How to Read 1 Million Words a Year in Your Target Language - Steve Kaufmann

Reading builds fluency. Elon Musk (@elonmusk) reads 2 books a DAY, while most people read only 14 a YEAR. Aim to read 1+ book a month in your target language. In this video, I talk more about the power of reading & share my best tips to get more (and BETTER!) reading practice.


Nope, I’m not gonna believe that. His brother said that and this happened when he was a teen (it is not now). So, if his brother thought as a comic the same as a book, then I could definitely crunch a lot of them.

Now, he might be plugged to his Neuralink already so he could read more.

However, pushing ourselves as adults and not dedicating too much time on reading and listening anything else, it can be possible to read a few books per week. Depending on the size.


I don’t believe it either, unless they were really short books.

In any event. It’s pretty easy to reach a million words in a year. 2700 words a day. If you do R+L to keep the pace, that’s like 15-20 min (or less if you speed the recording up).


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I watched Steve’s video with great interest. My plan is to solidify French by reading lots of books. After all that’s how I got good at English.

However, I can’t tell what Steve is talking about or to whom.

I’ve spent over three months on Harry Potter 1 in French and I’m only 80% through. Granted, I do a deep dive on each sentence for meaning, grammar and pronunciation. I assume I will go faster over time.

As I hear Steve, he seems to be recommending a gradual saturation process where with repeated exposure one absorbs the language unconsciously. That does seem to be what Steve Krashen is talking about.

But I have come to doubt that procedure after I started thinking about how I would ever understand verbs and be able to use them properly without direct old-fashioned study.

Then there’s the issue of pronunciation without drilling hard. So many ordinary combinations of French words are tongue twisters for English speakers.

Is Steve recommending we read large quantities of text for the gist, then count on achieving mastery though the unconscious?

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@jt23 I believe we need a lot of input but I’m not blind. If we want to be solid with our language we need a bit of grammar understanding here and there, and quite a lot of outputs. But reading+listening should probably be the big part of it IF we study from home.

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Every time you re-encounter words in the text, it’s a repetition. The more reps you get in, the more chances you have to solidify that meaning in your mind. If you can’t remember the meaning yet, it’s another encounter and another chance to finally get that meaning to stick (just like if you were using flash cards…except, in a reading setting, hopefully a lot less boring). If you already know the word, having another rep, helps speed up that recognition of the word and it’s meaning.

Reading the words in the form of this content also lets your brain see the patterns of the words and the words they are often associated to. These patterns, with their meanings, with enough repetitions, solidify in your mind until they become instantaneous (after many many readings).

You will NOT be able to use (in the form of speaking) all the vocabulary you learn by reading or listening, but you will, even without practicing speaking start to be able to use many of the words and patterns that you’ve seen many times over. That’s what he’s driving at. You’ve had so many repetitions of certain words that in many cases you will have learned the words enough to output them.

Having said that…you ARE going to need to practice speaking to be able to output, but as some, including Steve might suggest, they prefer to get some amount of vocabulary “in them”, in the form of input, before they prefer to start speaking. You essentially need to start thinking in the opposite direction…how do I say something. You might be able to get some of the words you would use, but you will need to look up how to say things as a whole and get practice outputting.


@ericb100 I would say you need to practice writing and speaking. I’m a “writing output” believer to learn to better speak (but after a great deal of input with LingQ).
However, I don’t believe reading is enough to understand patterns and grammars. At least not for me. I believe that it is better to always have a grammar textbook and here and there reading something about it, let it settle, read again and so on.
You cannot write properly if you don’t learn some structure but Steve doesn’t care about writing in many languages. By learning to write, which will stress your grammar knowledge, you will speak better as well.
So, at the end, a grammar textbook is important. But not to be used like “schools” are used to, wasting a lot of time in grammar when students don’t even have enough vocabulary to survive with it.

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@davideroccato I agree…to get better and writing and speaking, you need to write and speak. I didn’t mean to give the illusion that you can just read and listen and then be able to speak and write with ease. What I am saying is there are many words, that I’ve never uttered once, or before ever uttering them the first time, I already knew from reading and listening because I’ve seen them so many times. Or I’ve seen a certain phrase so many times, that I’ve been able to use it for the first time, without having practiced or looked it up when practicing my speaking or writing.

That does not mean this happens for every word or phrase and certainly doesn’t mean that it comes to mind quickly enough or as quick as what I want. Nor is it enough vocabulary to express everything I want, even in the most basic of form.

To your point, I think you do need to also learn some of that grammar. Especially if you want to solidify the structures…but I do think input helps far more with this than you think. I couldn’t tell you the correct grammar of English using words…but I can tell you what sounds right and wrong. The extent of actively practicing and learning grammar in our schools, is a relatively short amount of time in our lives. We are reading and listening to most of the correct grammatical structures and eventually learn to recognize what sounds and looks right. The amount of time spent reading and listening dwarfs the amount of time we ever spent looking at grammar or studying grammar.

I also peek at a grammar book, when I want an explanation of the “why” of some structure. And then put it down just like you say.

I agree writing is a great way to practice output too. You have a chance of thinking how to say things and hopefully with enough practice those ideas start popping into your mind easier. The main trick is finding enough time. Also reading and listening is much more fun to me so it’s tough to switch tasks to something that I don’t care for much =). I have been having a good time, though, going through the mini stories in my own language and trying to say those sentences in my target language. It feels more like “lingq” style, so a little more fun. It also means I don’t have to, at the same time, come up with a topic to speak or write about. The subject matter is right there for me to try and say it. (or write it).


