Seems Paul Nation is right about the number of words to understand

According to the Paul Nation studies he seems to indicates that at around 7,000 word families you should be able to start to understand typical TV shows.
Now to be clear, 7,000 word familes is not 7,000 lingQ words. LingQ will have more.

What is interesting is that I feel like I’m getting close to my goal (of understanding netflix TV shows in Russian).

I just tried to watch an episode of my target show (Better than us - a Russian netflix scifi show) after not watching for 3-4 months.

I couldn’t understand it (still). But I understood it way better than before and crucially I heard (and recognized) it felt like every single word (though my brain was too slow to give me the meaning I felt like I was almost there).

So I read the transcript. I could understand every single word with no problem!

That tends to support Paul Nation’s theory that at about 7,000 word families you can start to understand TV shows, because in my case I have about 17,000 lingQ words which I happen to know (because I’m tracking it) is roughly equivalent to 6,800 anki words I’m currently studying).

It might be with another couple months push I cross the comprehension barrier. Stoked!



Are your LingQ words and your Anki words separate? Or have you imported all your Anki words into LingQ (using the function under the vocabulary tab)? Also, going by the sheer amount of listening you have done (i.e. reinforcing vocabulary you’ve already learnt), I suspect that you actually know many of your lingQs, but just have not marked them as known. If you’re up for the herculean task, in the name of science :P, maybe you could go through your entire vocabulary list and update it? Hehe. It’s a big task (trust me, I do it too ocassionally) and it’s incredibly boring, but it would give a more accurate representation of what your 6,800 Anki words represent. :stuck_out_tongue:

Also 6,800 Anki words are usually not 6,800 word families. I don’t know what your exact flashcards are, but generally a flashcard is usually a lemma/dictionary word, not a word family. For instance, the verb ‘to theorise’, the noun ‘theory’, the adverb ‘theoretically’, and the adjective ‘theoretical’ are lemmas and are usually separate Anki flashcards, but are from the same word family. But it depends how you made your flashcards.


Yes separate lists.
No I have not imported all of them in. I try (kind of) to keep the two synchronized but that’s a ton of work so yes as you have surmised, they’re a bit out of synch. Probably by at least 1,000 anki words or more.
Unfortunately, however, I suspect that my listening words have degraded a bit because I did way more listening in the first year than I have in the last six months (probably a factor of 3-4 to 1).

Interesting point you bring up about word families. While you’re certainly right when talking about word families in the context Paul Nation says, I’m not actually too sure that what is available e.g. on wiktionary (which is what I source my frequency lists from usually) is word families as you say.

I’m not actually sure it matters either. The frequency lists on wiktionary are typically token frequency so you theory, to theorize and theoretically should have a separate entry. Which means logically and sadly that I know less word families than I thought. Ugh.


On the positive side, it means you can understand every single word in the Better Than Us episode with less than the 6,000-7,000 word families. Also, this number, he mentioned in his paper was for English, so it may be a little bit different for Russain. It’s a number to aim for though, as good as any other.

If you really want to count how many word families you know, you can do it in like an hour or two. Just find a frequency list of word families, instead of lemmas, and just manually go through it and tick all the ones you know. If you can get a list in Excel format, just create a separate column and put ‘1’ in all the boxes you know and at the end, just use =SUM() to add it up for you.


i had a look on his website and the grader readers he adapted by # of word families looked very interesting. Does anyone know of any graders like this in other languages?

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I would like to know this too. For Russian I haven’t been able to find the correct word for word translation for “graded reader” so I can’t find anything.

What I did instead was I looked for “4th grade reading list” and then looked for those books in Russian. The ones I was able to find were the Narnia series and Roald Dahl books (e.g. James and the Giant Peach, Charlotte’s Web as well as Charlie and the Chocolate Factory). The first book of Harry Potter seems to be grade 4 also.

I figure grade 4 is about as complex as I can handle right now while also being more or less the very beginning of something won’t bore an adult to tears.


So interestingly though as I thought about it a bit more… Russian (probably like most other languages) is relatively structured for nouns, adjectives, adverbs etc. So I am still able to get the jist even if I only know one of them. The endings change massively so I’m used to having to guess from the root of the word. So in fact probably way more are understandable passively (even if not active) than I thought initially when I responded to you at fist.

I realized I misspelled “graded” in "graded reader twice… I’m blaming autocorrect. Sorry guys !

Sure, there are graded readers in other languages. All the most popular languages have graded readers. Not with the same grading system that the English ones are however (4000-level, 6000-level), but rather ‘beginner’, ‘intermediate’ or maybe the CEFR A2, B1, etc. Even if you go to a bookstore in a reasonably-sized city, you will find ‘graded’ reading material in a few languages, in the most popular languages likes French, Italian, etc. anyways.

Here’s a link that I just found to some:

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So are you going to change your new Anki cards to learning word families instead of word forms?