story is unrelated to the others beyond the tenuous relationship making them suitable for inclusion in the same anthology, and each author has his own idiomatic style in vocabulary and construction. So the new material exposed in one story is unlikely to repeat in and be reinforced by the next. I slogged through the first story and found myself slogging through the second without repeating the new material I’d seen in the first. Too many big, unrelated gulps of new vocabulary.

So I dropped that book for now and found another novel by a single author, and that is working out much better. Either a book like this or a series of related articles on a topic of interest is probably the best way to tackle material above your level. By the time you finish 200 pages or more on the same subject by the same author, you’ll be much more comfortable with that vocabulary. Then you can tackle a fresh challenge.

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Unknown to me means I am not confident that I know what the word means. On LingQ it means words that are new to me, some of which may in fact be known to me. When I refer to a percentage of unknown words, I’m referring to new words, words that I have not yet met at LingQ. Of course, it is also true that many of my saved words are also unknown to me, in the sense that I have already forgotten what they mean. However that is not the statistic that I refer to when I say 50% unknown words.

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