Known words/comfort in a language

I’m sure this has been discussed already, but anyway…
I’ve just passed 20000 known words in Chinese and it has given me a bit of a sense of achievement/more confidence/feeling I’m finally getting somewhere. Of course it’s not so much a ‘real’ thing, but after the past half year and at this milestone I can easily reflect and see the huge difference of where I was in October 2016, when reading even a 500 word news article would almost exhaust me and take like 45 minutes, and today I was just able to run through 1000 words of HSK 6 level news material in 15 minutes and enjoyed the content so much more, as there were only maybe 10 words I needed to look up. This is what’s so motivating for me in a kind of feedback loop, finally enjoying the materials I’m going through because my reading speed reached an almost natural level and there are only a few new words (not counting the many weird little combinations of characters that are blue but actually don’t contain any new meaning I am not able to already understand) and that drives me to read even more.
Still, there are no doubt materials way beyond my level.
But I guess somewhere around 20000 known words, reading relatively advanced content already brought quite more enjoyment for me.
I think I still need to level up to around 40000 to be ‘fluent’, and 70000+ to understanding very broad/advanced topics at a native level speed (somewhere around my level of English).
Speaking at such levels is a matter of further practice in speaking of course. But after understanding all the necessary words, it comes very easily and it’s so much more enjoyable to finally engage in meaningful/deeper conversations.

This is not to brag or anything, today I was very impressed by a foreigner who’s been living in China for 18 years and speaking better than an average Chinese person, and also happy about where I got after an intensive half year of reading and a total of two years studying Chinese.
What is your experience with different levels of known words in different languages?


Well, I can say that about 14,000 in german is definitely not enough. I can sort of follow the news… I can zone in and out, but I miss quite a lot.

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i don’t know much about chinese but you should be proud of what you achieved so brag about it ha ha i learnt spanish when i was younger i think i have a decent vocabulary the problem is the language has so much accents and regionalisms the vocabulary can be diferent from country to country i can follow news sometimes i get lost watching movies or tv shows from certain regions

That’s an incredible achievement. Well done. I always thought Steve overstated his case that one does not need to learn grammar, but today I was flipping through a textbook and noticed a grammar lesson on the usage of 可. I went through the examples and understood all of them without needing the explanation because I had seen it in context so many times. Grammar books just seem to solidify grammar that I’ve learned instinctively through mass reading. So I guess Steve was right again. It must be fun to open up a lesson and rarely see blue words!

Absolutely, with the grammar. Even though I really am happy that I bought all the pleco dictionaries (KEY, abc, oxford, guifan, hdc…) because sometimes a quick grammar explanation through an example sentence or two can save a lot of time. So I am not really studying grammar just ‘looking iy up grammar as I encounter it’.

Brainicek, well done on your Achievement bro 20,000 words is a great milestone. I am almost there with Spanish.
At the moment though I am starting on Chinese. Talk about a steep learning curve!

I was wondering… I don’t really have much time to use desktop LingQ so I do pretty much do all my reading on iPhone. The problem is up until now there is no Pinyin over the characters, so its a pretty hard slog to get through even the basic stories.

Do you think I should focus more on studying characters until I know a lot more, or just keep battling it out with out any Pinyin.
How did you do it at the start? Any tips for a beginner? Its quite a different beast than Spanish!
Thanks mate!!

