How many lemmas can you learn a day? As an English speaker

Lemma meaning: the words work, working, worker are all represented by one lemma.

How many of these can you learn a day? 30? And then how many lemmas do you need to know to understand 75% of text? I see the number 1000 thrown around a lot, but I don’t think that’s enough; it might not even be enough for 50%.

EDIT: I see people talking about flashcards here, and what I really have in mind is acquiring words through reading&re-reading texts, especially by using interlinear translations. I wish LingQ had the option of tracking how many lexemes/lemmas you know as well, like Vocab Tracker does, and not just the individual words. The problem with Vocab Tracker is that it doesn’t track the number of words you know :person_facepalming:t2:

What’s the average for words in one lemma in English? I guess it’s safe to say the average is about 4 (rather give than take). After I’ve reached the 12000 words point on LingQ (mostly without apostrophes and proper nouns) I understood at the very least 95% of virtually any (written) text. Which means roughly 4000 of lemmas are enough for that.
Not that anybody asked me, but I think for the purpose of learning, lemmas are an impractical concept. It’s a linguistic term, and as all the linguistic terms are, it is a meta- language for describing features of the language. So why bother if for now you’re just learning the basics of the language and not going to become a linguist (in the academical sense)?

So I can calculate how long it will take to “learn French”. I’d like to know how many lemmas can be acquired per day. If it’s like, 50, then I would know 4500 of them in 3 months, which means I would have 95% understanding of anything in 3 months!! That’s enormous progress!! But if it’s maybe 10, then it would take over a year to reach that level of comprehension. Vladimir Posner said that he had set a goal to learn каждый день десять слов in Russian, when he decided to seriously learn the Russian language.

When you know a 1,000 words, this is what reading a native-written text will be like: “Now let’s go to the X, after we can X, and maybe later we should X, Y, Z before going to X on our way home.” X, Y, Z = words you don’t know. This is basically what it means to understand “75% of the text” - you might understand 75% of the words, but you really won’t understand the meaning of most sentences, because the words that carry the most meaning are beyond that 1,000 word goal.

My advice for you is to ignore these silly concepts of “just learn the most common 1,000” (or 2,000, or 5,000) words, and just start reading and listening every day. If you set a goal of creating 100 LingQs everyday for the next 90 days, you’ll see a huge increase in your comprehension and ability to use the language at the end of those three months. If you set a goal of reading and listening for a half hour or an hour every day - same thing, you’ll see a huge jump in your abilities. Focus more on “process goals” (Q: What should I accomplish today? A: Read and listen for 30+ minutes) and less on getting to know some arbitrary number of words.


It depends on how you’re gonna learn them. By flashcards like term/translation would be like 0 words per day, because out of context they don’t stick for long, and what’s more important, they don’t affect your understanding at all. Like you’re reading something, you’re staring at the familiar words, which you’ve been learning for 6 months, and yet you aren’t even getting what they mean.
Reading articles, podcasts and books, you can get up to 20-40 words per day. This number can vary, it depends…
As for mr. Vladimir Posner, given that he had the opportunity to practice in the native environment and that Russian is one of his native languages, there’s a huge difference between improving your skills and aquiring them from scratch.
I think, depending on the approach you employ, you can count on 6-12 months of quite intensive learning.
There is no way to learn language using the lemmas concept, no one person learned a language caring about how many lemmas he needs. What is really practical is the Big numbers, like a number of read words per day, a number of hours of speaking. Adjusting them affects whether you cover enough of the “things” in the language to maintain your further progress. If numbers are below the optimal level, you would forget words you’ve learned before and you wouldn’t come across the sufficient amount of new words.

Speaking very roughly the following may be a useful way to think about European languages.

An advanced speaker is likely to know/use/recognise around 500 different verbs and perhaps the same number of function words (conjuctions, prepositions, adverbs of place/time, etc). In terms of nouns the number is much higher (in the order of ten times larger I imagine). For simplicity let’s say that a similar number of adjectives would be nice (this is probably a bit excessive).

The difficulty lies in deciding how many nouns are needed as this is very context sensitve (linguists insist on talking about ‘fields’). For example, you can be an advanced learner of Englihs without knowing any of the myriad of terms used to describe cricket (or sport in general). As a native speaker, there are loads of cricket-words that I don’t understand despite some people using them all the time. The number of nouns is sometimes quoted as around 5000, although you could either double or half that depending ‘who you ask’.

