In the world of comprehensible input, I believe Krashen recommends consuming material you broadly understand with an extra + 1.
What percentage of unknown words is your +1?
I started off looking for material with 15-20% unknown words. However, recently I have felt more at ease studying material with 10-15% unknown words.
At this level I am not stopping to LingQ every two seconds and feel less overwhelmed with unknown content. I feel more relaxed so my brain is in a good learning mode. Since I am not LingQing too much I tend to spend more time absorbing the fewer LingQs that I make and really internalise them.
I am curious to know of other’s ideal percentage of unknown words.
Krashen’s i+1 is just a concept to study material slightly harder than what you currently understand. This is really only relevant for extensive reading/listening, where it’s hard to understand a text, if there are too many unknown words or new grammatical concepts in it. With the access of a digital dictionary and/or certain kinds of bilingual texts (such as word-by-word translation), you can understand texts with many more unknown words and grammatical concepts, so you don’t need to limit yourself to content only slightly harder than what currently understand. In other words, Krashen’s i+1 is just not relevant for LingQ, using an eReader with a pop-up dictionary, and studying YouTube videos with Language Reactor.
With regards to how many New Words you want in a new lesson, the answer is, it depends. It depends on your goal (are you focusing on learning new vocabulary or solidifying known vocabulary?), it depends on your the length of the lesson (as LingQ’s metric divides by total unique words, not total words, so longer lessons will show you a higher %), it depends on what level of difficulty you want (are you tired and want an easy lesson or you want a hard lesson?), what level you are (as a beginner, you just have to deal with high % New Words), what technique you doing are (are you reading while listening and pausing the audio to add lingQs or just reading?), etc.
At the end of the day, as long as you are picking lessons with New Words and existing lingQs, you will be improving. I’d recommend trying out a few different things and see what words well for you.
With your stats in Italian (2k Known Words; 20k lingQs; 260 hours listened; 1M words read), you have probably encountered many of the most frequent words, so you may want to consider solidifying some of the words you have previously encountered (i.e. turning lingQs → Known Words). Your 10-15% New Words sounds like a good level to go for.
Thanks for you considered response.
Yes - I agree. I feel that I am at the stage of wanting to solidify encountered words rather than rather than racing to add a lot more new vocabulary - but, inevitably, only knowing new content at quite a shallow level. I could tell from my conversation practice that I struggle at times with the fundamentals.
I think the 10-15% is the sweet spot for me. When reading / listening to material at this level it is more relaxing so I instinctively spend more time on content - this making more progress.
In the past I had generally preferred to be in the 10-15% range. Now, I don’t even look at it. If something is of interest to me, I’ll read it, regardless of the range. For reference, right now I’m reading something in Spanish that is in the 30-35% range. It’s made a lot easier with sentence mode. I can read the sentence, try to understand what I can, then get the full sentence translation to not be lost. I can either move rather quickly through something in this manner, or take a little more time to then try to re-read the sentence in the target language with the new knowledge from the full sentence translation. The latter does add significant time.
That’s interesting. I remember listening to a conversation between Stephen Krashen and Steve Kaufman. Steve was happy to have a high unknown word range (ie. 30 - 35%) compared to Krashen because he wanted to get on and absorb as much new language as he could. He didn’t want to be spending years learning a bit at a time. I guess we experiment and find what works for us.
They also said many learners had a habit of wanting to nail down the whole text and understand everything completely before moving onto new material. They both said learners have to get over this tendency. I must admit I am guilty of it!
Talking about compelling content, I must admit nowadays I do have a good watch of a video and ask myself if I am really going to enjoy spending a day or two going over this material. There is enough content out there to be able to cherry pick.
Krashen still seems to be stuck using paper books and dictionaries and hasn’t entered this century =D
If not using a tool like LingQ, or google translate, or something like that, it would be torture trying to read anything beyond 5% I would think.
Regarding nailing down a whole text - I learned very early on that some words will stick and some just won’t…these need many repetitions. There are still words that have given me trouble since the beginning. If you try to nail down everything, you slow the process of learning many more words that WILL stick. Eventually, the non-sticky ones will get learned, but it just takes a while…you may even finally mark them known, only to need to reset it to unknown the next day =)
That’s not to say that there isn’t benefit to repeating lessons or text. I think there’s actually some benefit to that, just don’t try to nail everything down. You won’t most likely…you’ll probably forget some of the trickier words.
Regarding compelling content - Yes! Certainly, depending on the language. There’s so much content out there for the popular languages that you can be selective. Although I would suggest try to have broad interests so you can get a wide range of vocabulary. i.e. don’t just read fantasy books or some narrow interest.
