Interesting... vocab differences between genres

So this may be obvious if you think about it, but when you’re deep in the weeds it’s not so obvious…
But it turns out according to the research that certain genres of TV shows have lower unique vocabulary counts than others.
More specifically:
Soap operas are the lowest.
Action is next lowest.
Crime is next lowest.
Medical is next lowest.
Scifi is right at the top.

Reason I ended up googling the research is I found that a TV show which was a Crime show was significantly easier to understand than my target show which is Scifi.

Like a f00l I picked Scifi to try to learn from. Totally ignoring comprehensible input LOL.

Anyhow, lesson learned. Next time around I’ll stick to the low hanging fruit.

For those who care about the numbers, the range is something like 4,500 unique words for a broad range of soap operas up to 8,500 unique words for scifi shows. Bearing in mind this is word families, not variations of a word as in lingQ so ymmv when using lingQ “words”.


Thank you, xxdb! Interesting…

“it turns out according to the research”
Do you have some links to relevant research?
This could be interesting for my book on the “ultrareading” approach…

On the other hand, I´d never start my language learning journey with a focus on TV shows because the word density is generally too low compared to the “audiobook + e-book” combo, esp. if an “ultra-reading-while-listening” approach is used (here ca. 8-10 k words can be absorbed in 2 Pomodoro blocks à 25 min a day - at least for Indo-European languages that aren´t too distant from the Romance / Germanic language families).

Only after a year of reading / listening to 2.5 to 3 million words based on the audiobook/e-book combo would I switch to TV shows / movies to “perfect” my L2.
And in that case, the genre-specific vocabulary counts no longer matter…


Lately I’ve tried to read a fantasy novel with the same result. Crazy number of unique, extravagant words and grammatical twists. I’ve just given up quickly, since I don’t wanna contract this style into my speaking and sound as a Gandalf the Grey anyway :slight_smile:

while that may be true, it is also relevant to take into account your own interests.

My interest is mainly Sci-Fi/Fantasy. If I read watch anything in this genre I end up reading/watching 10 times as much as I would if I chose to read or watch crime, despite the fact that it is much more difficult.

Of course in the end, input still has to be comprehensible so if the difference is just too big, then that’s a different story.


Ha, ha, ha.
Sounding like “Gandalf the Grey” is still pretty good. However, sounding like a regular orc or an Uruk Hai, well, that´s a different story. See:

Yes, it´s iconic, but the cannibalistic use case is extremely limited.
Besides, it also goes against my vegetarian lifestyle so orc meat won’t be on my menu anytime soon :slight_smile:


I´d say the problem here are less the preferred genres, but more the activities, i.e.: “watching vs reading (while listening)”.

“Reading (while listening)” is simply the superior language learning activity compared to watching TV/movies, esp. in the long run:

  • the word density is much higher
  • the vocabulary is much more varied and complex
  • the (implicit) grammar structures are more complex
  • the plot structures are much better elaborated

I´m not against watching TV / movies per se because it also has its benefits (e.g. learning slang, etc.). But I´d say it shouldn´t be the main focus in language learning, esp. at the beginner and intermediate stages…


I agree, “preferred” things are overrated. It’s good sometimes but it’s better most efficient things.

I don’t even have a TV. But a part from that, movies and series are less efficient for the reasons you said.

I also would add Youtube videos before shows because Youtubers talk a lot in most cases and there is a lot to learn from it, slang, objects, and other things.

I’d definitely not choose TV/movies/series for learning but just as a side effect when you finally are advanced and you want to enjoy original content. That shouldn’t be a starting point (maybe just random sometimes) but an end point and/or a way to check your overall comprehension without subtitles.


Scifi is definitely harder in books because they have to describe a lot of things that don’t exist to make it interesting. So you need to have a lot of vocabulary and a very good comprehension to understand all those differences and details. I find it harder as well.

But man, love stories? You can buy Kilos of love stories books for 10€. :smiley:


“I also would add Youtube videos”
Definitely - if the word density is high enough.
The same is true for podcasts (with transcripts).

So we could construct an ad hoc hierarchy of media combos for simultaneous reading and listening comprehension, but with decreasing word density:

  1. Books / e-books + audio books" and / or podcasts with transcripts
  2. Youtube videos with subtitles
  3. Audio dramas with scripts
  4. TV shows with subtitles / scripts
  5. Movies with subtitles / scripts

what’s your take on ultrareading/listening for languages with non-phonetic scripts? e.g. chinese/japanese

Do you argue that reading while listening for these languages would improve reading skill as much as reading without listening?

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Nice masterpiece, evokes some associations :smiley:

Alternatively, there is research to say that people that are multi-lingual develop literally different personalities as languages have different ways of categorizing things and understanding them (a simple example, colors).

Maybe your “Brazilian personality” can be one that likes a steakhouse!


Good question, azarya.

In general, I´d say “(ultra)reading while listening” works for all languages that have a writing system.
However, about half of the languages on our planet are only spoken so (ultra) reading isn´t an option in this case.

A case in point: Japanese
I´ve been learning Japanese for about 2.5 years now, and I´d say the basic approach remains the same. That is:

  • Start with slow reading-while-listening based on audio reader software at the beginning stages A1 and A2 (Note: I´ve used some warm-up approaches first, e.g. Michel Thomas, etc.).
  • Practice ultrareading-while-listening based on audio reader software at the B1 level - for example by reading “light novels”, “graded readers”, etc.

The problem with Japanese is that there are three writing systems:

Learning Hiragana and Katakana is relatively straightforward, but learning ca. 2000 Kanji is a challenge.

Basically, there are (at least) two main strategies for learning Kanji:
either by learning them separately, e.g. by means of the popular Heisig method - see: Koipun - How to learn Kanji: A visual method with Heisig's RTK)

or by reading, using mnemonics, and listening in context. See, for example, these readers by Roger Lake and his Japanese wife, Noriko Ura: How to Read Japanese and Learn Kanji at the same time

I prefer the latter strategy because it combines context-based reading, audio / audio flash cards, and SRS decks (on Memrise).

As soon as learners have mastered many of those Kanji, they can practice “ultrareading-while-listening” as usual.

Note: Apps such as “Satori Reader” can make the whole reading process easier:

"Perhaps the most challenging aspect of learning to read Japanese is the chicken-and-egg problem of kanji.

Before you’ve reached a critical mass of knowledge, it’s easy to feel swamped by all the characters you don’t yet know.

Satori Reader solves this by dynamically choosing to show you words in kanji, kana, or kanji with furigana (readings) based on your knowledge and preferences. This allows you to challenge yourself for words whose kanji you should know but not get bogged down by the kanji you haven’t yet learned. Or, have Satori Reader show the kanji as written but include furigana over words that contain characters you don’t know. Or show everything in kana.

It’s completely customizable and you can try different settings instantly." (

Mutatis mutandis, this approach should also work for Arabic, Mandarin, Cantonese, Vietnamese, etc.

Note: For Mandarin, for example, “ultrareading-while-listening” should be possible from level HSK5/5-6. See: How Many Words do you Really Need to Speak Fluent Chinese? – I'm Learning Mandarin).

Have a nice evening

Ah, the good old Sapir-Whorf hypothesis: the strong version is untenable, but a weak version of linguistic relativity is plausible, esp. from my socio-constructivist, i.e. anti-realist perspective.

BTW, the corresponding debate about “colors” is quite interesting: Linguistic relativity - Wikipedia

“Maybe your “Brazilian personality” can be one that likes a steakhouse!”
Yes, or to adapt a famous proverb to the environment of Tolkien’s Middle-earth:
“When in Mordor, do as the Orcs do!” :slight_smile: