Intermediate Plateau ugh: Russian

So I guess my Spanish helped my French way more than I thought. I felt like there was a smooth rapid transition from low intermediate to mid? intermediate (I could understand almost everything audio in French quite rapidly maybe a month after hitting low intermediate).
With Russian, however, I can understand some stuff but it’s not rapidly improving. It’s slow and almost imperceptible 3 months in from low intermediate (which I hit at six months). I’m 9 months in total.
I know I’ll get there but ugh I’m not happy to find out I was wrong when I thought “these guys are smoking crack - intermediate plateau doesn’t exist”.


Hi, xxdb!

“to find out I was wrong when I thought “these guys are smoking crack - intermediate plateau doesn’t exist”.”
Well, in a certain way this experience is self-created by:

  1. our own (high) expectations

  2. wrong goals: Fluency, for example, without quantifiable metrics (the number of words read, etc.) is simply too vague to be useful (i.e., it´s non-SMART).

  3. the wrong time frame: Years, months, weeks or days are also useless. However, a useful measure is the number of hours/minutes you invest each day over an extended period of time.

  4. the wrong language learning routine
    I may be wrong, but looking at your stats, I get the impression that you don’t read enough (both in French and in Russian), esp. as a reading-while-listening combo. Instead, you seem to do a lot of SRSing and listening-only.

If you followed an “ultrareading-while-listening” approach (or something similar) each day and focused more on the content you’re interested in, the experience of an intermediate plateau probably wouldn’t come up (see also my reply to @tjbandel in another current thread) - at least not as long as you keep your expectations in check.

If you also need some verb drills in Russian, there should be some decks on Memrise to do that (10 min a day should be enough).

Apart from that, you could consult a good grammar book in Russian from time to time to look up some points if the need arises in your process of absorbing comprehensible content - but you shouldn´t try to memorize grammar rules!

Hope that helps


I echo Peter’s observations. You’re reading stats are very low (but you may be reading elsewhere so I don’t want to assume anything)…from a LingQ perspective though, with your number of known words I would’ve thought you’d be well over 500,000 words read.

Anyway…if you aren’t reading a lot, I think you may get that motivation back if you add that into your arsenal as it is far more interesting to read than to do SRS. I do notice that you have read a good amount this week (12,000+ words). And your listening stats are great.

Russian is just going to take a very long time I suspect. Most on LingQ talk about needing about 80,000 or more Russian words (LingQ metric) to be at a comfortable level.

As Peter points out, it’s really a matter of tempering expectations which almost everyone coming into learning a language vastly overestimate how quickly they can achieve “fluency” or some sort of advanced level. Once you beat down those expectations and simply just start enjoying the process I think these “doldrums” go away. Just continue to make progress daily, as little as it may be. Stay a little less focused on the ultimate goal (the goal doesn’t go away, but if you obsess with it, then it can be demotivating that it takes such a long time to get there).

Just my random thoughts.

Good luck!


“it’s really a matter of tempering expectations”
That´s soooo true, Eric.
Last summer I threw a tantrum because my Br. Portuguese was still not at a C1 level (given my background knowledge of Latin, French and Spanish).
Today, all I care about is when I can read the next chapter in my Stephen King novel.

This shift in perspective makes a huge difference in how satisfied I´m with my progress :slight_smile:


As concerns others’ observations of your reading, I understand from your previous posts that you’re concentrating on the spoken language. In the long run I’ll be interested to know how that works out. From my own experience, I do know that I’m able to learn words from reading without audio and then notice those words in spoken material.

As for imperceptible improvement with time, I spent a long time at the stage where I was frustrated that I could not quite grasp what was being talked about on Эхо Мосвкы (RIP). I just continued with listening by mostly watching videos and movies, as well as reading on LingQ, and one day I realized that I was frustrated listening to Эхо Мосвкы because I could understand most of it, just not everything. :slight_smile:

Tourist: “Excuse me, sir. Can you tell me how to get to Carnegie Hall?”
Old New Yorker: “Practice, practice, practice.”

Edit: I’ve been at this a long time. I’m impressed by the amount of progress you report so far. Keep at it.


“I’m able to learn words from reading without audio and then notice those words in spoken material”.

This is objectively true. But… there is a caveat.
Everyone (almost everyone…) on the planet follows the following process:

  1. Learns individual spoken words first (as an infant).
  2. Babbles. Practices speaking via two or three word sentences with no grammar.
  3. Learns basic grammar through massive exposure to natural spoken material.
  4. Goes to elementary school and learns to read
  5. Is taught intermediate and advanced grammar from elementary through middle school through high school.