David, you do not believe in the premise that after getting certain amount of input, both speaking and writing will emerge automatically. As Steve says in order to speak well you need to speak a lot. However, my experience goes the other way around. At certain level of inputs I could not even imagine thinking about expressing certain ideas; with more input the ability to express them has now increased automatically. Massive input will take care of most these skills itself when the time is right. That’s what I think. I might be wrong about it.

Based on my observtion German natives write the way they speak. Hardly million dollar or fancy words.


@ericb100 @asad100101 I connect the dots.

I agree about getting to the sound of the language and that this is going to unlock a lot of things. However, I’m referring to use LingQ when learning a language at home. So, beginning with massive reading+listening and when ready, output writing and speaking.

I don’t know if this will be enough to reach the level to get the sound of the language, and if this will give me a great deal of ability in writing and speaking.

The reason is simple: I’ve never experienced that yet because I’ve learned all my previous languages in the target countries.
This is the first time I study a language at home only and with many other difficulties to deal with.

I’m very slow with German and I’m doing the bare minimum. I’ve just read stuff and I’ve started with listening lately BUT I’m quite happy with the progress considering that I really don’t do much.
I could already start to survive a little by speaking if it were really necessary and I’ve never had a conversation yet.

At the moment, I still believe that, after a certain point of reading+listening, I would prefer going directly to Germany to unlock that “sound” and flexibility of the language. That fluency I have with the other languages.
The difference is that I think I would need only few months and not years anymore. Which is a massive change.

But maybe, who knows, it is not even necessary. I’ve just never done it yet. So I cannot vouch to something I’ve not achieved yet.

I will be happy to be wrong.

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Sheesh. I was proud of myself reading 3/4 million words of French in the LingQ UI over two years.


@davideroccato when you say “getting the sound of the language” are you meaning your own pronunciation? Or in understanding others?


To sharpen my question – what does Steve mean when he recommends 1 Mil words per year?

I am now at 11k LingQ known words. I can get the gist of Harry Potter and newspaper articles. I think I could reach 1 Mil/year, getting the gist, But I think I would find that unsatisfying.

I would miss so much and it would take years to get verbs reliably in that manner.

Does the language “reveal itself” unconsciously over time with repeated exposure? Am I too impatient?


Maybe he thinks Twitter is books?


@ericb100 when I say that I mean “understanding” the language somehow. I call it sound but it doesn’t have anything to do with only pronunciation. It is that stage when you feel if a sentence is correct or not, even if you don’t know it grammatically. It is just what happens in normal conversations amongst native people, when they ask each other these things: could I say this or it doesn’t sound right, or it sounds to informal, or the spelling is not right but I don’t know the correct one, it just doesn’t feel right, and so on.

To me, it depends on the sound, life is sound, a core vibration of the language. I don’t know how to better explain it at the moment.

We could also say it is something like @jt23 wrote, the language the “reveal itself” in our unconscious. We don’t know how we learn these things but at certain point we just “feel” the language.
However, is this gonna happen with only reading+listening exposure? I don’t know because I’ve never done it. It is for sure gonna happen with real people exposure living in the target country and sharing our life with local people. The fact is that we share a lot more than only text and words when we interact with people. So, if we can reach the same feeling by staying at home I see it more at a mirage. But maybe we can get close to it, saving time and money before going to the target country.

The more the exposure the less is probably the time needed to the target country. The better and focused the exposure the less the time we need to spend in this task. But I’m not a good example on doing things right!

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@noxialisrex :grin: well, to be fair, there was no Twitter when he was a teen. But he’s definitely reading a lot of tweets now. Or maybe he is using his new xAI to understand Twitter and what he is doing with all that!

Based on my observation as a German native speaker who has been observing the writing products of other German native speakers for decades and whose exam topic was the intricate relationship between the oral and written dimensions:

  1. If you always try to write like you talk in German, you’re uneducated (notable exception: some informal ways of communication on the Internet).

  2. A lot of German native speakers write extremely poorly - unless they write professionally (as journalists, etc.) or have an academic background (i.e., gone to Fachhochschule / university).
    So, no: Neither listening nor reading a lot alone create good writers. That would be just an absurd claim.
    On the other hand, good writers are always good (and avid) readers…

  3. And no, speaking and writing in German (or any other language) are not identical.
    There is extensive research about the highly complex relationships between orality and literacy See, for ex.:


No, Elon is smart:
Maybe he uses Blinkist (and Co) to extract the essential parts of a book?
Or he uses his favorite generative AI to read summaries of the essential parts of a book?

That is, you can get the essential parts of many (problem-solving) books just by reading the summaries :slight_smile:

And even pleasure-giving books such as LoR can be summarized as follows:
Nine hippies run around for three books - just so one can throw a ring into a volcano at the end.

What more is there to know? Ah, I forgot the Witch King of Angmar and the Nine :slight_smile:

Of course, “reading” two books a day this way is a poor performance.

Elon, you can do better than that, right? :upside_down_face:


PS -
The real challenge per year is
“Read one million of these summaries per year!”

That’s what David Goggins would do :smiley:
From “ultrarunning” to “ultrasummarizing”.

No big deal with an “ultrareading while listening” approach in a not so distant L2, by the way… And why not use Encyclopedia Britannica for that (at least for the folks learning English)? J.R.R. Tolkien | Biography, Books, Movies, & Facts | Britannica