Words read and hours listened

Hello again all. I recently watched a video that was an interview of Stephen Krashen, and he stated that to go from absolute beginner at reading to the highest level in a language, it takes approximately 1200 hours of reading content just barely above your level. This equates to approximately 11 million words read in a language (if you read an average of 150 words per minute).

I wanted to ask a question to all of you who believe you have become proficient or fluent in a language. How many hours/words of reading did it take for you to understand virtually everything you read? How about to a fluent level (fluency in my mind is high B2)? How many hours of listening to understand everything you hear? How about to a fluent level? Thanks for your responses.

Edit: I’m pretty sure this is the link to the interview in which Krashen states this ETC_2015_Interview with Dr. Stephen Krashen - YouTube

I wonder how many native speaking Americans would fit into that category…just saying :wink:


I’d clarify a couple of things here: On the offset, 1200 hours is 1hr/day for 3.3 years and yes, dedicating that time to a language could easily lead to fluency. But the average reading speed of 150 words per minute is probably only applicable to native speakers. A beginner reading a foreign language will be way, way under that, and you are highly unlikely to reach 150 wpm speed by the end of the 1200 hours of reading mentioned above.

11 million words in any language would probably equal over 100 average length books, give or take. There’s pretty much no way the average person would do that in 3.3 years in a foreign language when they’re starting from scratch.

However, the basics of Krashen’s argument are sound. Dedicating 1200 hours could get you to fluency. At an hour a day, you could reach B2 in 6-9 months (I wouldn’t call this fluency though), and you could start getting into C1 after a year or so. By the end of the 1200 hours you could possibly be C2 fluency, depending on the language.


I can’t comment on the number Krashen was discussing since I didn’t see it. And I suppose it was primarily English, since 11 million words in English covers a lot more ground than 11 million in Russian. However, I would imagine that anyone who reads 11 million words over 1200 hours, gradually increasing the difficulty as they improve will be a pretty amazing reader.

For me in Spanish, there are still words I read or hear on TV that I don’t understand, but really nothing to impair meaning. So, I’m not exactly sure how to respond to that. I estimate I’m at about 1,000 hours of total Spanish learning (2-400 hours of high school Spanish, and about 600-700 hours of taking a college course years ago and the lion’s share of that time since spent in self study). During the self study time, I’ve read 1.6 million words, listened to 460 hours, made 45,000 lingqs, and have about 32,000 words (even though known words says 31K). I’m going for 33-35,000 known words, 2 million words of reading, 600 hours of listening, and 12-1400 hours total learning to move on.

I think “potential fluency” is somewhere between 20-30,000 words in Spanish, but you need to activate it with speaking practice.

Once I got around the 13-15,000 mark after some major 90 Day Challenge work (the original one in 2014), things really jumped off.


What do you mean by Speaking to activate the Language?

I can concur with LILingquist. Around 13K-15K words things really started to pick up with French for me.


It’s a bit of “polyglot jargon”, it means that, as you read and listen to material in your target language, you gradually learn to recognize or understand more and more vocabulary. However, most of it is “passive” vocabulary, you can understand it if you hear it but you can’t produce it yourself in your own speech. Most of your vocabulary will always be passive, that’s true even for native speakers. However, as you progress, you’ll want to “activate” parts of your passive vocabulary, so as to increase your fluence. You mostly do that through active conversation with native speakers.

I just hit the 13,000 word mark and I can definitely agree that I kind of had an epiphany moment with my Spanish. I now listen to podcasts and watch youtube videos and understand upwards of 85% of what I hear. I can read native high-level novels (currently reading La Isla de las Tormentas by Ken Follett, I very much so recommend it) and understand the story without a dictionary (although I need the dictionary to understand certain important parts), and I had an hour long conversation with an Italki community tutor on a lot of topics and understood virtually everything he said. It feels amazing. I obviously still have a long way to go for my goal of C1-C2 mastery, but I definitely feel as though I (finally!) hit the B2 and “functionally fluent” level I’ve been shooting for for two years. Thanks for your comment.

Felicidades, ¡que buena noticia!

