Knowing lots of words, phrases but

My Italian known word count is 12k (20k+ lingqs), and would probably be a lot higher if I went through and marked correctly.

Around 6-9 months ago, spoken language sounded like one run-on secret code of a mess, something that couldn’t possibly ever be understood. Now I recognize most words used when listening to others speaking (or singing), as long as it’s not lightning fast. I catch some subtleties, idioms, and various tricky bits and sometimes surprise myself in doing so (“hey, she used the passato remoto tense!”). BUT notice I said “recognize” not “understand”. HUGE difference.

Well, ok, sometimes I will understand a rapid fire and maybe even pretty long sentence. Or sentences. But for the most part, I hear words, not sentences. Reading is different. I can read a sentence or paragraph and “get it”, even if not perfectly accurately, much better than hearing it.

Maybe this is because I have tilted my effort so much toward building vocab, some conjugation, lots of phrases and sentences via Anki cards built from Lingq readings. My Anki deck is 10k+ cards, and very challenging.

So maybe we just get good at what we do, and reading doesn’t convert into listening comprehension as easily as I’d like? And what looks like a very formidable bridge of converting just hearing words into actually hearing the spoken message is a function of simply a lot more listening?

Curious to hear thoughts, and whether there’s a better path.

listening is indeed a different skill from reading that you also need to train specifically. Matt vs Japan has a good video on it: Why You Still Can't Understand Your Target Language - YouTube

In my personal opinion, with flashcards you are ripping the words and phrases from their broader context and so you “recognize” and can define the word, but do not “understand” the way it is being used in the specific context or at least your brain does not understand it quickly enough (since , different to reading, you can’t change the speed someone is talking at).

I did flashcards for Japanese for a very long time, but my comprehension only increased once I gave up and used the extra time for reading and so got exposed more to the same word constantly being used in different contexts- my personal experience anyway.


Reading provides you with a good basis for understanding speech but you still need to practice that skill to become proficient at it. You probably don’t need “a lot” of listening, but rather consistent practice.
My advice would be to replace your Anki study (totally or to a great extent) with listening practice. Begin by watching Italian videos aimed at learners: the combination of clear, not too fast speech plus familiar topics (about the language or the culture) should make them easier to understand. Your goal is to get the gist of what’s said and try to pick up phrases and sentences. Stop and rewind as needed. Just watch a bit everyday and you’ll improve. Think of this as a “listening workout” to strengthen your “listening muscles”. That kind of training is what you need to turn your “recognizing” into “understanding”.
Once you feel confident with such content, add some videos meant for natives. In the beginning I prefer tutorials about physical activities that you find interesting because they provide more context.
The goal in all those cases is to listen to something whose main message (gist) you can understand or deduce from context and some words you catch, and build from there. That’s the point of “comprehensible input”.
To get you started, here are a few YT channels meant for foreign students but which are wholly in a clearly-spoken Italian.
Italiano automatico: Impara l'Italiano con Italiano Automatico - YouTube
Podcast italiano: Podcast Italiano - YouTube
Loescher’s “Italiano per stranieri” series: Loescher Editore video - YouTube

Echoing a bit what others have said. You need to listen more. Reading AND listening. I see you’ve only done 37 hours of listening (at least as recorded in LingQ). For your level you should probably be well over 100 and if you go with LingQ’s “target” it looks like you should be over 200. If you’re doing some listening outside of LingQ and not updating the listening time in LingQ then apologies, but it still sounds like maybe you need to listen more.

12,000 words is still in the grand scheme of things not a lot. You’re not really going to understand a lot of native spoken material yet…and may not for some time.

Even if you were to take the transcript of this spoken material and you can read and understand it…are you reading at the same speed as they are speaking it? In other words is even your reading comprehension speed at a level that would keep up with the native speaker speaking at the same time? If not, then I think even reading here can still help. Your speed of comprehension reading and listening may need to improve even on the easiest of texts.

That’s where I think even reading stuff you may comprehend fully may be important–to build up speed of comprehension. I feel sometimes I spend a lot of time reading harder material that I have to read the sentence very slowly or read it twice. Or I’m needing to look up words and phrases. It kind of kills your flow as you’re trying to acquire all these new words.

#1 though…I think you need to bump up your listening. Do at least 10 minutes a day. Preferably a half hour or more.



  • I don’t know how Lingq counts the 37 hours. I’m surprised it’s even that high, as almost all of my listening has been outside of it. I would guess I’m over 200.
  • Good point about reading speed. Obviously well below spoken speed. Hell, even my native English is probably slower than that. And, yes, same as you, harder sentences are slow and/or require multiple readings. I often read something once, then go back with sentence mode on so I can translate to ensure accuracy for reading #2, then read the whole section again without aid (obviously much more quickly then).
  • 12k words. I’m very conservative with my tagging. Using Lingq’s method for counting, and if I were to catch up on tagging everything, I’d guess to be somewhere in the 15-20k range. When reading contemporary novels (now), my blue word count is around 5-8%, and Lingqs around double that.
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Thanks for the suggestions. Actually, Podcast Italiano is my favorite and has been the bulk of my listening to date. David’s “standard” Italian is the easiest to understand. His partner Erica, not so much. I’ve dabbled with Italianoautomatico, and will check out Loescher’s stuff.

Great video! That explains it well. A very interesting takeaway was his point about (lack of) gap between words. I listened to News in Slow Italian for 3 months and found it was easier to understand at 1.5x speed, which is closer to the normal speed of speaking. The 1.0x had too much space between words, and for whatever reason I struggled. As an aside, I stopped using it because it felt less productive (see below) and because it wasn’t very useful for expanding vocabulary, and their translations aren’t tight enough for me. I prefer precise definitions, rather than loose contextual meanings, because I want to be able to use that exact phrase or word and to know why, which means I need to know how/why it is conjugated. This is especially true of the Italian conjugations that express doubt.

I wouldn’t punt my flashcards – they’re much more than that. I listen between zero and 100+ minutes per day, highly volatile. Maybe because it has felt less productive, e.g., either I understand something or I don’t, in which case neither has felt useful. But as Matt v Japan points out, that’s likely just incorrect. I can move listening up in priority.

Thanks for the perspective on your listening. Most of mine is outside of LingQ now as well.

I think it’s just a matter of plugging away. It sounds like you’re more or less the stage I’m at. We can read a good chunk of a lot of things, but the listening part is still a struggle to piece it all together fast enough. I just figure it needs more time. More words. More experience with the subtleties and peculiarities of the language, even with words we know.