Everyone learns their language to fluency by this method.

So… I posit a hypothesis: learning words from reading is the most efficient only when a sufficient and necessary base of spoken words and basic grammar is imbibed by audio only.

^^^ this is the basis of my theory of language learning.
What I will note is this: pretty much nobody does steps 1 & 2 and gets to advanced comprehension by audio only. Audio likely only carries you so far at which point reading is an absolute necessity.

Also: thanks for the kudos on the progress made.


Thanks. I agree that my grammar won’t improve and by extension my spoken language.

Thanks. My reading stats are low because reading is not my focus. My end goal is to understand any given netflix show in Russian so I’m heavily, heavily listening focused.


Do you import the transcripts into Lingq? Or use the learning languages with netflix (or whatever “reactor” thing it’s called now =D )? i.e. how are you going about this learning by listening? What do you do when you hear a word you don’t understand? ARe you using English subtitles? Russian?

One thing I think you’ll find is that movies aren’t going to have as vast a vocabulary as reading books or articles. So your intermediate plateau might last forever if you don’t branch out more. Although for your intended goal it may be just fine.

You may have no interest in reading, but I think you might find it could help quite a bit with your listening skills. Two things…having a visualized the word through reading, it can give you a “picture” to latch onto. Of course, maybe you are doing this already with SRS or if you are importing the transcript to Lingq. I don’t know how this plays in terms of a whole new script in Russian (if you are trying to learn this as well with reading subtitles, or anything you are doing in Lingq).

Also reading will give you the repetition of many of the words that are going to be in these films. Repetition, even of reading is going to help because you will have enough “reps” to push out of that “translate in the head” issue everyone has to go through. Plus, this repetition through reading ultimately gives you speed of comprehension ability. Listening can as well, but I think it will be easier through reading.

And as a caveat…I have no idea what is best, but reading definitely is helping me across the board, even though I’ve done a lot less listening comparatively. (Trying to bring this up to a respectable amount of time spent on it currently).

In any event…reading might be a nice break. Just to change things up a bit. Which it does look like you’re doing a lot more recently anyway.


Yes. I use the transcripts to identify the most frequent words in the show/movie. Then I compare that list with my currently known list plus 10,000 most common words in Russian. Any gap words I review to see if they are interesting. I add the “interesting” words back into anki.
Then I take the transcript and go through it in lingQ so I more or less have the number of known words in anki “synch” with the number of known words in lingQ.
Then I watch the show/movie over and over and over.
Plus youtube. I watch a half hour of youtube every day.

In terms of reading I do read it’s just not my main method (yet). I will pick up on it more when I’m satisfied I’m equivalent to a Russian five year old in terms of ability to understand spoken material. IMO that’s about 15,000 words in lingQ or roughly 6-7,000 words in anki. (I only have headwords in anki, not variants with declensions etc).

I believe my method is effective (at least as far as listening comprehension goes). I think a different method is required to learn to speak.

Anyhow, there is no one-size-fits-all here. Even among polyglots they all seem to do things differently. Mine is kind of a combination of Steve’s method and IKenna’s method I think.

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“My reading stats are low because reading is not my focus. My end goal is to understand any given netflix show in Russian so I’m heavily, heavily listening focused.”
I´d say this is a misunderstanding. It would be wiser to do both and at the same time, esp. as “ultrareading-while-listening” (see the concurrent “Feeling demotivated” thread on LingQ).

I´ve tried all kinds of variations in various L2s (on LingQ):

  • Listening without reading later
  • Listening first with reading later
  • Reading without listening later
  • Reading first with listening later (one or more times)
  • Reading while listening where I adapt the audio speed (0.9x-1.5x).

My conclusion from all those experiments is:
For advanced learners, it doesn’t really matter: they can do whatever they want.
But esp. for intermediate level learners, nothing comes close to (ultra)reading while listening, because it´s the ultimate “(high-)volume-reading-as-a-natural-SRS” approach.

I’m not saying that it’s not a worthwile goal trying to understand all the shows in your L2 on Netflix.
But I don’t think you’d experience an “intermediate level plateau” with an (ultra-)reading while listening approach.

And if you had practiced “ultrareading-while-listening” for a while (let´s say ca. 6 months), you´d probably be further ahead in understanding Netflix shows, too.


