What level of unknown words should I use for reading? What about listening?

I’ve heard that the optimal % for intensive reading is 80% word comprehension. What about listening? What percentage should I know for a good learning experience? I realize everyone is different; I just want to know how other people do it.


I go between 80-90% but it depends on the language. My native language is English i’m from Australia. For french i go for 80% and for Japanese 90%.

The questions i ask myself;

  1. Can i comprehend the sentences in the lesson by looking at the hints in the unknown words? Yes, continue reading . No, find something else.
  2. Is this content interesting? Yes, continue reading. No, find something else.
  3. Is the difficulty of this lesson making me become too frustrated? Yes, find something else . No, continue reading.

Being frustrated hinders your ability to acquire the language. A little bit is ok but if your about to start swearing in frustration i would recommend you calm down and find something more your level to read. Boredom and frustration kills your ability to acquire the language.

I always use a variety of comprehension levels. Generally I will use difficult content to learn new words and use easier content to focus on grammar and patterns. It´s mostly a matter of maintaining interest though. Too much easy content gets boring and too much difficult content gets frustrating.

Even when I first started with Chinese using a beginner textbook, I was also listening to native radio to get used to the sounds and try to listen for the few words I knew. So instead of looking for the right level, I would say mix it up.


As a language teacher I can say - it’s a good solution: to use more difficult texts for learning new words and some easier texts and lessons for learning and understanding new grammar patterns!


The problem is, there is not really a way to determine the % of unknown words in listening material without the corresponding written text. When you import text into LingQ, it will tell you how many words are unknown, etc. but audio doesn’t work that way.

When you start out, it’s best to listen to content while reading along to the corresponding text. You can do this with Assimil or Mini Stories etc. – or even “real” books if you do comparative reading.

Then, you can just re-listen to stuff you’ve already read through.

Then, once you’re at 5K+ known words, you can start listening to what I call “low impact” content – meaning stuff like podcasts and news, where full comprehension is not as important.

After about 10K known words, you’ll start understanding more and more of this “low impact” content and you can start figuring out what kind of “high impact” material you want to listen to. Books, TV, etc.


I am interested in your question, but I am not sure I understand what is meant by word comprehension. Is it all words that are not blue or yellow? Or is it something else?

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Thanks for the distinction between “low impact” and “high impact” content. Some people feel like they need to have 100% comprehension of everything they listen to. For “low impact” content like interviews, I am satisfied if I can follow it well enough to get something interesting out of it. If I try to understand everything, then I lose the flow and get lost.