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Polyglot Conference Video on PolyNots

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Yeah they refused it. :(
I guess those who made the test are anti-gun activists! It's been a long time since the last pro vs anti-gun discussion by the way. :P

EDIT: yes I knew "shot" wouldn't work but still, I tried.

@Friedemann: "...I don't think one would refer to shooting someone as a collective act of a crowd. The sentence is grammatically correct though..."

You're absolutely right - shooting would not normally be considered a collective action. (However there may be contexts where it is possible.)

The best part about learning foreign languages is debating how many words you know.

For some reason, the debate is always carried on in English. ;)

Just teasing a little. Pretend I'm not here. :)

Here is what I wrote on a recent blog post.

I know that you feel that vocabulary is the key to language learning. But how many words do I need to know?

It is difficult to answer this. It is a bit like saying how long is a length of string. It depends on your goals. If you just want to be able to say a few things when visiting a country, you probably don't need many words. If you want to understand what people are saying to you, what's on the radio, and what's in the newspaper, you need a lot of words.

Yes, but could you give me a number?

The problem is that it is difficult to define what we mean by knowing a word. If I can recognize the meaning of a word in even one context, I considered that I know that word. By that I mean that I have started on the path of getting to know the full scope of the meaning of that word, and eventually being able to use it. I know the word, but I'm really only at the beginning stage of mastering the word. Most of the words that I know in a foreign language, and many even in English, I know only partially. I do not know all the different ways in which these words can be used.

Another difficulty lies in how to count words. Do we count the words "run", "running", "runs" and "ran" as different words? What about "outrun", or "also-ran", or "runner"? It is not clear whether we should count only word families, or each form of a word, as a different word. It is also not clear just what to include in a word family. So I prefer not to put too much emphasis on a specific number. Instead I just say we need to learn a lot of words. The more words we know, the better our potential ability to understand, and even to speak.

But you measure known words at LingQ. What does that number mean?

Our "known word" count at LingQ is an accurate measure of your level of activity and your progress in the language. The more words you know, the further along you are in the language. You will find that as your "known word" count increases, your ability to read and understand improves. In my experience, lots of reading, lots of listening and creating lots of LingQs, is an effective way of learning a language.

So to summarize, the accuracy of the total "known word" count number is not important. The fact that the "known word" count in some languages will appear inflated compared to other languages means that we cannot compare from one language to another. Furthermore, our ability to use words actively is not necessarily an indication of the size of our passive vocabulary.

The gist of this argument or disagreement should be on how important a large vocabulary is. Anthony said in the beginning of his presentation that vocabulary was the key to understanding any text, more than grammar or familiarity with the subject. Yet later on he seemed to imply that the goal of language learning was not just to acquire words, that one could be fluent with 400 or even 10 words.

So, I simply want to make the point that, to me, acquiring vocabulary is the most important activity in language learning. It is also, to some extent, measurable, even though the measurement is not absolute nor unambiguous. If we acquire this vocabulary through massive reading and listening, we will also acquire familiarity with the language and the ability to understand well.

As to the accuracy of our "known word" count at LingQ, to some extent it doesn't matter. It's enough to know that the more words we know, the further we have progressed in the language, the closer we are getting to our goal of fluency.

Fluency also implies the ability to use the language. Therefore as our word count grows, we should be engaging more and more with native speakers and tutors, and using the language. The languages that I speak the best, are the ones that I have spoken the most. If I want to improve my level in a language, I sign up for lots of discussions in that language with our tutors.

With regard to our personal statistics here at LingQ, it is not possible to know with any accuracy what has been included in the "known words" count, in other words, how many numbers, names, non target language words etc.. It is also not possible to know exactly to what extent different forms of the same word have inflated this number.

However it is possible to look at our LingQs. We can see them in the vocabulary page. We can choose to view the vocabulary page 200 terms at a time. We can choose to look at "phrases only", and count the number of pages of phrases we have saved. We therefore can deduct this from our total LingQs to arrive at the number of words we have saved. We can then look at our LingQs and see how many of them we now know. This is also not a bad way of reviewing our saved LingQs.