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¡Enhorabuena! Me alegro mucho de tu éxito

11 million words read is a great goal I think, and one I’m going to shoot for after reading this. I’m at 1.3 million in French and I’m still slow at certain points and there are words I don’t know here and there. That’s not to say I can’t read a lot of course, but there is definite room for improvement. However, the words I don’t know tend to be pretty obscure nouns or different “flavored” verbs, or verbs that I already know but are conjugated in a different, weird literary tense (French is full of these :D). Doesn’t matter though, I’d like to know them all.

I agree with the others, 13-15k words is at the point (at least in a romance language I think) where most native material, be it books, the news, or podcasts, fit the bill for Krashen’s i+1, read-just-above-your-level theory. It really becomes a lot of fun then, but it was a struggle at first!


I look forward to reaching 13k known words in Spanish! I am sure it is great!

I have just started reading intensively in Portuguese. My passive vocabulary is quite high because I have a higher level of Spanish, so I read one book in Portuguese that’s probably at about a Harry Potter level (A Ûltima Feiticeira, by Sandra Carvalho) and added nearly ~5000 known words (there were ~14,000 unknown words when I started it). I really enjoyed it and I feel that at ~15,000 known words (where I am now), I would be able to get by with this level of book without LingQ, but I’d have to stop and look things up pretty regularly and having LingQ makes it much easier. There are seven more books in the series and I intend to read them consecutively if I can, so it’ll be interesting to see where I end up.

Meanwhile with Spanish, I’m at ~30,000 known words and I recently read six books on kindle (three ‘adult’ books and three adolescent ones), so I feel I don’t ‘need’ LingQ for Spanish reading, even though it’s always helpful to use it, of course.

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I should also add that at ~17,000 words in Italian I have struggled a bit to read physical books, even at non-adult levels. So one day I’d like to start reading Italian books on LingQ and see how that goes.

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If you don’t mind me asking, do you ever have any difficulties learning 3 romance languages at once and mix them up? I would like to really spend time working on another (rather then just dabbling as I have been in them) but I worry that it may confuse me with my French.

I too will read with interest his answer, as it will contribute to my decision on whether to start French/other Romance language, or the Russian.

Yes, I definitely have difficulties! It’s actually four Romance languages, including French (which I haven’t studied much on LingQ but in which I am about B2 on a good day). Obviously the similarities between them help on the one hand when starting a new language, but can cause confusion on the other. French is the one that’s least like the others, but that said, French and Italian have a lot of structural similarities (e.g. the past tense forms) and share vocabulary. This actually might be the best pairing to learn if you’re going to do two Romance languages, because the sounds seem so different but the structure is very similar. Whereas with Spanish/Italian/Portuguese I’m often thinking, ‘In this language is it propio or proprio / lingua or lengua?’ etc.

My problem is that I switch back and forth between them all too often. Sometimes I think it would have been better to have picked one and reached a very high level in that than to be some variation of intermediate in four different ones. Now that I’m living in Portugal, I am focussing on Portuguese, obviously. But I just spent six weeks in Spain, and earlier in the year I was in Italy for three weeks, so I naturally wanted to get into those languages then. I’ve been doing a lot of Portuguese these last few weeks, and today an Italian friend came to visit and I can barely say anything to her in Italian because it just isn’t on the tip of my tongue at the moment and it’s just coming out as half-Portuguese.

Not sure if any of that helped, hopefully a bit :slight_smile:


Very interesting, thanks for sharing! I may pair Italian with my French like you suggested. For what it’s worth, I think having 4 languages at your level is really cool, because the hard part of learning a language (in my opinion the first 15k words) is done, and any one of those you could easily springboard into being advanced really quickly. Not to mention learning many different countries and cultures!

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Thanks :slight_smile: Yes, there are definitely a lot of positives! I just walked the Camino de Santiago and it was fun to meet people from different countries and be able to speak their language. Also, here in Lisbon, a French bakery/gelaterie just opened up downstairs from our apartment, so I get to speak French with them when I buy a baguette.

To be more specific about French/Italian grammar similarities, assuming you don’t know already, Italian has an exact equivalent of the French passé composé, with the same exceptions where avoir/avere is used instead of être/essere (whereas Spanish/Portuguese have a completely different way to express the simple past). There is also something similar to the passé simple in Italian.

I’m jealous of the Camino route. The whole 500+ miles? That explains your six weeks in Spain!