You can probably get a reasonable understanding of many texts by halving the numbers above: 250 verbs, 250 function words, 2500 nouns and a few other things is a very good start in any language.

In terms of how many lemmas you could learn in a day (let’s assume that they have no obvious link to any language you already speak, or you could just find a list of 1000s of cognates for many languages) you could certainly try to learn more than 10 but probably less than 100. (Sorry if that is rather vague!) The difficulty with any kind of SRS approach is that rather quickly the vast majority of your time will be spent reviewing words you have already encounted.

You should be able to learn 50 per day. I used to do flashcards before using lingq and it took me about 1.5 hours to commit 50 words to active memory. If you use flashcards then it’s important to break it into at least 4-5 different sessions per day. To achieve this same pace using lingq it would probably take at least 3-4 hours per day (I’ve done that as well). theoretically, 6 months would be enough time to reach your goal (9000 lemmas), but you’d probably have to schedule some sanity breaks in there. so figure 7-9 months of dedicated practice. This would be just for reading. Listening and speaking would take years to reach the same level.


So flashcards turn out to be more effective than reading? What the takeaway for beginner would be of this?

To illustrate what one lemma sometimes be like:
пры’гать, пры’гаю, пры’гаем, пры’гаешь, пры’гаете, пры’гает, пры’гают, пры’гая, пры’гал, пры’гала, пры’гало, пры’гали, пры’гай, пры’гайте, пры’гающий, пры’гающая, пры’гающее, пры’гающие, пры’гающего, пры’гающей, пры’гающего, пры’гающих, пры’гающему, пры’гающей, пры’гающему, пры’гающим, пры’гающий, пры’гающую, пры’гающее, пры’гающие, пры’гающего, пры’гающую, пры’гающее, пры’гающих, пры’гающим, пры’гающей, пры’гающею, пры’гающим, пры’гающими, пры’гающем, пры’гающей, пры’гающем, пры’гающих, пры’гавший, пры’гавшая, пры’гавшее, пры’гавшие, пры’гавшего, пры’гавшей, пры’гавшего, пры’гавших, пры’гавшему, пры’гавшей, пры’гавшему, пры’гавшим, пры’гавший, пры’гавшую, пры’гавшее, пры’гавшие, пры’гавшего, пры’гавшую, пры’гавшее, пры’гавших, пры’гавшим, пры’гавшей, пры’гавшею, пры’гавшим, пры’гавшими, пры’гавшем, пры’гавшей, пры’гавшем, пры’гавших.

Even Aronald needs at least 2 days to commit (not retain) 70+ words of one lemma. Of course he’s not gonna get how it’s being used in the language without the additional 3-4 hours of reading (on LingQ) for that purpose.
And there are terms which have multiple meanings, like the word “pitch” in English. Or, for example, the word “margin”, which is a completely foreign term for Russian speaker and you won’t get how to use it without context.

i think anglien was asking about how many lemmas (быть, павар, книга, etc) can be learned (and retained) in a day. I just dont think flashcards lead to good understanding of the word or how they are really used even if you remember the definition.

I can do about 75 releases (in Anki) a day for root/head words not the inflected form counts we use here on Lingq.

That is EXTREMELY aggressive you are going to do any other studying or life.

Easy enough to add the 75 words, but with spaced repetition and 5% or so “misses” then after a few days the reviews start piling up gradually at first then ever faster.

With my 5000 word starter deck (because you can read pretty fluently when you have that many main words) I finished the “first pass” at about 65 days, and closed the deck at 3 months are “good enough” and “diminishing returns” since the goal wasn’t to learn the language this way but get a start and enable reading interesting books I’d otherwise read in English anyway and to have a good base for videos, audio and speaking.

This probably equated to 20-25 thousand Lingq words, and I finished my year, never missing a day for about 15 months actually, at about 54 thousand here.

I speak horridly but read fluently at about the college level – also with French as the vocabulary becomes more “educated” or advanced or formal it tends to coincide with English more due to Latin and simply borrowing, so other than the odd vernacular and pure slang I don’t see a lot of unknown words – so about 6-8 months in it became difficult to find an interesting book that would keep up my “400” per day (Lingq) goal for new words.

Throughout, I was studying about 3 hours per day, 7 days per week, PLUS watching movies and TV with my wife in French for fun, news etc…

That 75% number is vocab coverage, not comprehension.

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