I did this for Russian just now. I did a quick sampling. I know perhaps half, or slightly more, of my saved words, it seems. On the other hand, I seem to know the vast majority of the yellow LingQs that show up in my lesson texts. This suggests to me that the more common LingQs are the ones that show up regularly in my texts, and the words that I don't know in my vocabulary list may not be that important. I have relatively few learned words (less than 10% of my LingQs) since I am not an active user of flashcards.

Just out of interest, I imported an interview from Echo Moskvi into LingQ about Moscow as a bike friendly city. I just shared this lesson. The URL is

Before I start studying this lesson, I can see the following statistics. Total running words 3524, new words 143, yellow saved links 121 (11.6%), known words 984. This share of new words is higher than normal for me at this stage in my Russian. I suppose this is because the text contains a higher number than usual of names, or words like "bikesharing" and "carsharing" in both Russian and English.

I will now quickly go through the blue new words. Any words that are not genuine Russian words I will delete with the X key. Words that are genuinely new to me, or words, that I have any doubt about amongst the blue words, I will save by hitting enter on my keyboard. This takes about 10 minutes. Then I will try to find time to read the text either on the computer or on my iPad. The sound file has been downloaded to iTunes and from there I will download it to my MP3 player for listening in my car, while doing the dishes, or while exercising. I will do a few of these interviews a day. I will read one or two of them, and typically listen to more.

Many of the blue new words will in fact be known to me, as forms of words I already know. Some will be non-words. I don't know how many genuine new words will be added. If I look at my profile, I see that I have added roughly 1100 new words to my known words count in the last two weeks. In the same period I have created roughly 1100 LingQs. The statistics say that I have read 65,000 words in this period. However, this is not true, as many of these interviews are on my iPad and I have not yet read them. Very often I save the new words (create LingQs) and then listen to the interview without reading the lesson. It depends how much time I have.


I think it would be great - and I assume for everybody here at LingQ - if you could give the people here some more insight about your daily language learning routine: how much time do you spend with desktop LingQ, or mobile LingQ, how much listening while doing other things, how many new texts with what ratio unknown/known words, how many new LingQs per day, how much time reviewing old lessons, reviewing vocab, etc, etc.

Maybe we can learn something new....

If anyone is interested, I just went through LingQing this article. It took about seven minutes. I added 35 new saved LingQs. My known words total increased by 143. It turned out that a lot of the blue words were in fact variations of words involving the component "velo", "velociped", "velosharing" , "velomarcheroute" etc. and corresponding inflections. This will no doubt unfairly inflate my "known words" count.

On the other hand I deleted any city names, proper names, or words for which I did not get a user hint or Google translate definition. (In Russian, unless a word is of particular interest to me, if there is no user Hint or Google translate definition, I just pass. I rarely look up the dictionary. I am more likely to use a dictionary in Czech, because there are fewer reliable user hints in that language.)

On the subject of vocabulary, I checked out the concise Oxford dictionary of the English language. It apparently has 240,000 words. The full 20 volume Oxford dictionary probably has many more words.

If I open my concise Oxford dictionary, vintage 1952, to any page, I know most of the words. Some of these words are foreign words, references to Greek mythology etc.. If I only count one third of these words as words that I know, then my vocabulary is over 80,000 words. I suggest others try the same thing with other dictionaries.

I have the Lexin Swedish English dictionary. Right on the cover it says that it contains 28,500 words. If I leaf through it, I know a lot of the words, I don't know what percentage. I have a Czech-English dictionary published by SPN for schools. It doesn't say how many words there are, but a rough estimate would place it at about 15- 20,000 words. This does not include the inflected forms of words. My rough guess is that I know about half of these words, but I am not sure.

I think the average schoolboy dictionary contains 15 to 20,000 words. I think an educated person knows 50,000 words, passively, in their own language. But this all depends on how we count words.


