How long does it take to improve your memory in your L2?

I notice that even at a B2+, LingQ Intermediate 2 level in Italian with close to 1,000 hours of listening and 4M words read, my memory still feels poorer than in English. If I listen to a podcast in English, I could easily describe what was discussed. However, if I listen to a podcast in Italian, I struggle a lot more to remember what was discussed.

For those who have reached advanced levels in foreign languages, at what point does your memory start to get closer to that when the content is in your L1? Are there any specific techniques or strategies you have used to focus on improving your memory in your L2? Or is your experience that the language spoken doesn’t change your ability to remember things?


I am learning German. The number is definitely around 4000. I still remeber the details from conversations that I had a month ago. Around 4000 listening hours heavy fog is lifting.
German speaker spoke like this asaflbdjjfblkbbkrnktnkltnlnl;nlnhlmajkjhkfjhr;kghkgh in a real conversation,

My subconcious mind: Weil du nicht kommentiert hast und ich schon einen Mitarbeiter genommen habe. Around 4000 h mark It is taking a couple of seconds to decipher that German langauge in the above mentioned meaning. My experience says that with more listening hours your ability to deciper language will increase. With that comes good memory. No need to be trapped into extra tricks, techniques and all that. At least I did not do anyhting extra ordinary apart from increasing listening hours per day.

Just increase your listening hours per day such as 4-5 hours a day for 90 days etc. Increase the quantity.


Speech from natives in L2 = Oral keyboard mashing. :laughing:

That is gold, and exactly how it feels sometimes.


@asad100101 I feel that I understand the language just fine. Like I can listen to a podcast or watch a documentary and understand the vast majority of it, with active effort, no worries. But I just don’t remember much of the podcast or documentary, which I understood in the moment of listening to it, afterwards.

My thoughts are, yeah, large amounts of extensive reading and listening is how to get there.

You still had serious compehension issues at 3,000 hours of listening?

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I have French to an upper B2 level, I can easily follow speech in a formal or semi formal register, for example podcasts and debates, but films are often alphabet spaghetti. I have about 700 hours of listening experience over the past year, but I did live in Montreal for two years over 30 years ago, and could follow slowed down standard French back then.

I recently started using LingQ for French and I was surprised how much it has helped after only a week. I use the short stories for my basic German. Podcasts are a no no as my comprehension is so slow.

Just to amplify @nfera’s question: I’m wondering if @asad100101 can give us a more nuanced take on the history of his comprehension abilities at different amounts of listening.

For example, at ~1000 hours @nfera reports being able to understand everything he hears but “with active effort.” At ~600 hours I can guess what it feels like to “understand everything but with active effort” in the sense that I also grasp just about 100% of the cognitive content of what I am listening to, but I don’t always have perfect, in the moment, resolution in my hearing. Sometimes I can feel my brain automatically retroactively deducing what a word was, in parallel to listening to the present moment. Sometimes I don’t hear a word, but missing that little pronoun or vowel elision or implied but dropped phoneme does not undermine my grasp of the meaning at the sentence level. I’ve started listening to some content as background listening in subject areas where I also have a firm knowledge base, and I can do it, but the thread of my attention is pretty fragile. When I space out a little bit there are obvious holes in my short term memory. My target language can dissolve into noise still, whereas in my native language the language never dissolves into noise, regardless of my level of attention. If my attention drifts out, when I “tune back in” to my native language, I am aware that there is a word-for-word record in my short term memory of the language I was not fully attending to. Even with drifting attention I never feel lost in my native language.

So even though I “understand everything” in my target language there is still a very big phenomenological difference between my native and target language. If I focus on my grasp of the cognitive content I’d say that at 600 hours I’m close to understanding my target language, but if I focus on the subjective experience of listening - with the goal being the sort of effortless, immediate, intuitive grasp of the language I have with my native language - I would say I am very far away from “understanding everything.”

So without putting words in anyone’s mouth, I could see how both @nfera and @asad100101 are right: ~1000 hours is sufficient to understand the language, but ~4000 hours is necessary to really understand the language.

I’m wondering if my way of thinking about this makes sense to you both, or if you’d correct or qualify anything I’ve said here.

