Increasing Vocabulary as an Advanced Learner

Hi everyone, I have a question for those who have mastered a foreign language to an advanced level.

According to my stats at lingq, I tend to know about 90 to 95 percent, on average, of the words in a given text. This excludes specialized jargon, and antiquated language. I find that at this level, most unknown words no longer occur often enough for me to remember them through reading/listening alone. I know it will take a lot more time to make significant gains with vocabulary at this level, but I wonder if I could be doing it more efficiently.

At the moment I’m experimenting with importing lingqs and other new words to anki in an attempt to get more exposure to them. Do you any of you have advice for increasing vocabulary at this stage? Any advice helps. Thanks ^^

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Anki is such a waste of time in my experience. I have come across words even very recently that I used Anki to memorize over a year ago and still I couldn’t understand them. I wouldn’t worry too much about remembering words that you encounter infrequently. When you have seen them several times over a longer stretch of time you will remember them. You can write them down somewhere and review your notes later if you really want to be able to remind yourself of those words (or phrases), for example if you want to use them yourself.

Keep exposing yourself to more difficult content, politics, war, NASA. chemicals, psychology just a few I can think of on the top of my head.

“most unknown words no longer occur often enough for me to remember them through reading/listening” … You could make a list of the words you want to remember and import them into LINGQ as a lesson. Once you have such a lesson, you could add new words to it using the edit button.


I’m in the same boat as you. I find using Anki for rare words to be efficient enough. You can also export the CSV, print it and tape it to your wall for extra exposure.


First things first: What kind of material are you reading? You may want to go for more challenging material if possible. Are you reading literature? Good novels/non-fiction originally written in Japanese? I’m a fan of Murakami, for example.
If you do know 90% of all words in that kind of challenging. Congratulations! Your level is really high. At that point it is just to be expected that your vocabulary learning will plateau. Otherwise, I’d advise you to graduate to that kind of real, challenging texts.
At the plateau stage, Anki and similar software can work. My advise would be to use whole sentences, rather than isolated words for memorization (so called “sentence mining”). The added context will help you remember them.

Read, read, read, read…in my experience, the best way to keep learning new words in a foreign language (and in your native language, as well) is just to read more, and expose yourself to more of the language. Read novels, news articles…read anything that interests you. Also watch films in your target language, listen to radio shows, hang out on forums in your TL, the list could go on and on.

I’m sure you’ve already been doing these things, but the basic idea is just to keep exposing yourself to the language more and more, and with time, you will begin to pick up new words.

You may consider using flashcards/some sort of SRS to learn vocabulary; however, most people here will tell you that it is a waste of time. I think at your level it’s okay in very small amounts, if there is a very specific group of words you want to learn, but the vast majority of your learning should still be based on input and interacting in the language.

I’m so glad I quit using Anki and began reading the news instead. Now I read international news in Serbo-Croatian and I am going through a course in mathematics in Russian, which is great fun. At least for now when I’m only studying the basics! My point being that using Anki was theoretically great but in reality it proved to be an unreliable and uninteresting way of progressing. You end up like a school kid who is only doing as told and is not really interested or doesn’t even understand how this knowledge is useful. Maybe we can call it assembly-line language learning or something? Maybe my comparisons aren’t all that great, but using the language for something interesting is so much more rewarding. And now I can learn mathematics while I learn Russian, so it saves time as well. In my experience I really end up learning even very infrequent words. It just takes patience.

Once you’re at that level, the best thing to do is really just to use the language on a day to day basis and not worry so much about the word count – though I know it’s fun to watch the numbers go up :slight_smile:

When I say “use the language” I don’t mean speaking necessarily, though of course, that’s probably the best, but just listening, reading, watching movies, etc. for the fun of the activity and not necessarily for "learning.

I think flash cards become more useless the higher your word count is. You’re not gonna learn “jet propulsion” in Japanese form a flash card – but you will probably learn “jet propulsion” if you read The Martian in Japanese :slight_smile:

If you read as little as one or two LingQ lessons worth of a book each day – that’s about 7 to 14 printed pages – you will have fun using the language and your word count will keep going up no matter what. That’s really the best thing to do.

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This is great advice everyone! Thank you.
It seems the most important thing for me is increasing the volume and difficulty of the material I read.
I may still try out using a phrase based anki deck to see if it works for me. I’ve seen some who swear by srs and others who say it’s a waste of time. In any case, I agree with you all that it should be, at best, a secondary activity to reading, listening, etc.