“when I’m satisfied I’m equivalent to a Russian five year old in terms of ability to understand spoken material.”
That´s something I really don´t get.
As an adult you have

  • superior cognitive skills so you can understand more or less complicated topics
  • a larger vocabulary (in Br. Portuguese, for example, I already knew ca. 5-10k words from day 1)
  • superior techniques, esp. reading and writing.
  • superior tools (AI translation tools, content-flexible audio readers, etc.)

If you read and listen to 8-10 k words a day (6 days a week) following an ultrareading-while-listening approach for a year, you will have read and listened to about 2.4 - 3.1 million words.

There´s no (little) child on Earth who can match that: neither in listening nor in reading comprehension. It’s not even close.

So it doesn’t make sense to focus only on listening and a childlike approach when you have far better options (esp. reading / reading-while-listening) available to you, does it?

“I posit a hypothesis: learning words from reading is the most efficient only when a sufficient and necessary base of spoken words and basic grammar is imbibed by audio only
I think there was a Russian scientist who formulated a similar hypothesis on a Polyglot conference a few years ago.

I tried it in Japanese for about 1.5 years.
And what can I say?
I failed miserably. Never again :slight_smile:


Can you elaborate specifically on what reading while listening actually means?
Do you mean actually having the audio play simultaneously while you’re reading?
Do you mean during a period of e.g. a week you alternate between reading and listening to the audiobook?

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Here are few links, xxdb:

Hope that helps


How many hours did it take to reach low intermediate at 6 months?

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I wouldn’t worry about how long it took them to get to intermediate. As long as you stay consistent, you should see amazing progress.

Please tell me more about the “translate in the head” issue.

Sooooooo xxdb, is there an update 8 months later? Are you still stuck in this intermediate plateau?


TLDR version
Yes. I’m better than I was but I can’t say how much. I’m probably also not doing enough to not forget. All I’m doing is life support lingQ right now due to life happening.
So yeah still on the intermediate plateau for now.

Edit: (long version follows)…

I’ve done a bit more in lingQ the last little while. I’ve basically dropped SRS and watching videos for about the last three months.
In terms of where I have gotten to: I have finished three children’s books in the Narnia series. I’d say they are just (barely) above my level. I am also reading Computers for Babushkas, a computer book from the 90s. It’s more or less my level. I’m also trying to read children’s encyclopedias from the 70s called “tell me why” which is slightly above my level but the articles are short and repeat a lot of words so it’s easier. I have the hypothesis that reading a couple of them should move me ahead to give me a kind of general knowledge but in Russian. I’m sort of trying to follow the path of more or less what I experienced in elementary school (but in russian), reading the same books.

On the spoken word absolutely no progress at all. My spoken Russian sucks bones.

In terms of listening comprehension, I’d say I’m a bit further ahead but definitely not understanding everything, not even close:
I can more or less understand the artem guy from russian progress, pretty easily understand russian with max (and also hear that his russian is schoolteacher russian unlike that of artem). So progress there.

I still can’t understand “better than us” but I can understand maybe 50% of it.
I can recognize almost all of the words when listening to varlamov and understand also about 50% of it. My issue with varlamov is I feel like I have forgotten words. Although also some progress.
I can also more or less understand Kate Clapp now. SI would claim understanding her messed up Russian is a step backwards haha.

I think my biggest problem now is that I’m not doing enough on a daily basis to move ahead quickly - my forgetting rate is closer to my holding/learning rate**
I’m not sure that this is a function of the lower frequency words having a larger gap between them.

That said I just watched some Kate Clapp to see how much I could understand her and just hearing her speak I relearned a couple words I had forgotten. They clicked back into place.

I need more exposure.

Gut feel: if I crammed watching gradually more difficult youtube for another 3 months at 4 hours a day I’d say I’d be there for almost total comprehension.
There’s also the unassailable logic: if I crammed the remaining 3000 words in SRS I’d get to the elusive 9000 words that are allegedly what you need for 99% comprehension.

But I know I’m not gonna do it. I no longer have the time due to work/life. An hour is the best I’m going to get and I’m doing lingQ because I’m bored out of my mind with anki right now and would prefer to experience via Russian. It’s a slog though as I’m not finding new words frequently enough to accumulate anywhere near as quickly as I was before.

That’s it.


I did a ton of work for the first six months. 2-4 hours a day.

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