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Things always depend on the context. Getting enough exposure to native conversations takes a long time (duration – years), and nothing but native conversations where you are under pressure to understand can fully prepare you for them. People talk fast, loose and imprecisely. We rely on various strategies like collocations and thinking words to help us communicate in our native languages, and these are what we need to relearn when talking to natives.

It takes thousands of hours to be comfortable there. However, something I want to hammer again and again, if you’ve already invested say 2.000 in listening to a new language, why would you stop at 4.000? I’d hope you found something of value and would just keep going.


I didn’t realise until recently that often when watching a film, I will miss some speech. This is usually with an American film (I am English), where there is background noise, or mumbling.

Also, when listening to the English/British radio, although I understand it all, I can’t recall much unless I pay attention. And even then it’s hard to recall much detail.

So don’t be too hard on yourself.

I think part of the problem is that when speech is not clear, or it’s fast, the brain has to not only recognise the sounds, but error correct. Thus it makes guesses as you go along, to account for missing or poorly articulated syllables. That error correction takes time to build up. I’m sure I’m not the only person who, on a few occasions, heard a completely different sentence to the one spoken. This is consistent with the brain performing real time predictive pattern matching and error correction.

If someone knows a good book on this, please let me know.


I agree with this completely, but I do have a list of languages that I would like to reach a high level in. If ~4,000 was a reasonable number for the level of listening comprehension I am aiming for, I could plan three year cycles in which I hit that number for each language on the target list, and after a decade just enjoy the territory gained however I am inspired to do so.

That said, the language that I am working on first is the language I have the most reason to actively use, not as a vehicle for consuming content and culture, but as a vehicle for daily communication, so I don’t expect to stop using it once I make another language the main focus of my active language learning.

@GMelillo Yeah, you pretty much summed it up. The comprehension is there (especially in certain domains), in that I listen to something and can nod along as it makes sense, but I’m not at the level of instantaneous, strong meaning. This is the point, when it becomes effortless, that I think the memory starts to improve.

I’m just curious on when such a point will come. Obviously, it’s not an on-off switch and also it would be domain specific (that being, certain words have an instantaneous, understanding, creating strong mental images → more likely to remember).

One practical thing to consider is, say, learning about a certain topic. If you can study that material in your L2, why not get in the extra practice, right? But then if the difference in material remembered is, random example, 50% vs. 80% in your L1, this is worth taking into consideration, right? It might mean that in order to learn about this topic, it would really take you ~1.5x as long, due to differences in retention of the material (and therefore require repeating the material).

@noxialisrex So the two strategies to turn the slow, subconscious knowledge into fast subconscious knowledge with powerful associations would be:

  1. A very large amount of extensive listening in a wide range of contexts
  2. Conversations as the extra pressure and speaking practice has a strong effect on solidifying the word → meaning connections

I’m just curious about when my memory is going to improve in my L2.

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Movies can be a nightmare. I remember, after about 3 months of learning, I attempted to watch the Spanish movie Volver. I honestly might as well have been watching it in Chinese as I couldn’t get a word of it. I went back to it recently (I would estimate I’m at around a B2 level of comprehension) I still can’t catch most of what’s said.

YouTube videos, some radio, podcasts, dubbed shows/movies, some telenovelas are fine, but original Spanish language movies are a totally different beast.

I think it’s normal because I know of fluent speakers of English who require subtitles for most movies they watch. Some of whom are REALLY fluent.

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I’m advanced in Swedish, and I sort of understand your predicament. I have a similar experience; there’s still nothing quite like English if I really really need to make something stick.

My theory is this: even for advanced users of the language, to really use it as a method of retaining information, you need to live somehow in the language. I work with many non-native English speakers, and I’ve had similar conversations with them. Their anecdotes of struggling to retain information until they lived in the UK, or worked for a company whose working language was English, or studied at an English language university, lead me to believe this is key.

I especially notice with my partner, who’s a native Turkish and Kurdish speaker. His brain is like a sieve - in English. He has lived with me in Scotland for six months now though and I’m starting to see improvements, so I think my theory is along the right lines.