Correction: 1) Speaking, then 2) Reading/Listening to Native texts 3) then other activities like SRS. I’ve been using LingQ faily, and it’s great (fantastic), but it’s got nothing on making errors in speech, day after day, with native speakers. I explained activist groups and U.S. Olympic history yesterday in Spanish; and medical oddities and natural disasters today; I’ve explained head transplants recently. I still make errors in the language, on a sentence-by-sentence basis.

Speaking is a much higher power activity in language acquisition than reading (it’s why babies learn to speak great at language before ever learning their literacy). The reading is next most powerful, but what is reading a language if you haven’t practiced speaking it? How is it not just a competition-to-memorize-the-dictionary, without implementing these ideas in rapid conversational speech? I’m not discounting the reading - I read every day in Spanish to gain more vocabulary and fluency (reading aloud), but reading without speaking is like the guy who recently became the French Scrabble champion - he can’t speak French, but his memory is awesome.

These days I’ve been reading mostly newspapers and web articles. I’ve read novels by people like Murakami and Osamu Dazai in the past (Murakami is surprisingly readable compared to most Japanese authors). It may be time for me to revisit them.

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I’d argue that the French Scrabble champion may not speak French, but he can use French to play Scrabble, which is apparently really what he wants to do. The two has nothing do with each other. But taking in stories and ideas is a vastly different activity from learning individual Scrabble words.

Reading and listening to audiobooks in and of themselves are activities with their own pleasures, so if it was possible to only learn a language “good enough” to read an average book unassisted, that in and of itself would be a worthwhile pursuit in my opinion – however, thankfully, it’s impossible to get to that level and not be able to speak the language at least on a conversant level.

Speaking is the ultimate goal, of course. But the vast majority of our use of language, in general, is passive, so building up your ability to read and listen is an absolutely valid goal by itself.


Honestly, I don’t see how the French scrabble champion is relevant to this conversation. Apparently he can’t even read French. He simply learned the letters like he would a sequence of numbers.

As someone who lives in Japan and speaks the language everyday, I’m not discounting the utility of speaking, of course. However, it’s just not a very efficient way to build up vocabulary compared to input based activities like reading and listening. Speaking will cement what you’ve learned passively, but it’s not a means to acquire new vocabulary IMHO.


If you’re speaking it daily, then the “speaking” concern I had doesn’t apply. I’ve seen people push to memorize 50,000 words, and not have that daily speaking practice in, and to me that feels like a walking dictionary, or the Scrabble dude. But yes, if you’re speaking daily, then you’re already somewhere past “speaks like a 12 year old” or “speaks like an undereducated native” or “an educated native with alien robot grammar” (I waffle beteeen these three), all of which can really only be improved upon with consistent reading/exposure to native materials. I agree that daily speaking usually isn’t an efficient source of new passive vocabulary words like reading is (words like “prosaic” and “evanescent” which we know, and would show up in books, and never in a daily conversation.) Where the speaking is useful is for downloading your normal active vocabulary from your native language into your second language. I’m at the point where I’ve pretty much mapped out my life stories from English into Spanish, and within an hour of practice I’m just gaining words like “straw” (drinking straw), toxic waste, the aging process, and eclipse. Words that I do want to use, because I tried using them in conversation, but words at the limit of active vocabulary. You’re right, reading (and listening) is the most effective form of passive vocabulary development, for words like telomeres, cellular reproduction, isolationist, judicial, and syndrome. Those words are an ordinary day of reading. Keep doing what you’re doing, my reminder to speak is something you’ve obviously already surpassed since you live in the target country and use the language spoken on a daily basis.

While I am nowhere near the level you are talking about, I can’t stress enough that jonesjack is right on the money. Choose topics you are very interested in that have real niche words to their field. In addition to this, you could add those words to Anki and just keep increasing your vocab there through SRS as well. Really good idea here.

1 Like has many audiobooks. They range from novels to practical use books. I even found one on bitcoin.

There’s science books, books on religion(mainly buddhism), a lot of books on history. I think this could help a lot.

For most, you can find the ebook as well.

Thanks for all of your past help with finding material. I hope this helps.

Also, what part of Japan do you live in?

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I also found a website that has japanese drama transcripts.

I think the files are srt, so you will need to convert them into txt or pdf format. This can be done online.

You will have to get the drama mp3. Which can also be done online. I do not know if that infringes any copyright laws in Japan but it can be done.

This is another way that’s helped me get in the 20000 club in Japanese on Lingq.

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Awesome! Yes, it certainly does. Thanks!
I live in Tohoku.