You can still do n+1 on Lingq. You’ll be able to read harder things because of the edictionary.
“Harder” is not just vocab, however— things with very simple sentence structure are pretty easy. Translations are easier. More literary texts are harder. Things can have the same percentage of unknown words and be harder.
I’m reading at 5-10% unknown words in French and Spanish and I find that manageable. In Spanish I can go a bit higher since my confidence in that language is better. But it can definitely slow me down if there are too many unknown words AND the sentence structure/content is difficult.
You’re definitely right about more challenging material like literary texts. I am reading “Promessi Spossi” - a classic Italian novel from 1825. If I read the original, i would soon become frustrated with trying to work out the meaning. Fortunately, I am reading a modern adaptation using everyday simple language.
I experiment with my unknown words range and choice of material. Whenever it feels like a slog, I struggle to concentrate so I find something lighter and more “accessible”.
Getting used to complex sentence structure is difficult for me, particularly word order and combining direct and indirect pronouns. It’s one thing to grasp it on the page but another to reproduce it spontaneously in conversation. At least I can communicate basic concepts and understand when people talk to me slowly with basic language and that’s enough for now.
Thanks for sharing your experiences.
One thing to note here is that the unknown word % doesn’t tell about the difficulty of the language. It’s not even a very accurate metric of the unknown words because of how it’s counted. Looking at the stats it seems it’s the % unique unknown words from the total of unique words. It doesn’t count for repetition. This is especially impactful if you have a low number of known words/lingqs relative to the total number of possible words. Plus first known/lingqed words tend to be those that are more common. The longer the text gets the more repetition there will be on those “base” words whereas unknown words have more changes not to repeat. You will see this if you look at a collection of stories. A whole collection might have 50% unknown words, but stories in the collection have between 10-25%. The same applies if you were to cut one of those stories into smaller bits. One 10-page story might have 25% unknown words, but the same story cut into 2 5-page stories might have 15% in both of them. This is just one way the numbers might be affected. Some stories might be more repeating in their basic vocabulary than others and thus get a higher unknown %. Then there are the obvious words that don’t affect the difficulty like names, places, non-words and freebies that you know from previous languages. Those come very randomly and can make quite a big difference. Someone might be able to count what is the actual effect of all this.
The point is that you should take that % with a grain of salt. This is not to say it’s useless. I’ve tried to find what might be the upper limit and have lately used around 20%. I’ve also gone from lowest to highest in a collection unless it’s a multi-part story. I’ve found difficult parts to understand where there aren’t any unknown words and fairly easy where there are many. Sometimes you have to encounter those new words that they can start to repeat. My advice would be to change your study style depending on how difficult you find something. More intensive when it feels difficult whether it’s unknown words, phrases or grammar and more extensive when it feels easy.
How are you defining % of unknown words?
In an ideal world you would be spoonfed compelling material at a rate and intensity which matches the so-called +1 threshold. However, the real world is not like this. Even within the same book the difficulty can spike depending on the section and the topic being discussed at any one time. Instead of paying attention to how many unknown words there are, I try to read anything I find interesting.
I know it’s too hard if I can barely get through a single sentence without feeling like my brain is going to melt down. I know it’s too easy if I don’t feel any signs of resistance from my brain. I think the ideal difficulty will depend on the amount of time you want to allot for your studies. So if you want to invest 1 hour, Read something where you begin to feel fatigued near the tail end of the hour. So if you’re investing less time, focus on more intensive bursts of exposure. If you have more time you can read something that’s more digestible while throwing in harder material as needed in order to challenge yourself.
And just for the record, I would rather read something difficult but fun over something easy but boring. Find and test your own limits and you’ll come to know what works and what doesn’t. Err on the side of pushing yourself, once you hit that wall take the intensity back a couple notches - consistency and long-term committment are after all the most important factors when acquiring a foreign language.
Take care not to burn out whilst pushing yourself and keep on keeping on.
Hi Jessei and TerraEarth,
Thanks for the advice; reading more extensively for easier material or more intensively for more difficult material (Jessei) and devoting onself to more digestible / accessible material if you have more time on your hands.
I do have a fair bit of time available so I will employ these approaches.
In terms of burn-out and keeping things fun, I did slog through a lot of dull grammar exercises and forced repetition during my first year of Italian study using a structured course and Anki flashcards. Of course, I made some progress but it was tough going!
Each adjustment I’ve made has been to make the learning process more fun so it feels like a pleasure to study every day. I’m so glad we have LingQ where we can choose our own material; in my case street interviews on Easy Italian, entertaining videos on Italian culture, compelling Netflix films and page-turning easy readers.
All the best.