Part of learning a new language is vocabulary. While it may not be the most fun activity in the world, you’re going to need to do quite a few flashcard drills to really internalize those first 100, 1,000 and 5,000 words.
For now, we’re going to skip over thinking about the exact number of words you’re looking to learn, and instead focus on how many you should be learning every day.
What’s Your Motivation?
If any of you have done any theater, you’ve definitely heard this question before, but I think it applies to pretty much any situation in life. In order to determine the number of new words you should learn each day, you may want to think about why you’re doing it. If you’re learning a new language for fun, it’s a bit less urgent than if you need to attain a certain proficiency in the language for work or school.
If you need to learn a certain number of words by a certain date, determining how many words you should learn a day is easy. Take the total number of words, then divide it by the time period. If you have enough time, I strongly recommend giving yourself a large buffer. So, if you need to learn 1,000 words in three months, I’d build in an extra two weeks of time at the end to internalize everything, and to allow for catching up, should you miss a day or two.
So, to break it down pretty simply, plotting out learning 1,000 words in three months would look something like this:
3 months = ~90 days
90-14 (two weeks of “buffer time”) = 76 days
1000 words / 76 days = ~13 words/day
13 words a day is entirely reasonable and manageable, and this would be a great timeline. Let’s say, however, that you’re learning far more words without any sort of pressing deadline and want to figure out what you should be learning per day.
How Much Time Can You Give?
You’re going to want to fit down with your flashcards (or flashcard app, or website, etc.) at least twice a day to really internalize the new vocabulary. Just looking at each word a few times won’t really help you learn. So, consider blocking out time in the morning and at night for exposure to the new words.
How much time, you ask? Great question. I like to block out 1 minute per new word per day for flashcard practice. This isn’t a hard and fast formula, but can help you block out a time in your schedule for vocab practice. Included in this, is reviewing old words and anything that you may need a little extra help with. It’s a rough formula that I’ve found to be pretty accurate over the past year or so of language learning. I aim to learn about 25 new words a day in Norwegian, which roughly equates to 10-15 minutes of vocab practice twice a day.
Think about how many minutes free time you have in a day, just for vocab practice (so, not counting any other language learning activities you may be doing), and then divide that by two. This is a good indicator of how many words you can reasonably learn in a day.
Can I learn 100 new words a day?
I mean, technically, if you spend a lot of time doing vocabulary you can absolutely learn a bunch of new words a day, short term. But, is this a sustainable model? Probably not. Eventually, you’re likely going to burn out, forget meanings and become frustrated with the whole process. I’d recommend for sanity’s sake, trying to keep your learning targets to 50 or fewer new words per day. 50 new words a day is still just 100 days to learn 5000 words, which is a pretty incredible feat!
Like I mentioned previously, I’ve been working on learning about 25 words a day in Norwegian, and this seems to be working out well for me! The number of new words you can learn in a day will vary with your schedule, and everything else you may have going on in your life, but hopefully this post has given you something to think about!
How many words per day do you typically try and learn?