The pinyin on lingq is unfortunately often wrong anyway. What I recommend is the Pleco dictionary app, where you have a free native dictionary and the cc dictionary. For starters they are totally enough. Only after one year did I buy the additional ones for more example sentences and generally meanings/explanations (KEY, ABC, Oxford, all in-app). But I would definitely recommend a solid foundation in the language first anyway, before trying to read. Generally it’s recommended to first get familiarized with Mandarin using pinyin and only after you acquire some basic structures/ vocabulary should you start really delving into the characters. Doing all at once since the start is just too overwhelming for the brain I believe. What I did was at the very beginning, after maybe a month of fumbling around and exploring the available resources, I was lucky enough to stumble upon I finished the beginner and intermediate courses in about 1.5 months, but I was going full time 8-10 hours on most days. That was an excellent introduction and I fully recommend it to everyone starting with Chinese. It’s well worth the price. After that, to get more familiar with some phrases, vocabulary and get more exposure, I was listening to podcasts for another 1-1.5 months (elementary, intermediate levels, they still have a lot of English in them but it was challenging enough and had a lot of good content and explanations of the language structures). It was after these initial 4 months that I finally said to myself I am ready to dig into the characters. So I did some research, and felt that Heisig’s ‘Remembering simplified hanzi’ would be best for me. It covers the 3000 most frequently used characters. Totally enough. After that I still encounter a new character here and there, but the magic of the book’s approach is that you define the building blocks in your head, and any new character will only be a combination of what you already know. It takes time, but the investment has been worth it. I haven’t had trouble with forgetting or refreshing characters because I can always recall my own personal ministory for each, and just ‘know’ it again. I also didn’t need to practice writing them, yet I can recall them from memory if I really want to. So don’t do any mindless 1000 repetitions of writing one character after another, you will forget the first one after practicing the fifth one. All in all, I did this for 6-7 months, with the help of (also has an app), where I also studied pinyin. This srs repetition was key. So everyday I would first revise with it the characters I had already studied and only then study new ones (some days 10, later even 50 per day). I was interrupted in the middle because I had to write my master thesis, so with full focus, the 3000 characters and their pinyin could take maybe only 4 months with memrise. Only after this did I start practicing reading, because when I had tried it before, I was just too distracted by the unknown characters. So i told myself, this is a long term project, I will postpone my reading practice until I know the 3000, and then it will be so much easier. And indeed, it’s been a bit over one year since I finished Heisig and I can read quite well, vocabulary acquisition is also much easier, since there are so many homophones in Mandarin and only the knowledge of characters can overcome this. The only potential downside to Heisig (except not teaching pinyin, but after the initial exposure it is easy to do it on your own) is that there is only one keyword for each character, but realistically, it’s such a huge task for the memory that trying to learn more meanings with each character since the beginning, the whole thing would take much much longer. And once you build that anchor of one meaning per character, it’s so much easier to add new ones. For the first half year after the books, I first practiced outside of lingq because I didn’t remember I had even registered here in 2014, and then since October 2016 have practiced full time here. I would have saved some more time if I did that here for that half year longer. So my advice is: 1. Get a solid foundation with yoyochinese and chinesepod 2. Learn the characters and pinyin with Heisig and memrise 3. Read and listen on lingq like your life depends on it :slight_smile: long post… but I like to look back on the two years journey:D and don’t forget the Pleco dictionaries. It’s quite important now at my stage, since many lingqs here are either incomplete or even wrong.


Wow, thanks! This gives me a lot of direction. I will check out chinese pod and yoyo chinese, they look good! I have just ordered the remembering the Hanzi books now and I’ll get stuck into that first.
Im excited about the journey! I appreciate your thorough response!
Goodluck with your never-ending journey too :slight_smile:

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@Branicek, I too learned a lot from your post and began exploring the suggested resources. Thank you.

30k ist nicht genug

If 40000 is fluent then nobody has achieved fluency here on Lingq for Chinese (I may be wrong though.) Congratulations on your success :slight_smile:

There is a guy named krsto who has almost 68k known words :smiley:

That’s insane, love works in mysterious ways i guess :slight_smile: Even at my modest word count I can understand about 70% of Chinese TV (with subs of course.) Everyday conversation is higher though i often need ask a few questions to get clarification.

Anyway I’m at the stage I can enjoy the conversations but still far from fluent, i find it hard to believe you are not fluent with so many known known words, that’s advanced 2! Is it just your speaking which is lagging?

At 68k I imagine you could run intellectual rings around educated natives with ease haha.

I still feel I haven’t had enough exposure. I am comfortable speaking about the usual everyday stuff, and will understand native speakers talking to me about what I am already familiar with. Where I live, people have quite a strong local accent/dialect which sounds awful and very different from standard Mandarin, so I guess that plays a big role too. TV series also depends, but there are so many little expressions and weird words all the time. Reading news is the same, always that one two three words in a sentence that still hinder understanding. But it’s coming together.

I think ultimately what’s more indicative of exposure is the number of lingqs, because so many of my known words are just nonsense combinations or little variations of what I already know. I guess more than half of the count. So having 30k of hard core lingqs (not including some phrases/sentences that already contain other lingqs), should be the goal to aim for.

What do you mean by intensive reading, how many hours do you do every day?

As much as possible. Some days you have more than others, so just read the time that you have available.

In italian - and I think this applies for others romantic languages too - the number is around +30k.
Now I can read and listen a lot of things, but I continue losing some words and not understanding everything on politics, science and books. Considering that my comprehension is more than 80%(depends on the content), makes me believe +30k is the ideal number.

Btw, cheers for your chinese; after I become comfortable in japanese I’m planing to do chinese and work hard to acheive fluence.


Tv shows: Dramas and sitcoms are really, really advanced. I think they are much harder to understand than the news.

Thanks for the 30,000 point about roman languages. I think it will be less in Japanese, especially the way they break down words in Lingq. I’m pretty sure that my korean word count will be about double my Japanese when I reach a comfortable level.

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It would certainly be interesting to know what the number could approximately be for Korean. At 32k I still need quite a lot of lingQing for native resources. The number of unknown words are also almost without exception in the 40-60% range.

I imported three recent articles from Chosunilbo. If someone studying Korean wants to import, it would be interesting to compare. For reference, TTMIK iyagi: 20% unknown and less than 5 lingQs (after reading).

42%: (Seoul housing market)
50%: (Cannes film festival)
54%: (Taj Mahal)

Compared to Branicek’s numbers for Chinese. My “real” know words are probably around 50k and I think I’m at a similar level. So If that’s the case maybe: “fluent”: 80k? advanced: 140k?! :smiley:

edit: I hope I didn’t go too much off topic…

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