I will start a separate thread on this subject.

With regard to schoolgirl dictionaries, I can only say touché!!

With regard to your passive word count, let me know when you get to 50,000.

One of the most fascinating things about this topic is, we don't know what a word is, yet we use them all the time! :)

LingQ vocabulary count is very different from what I believe most linguists use. But I don't really care. I've gotten used to the tools, and know that I prefer articles that have 10 or less new lingQ words per minute. I don't go around saying I know 10,000 russian words, because that's about as useful as saying I'm fluent. It could mean anything.

That being said, it would be interesting to test people, whose word levels are "up to date" in lingQ (per Julz), to determine their CEFR in reading and listening. I don't believe the 6 levels of the avatar stats correspond to the CEFR levels. It would be nice to test more than that, but I don't think any meaningful conclusions could be drawn from graphing lingQ words vs speaking/writing CEFR. There is too much going on outside of lingQ to make that meaningful imo.

Without testing, I don't see the point of doing statistics. But I'm interested in hearing what other people think they're going to learn from them.

I don't generally think the known words count means much. I think of it more as a motivational tool. For that reason, I suggest making it more motivational by having it give crazy astronomically high numbers. Each new word I set as known should count as 50 known words on the stats. Each day that I do some work on LingQ, I should get as a present 5000 new known words. This way, after starting a new language, I will be on 50.000 known words after a few days. I can't think of anything more motivational.

I consider the "known words" count to be an important statistic. I explained how it is arrived at. If you delete non-words, the count is accurate, based on our definition of what a word is. Beyond that, it is up to each learner to decide how to use this statistic. For me, it is a meaningful measure of my activity and progress in a language.

I think a lot of the disagreement stems from not knowing what the interlocutor really knows of a language, and from the fact that just reading a lot isn't enough. You have to practice grammar, practice pronunciation, and put yourself into situations where talking occurs. So for example, if someone who has merely read and listened a lot is commenting on whether or not the word count is meaningful, that isn't the same as hearing the opinion of someone who has read and listened a lot, but who has also practiced gramar and pronunciation, and tried to talk a lot.

For managing a massive input environment, word count as used at LingQ is a perfect innovation, that serves as a meaningful measure of progress.

For me, it is also a meaningful measure of my activity and progress in a language. I just don't think it is a meaningful measure of my known words.

First of all, I don't believe that you have to practice grammar or practice pronunciation, unless you enjoy doing so. You will get enough practice naturally while you speak. Speaking with our tutors here, where you get a report containing the words and phrases that gave you difficulty, is an excellent way to start speaking. To speak well you need to speak a lot. The known words count is an excellent measure of your potential in the language.

Assuming that you use LingQ properly, your known words count should reflect the degree to which you have listened to and read in your target language, and therefore your vocabulary and familiarity with the language. These are the factors that will determine your ability to have meaningful conversations in the language, in other words to practice the structure and the pronunciation of the language.

Another way to be assured that the word count on LingQ is a meaningful metric, is to observe how it correlates with languages you know. My Spanish is far superior to my French, and it was no trouble at all to race upwards in the Spanish word count.

@Steve, I've watched a hundred or more of your videos, and I know that you don't believe in practicing grammar. In some of your videos you suggest using grammar books as ways to expose yourself to patterns: compare the exercise with the answer key, etc. I believe that actual practice is essential, but, I don't know of any rhetorical way to resolve the matter. I just don't think reading and talking are enough. Without some structural work, your talking will just be rubbish, IMO. I know mine is, in German!!! lol Anyway, people are free to emphasize different aspects. That's why this is better than school. In school, it's One Size Fits All! But yes, I think you have to get in there and work the patterns, and the exceptions. And there's no reason why it shouldn't be enjoyable. You get the pleasure of putting new patterns into your brain. No need to fear work! :)

I don't want to make Colin feel bad or anything, so I hope I'm not speaking out of turn, but I recall a thread in which he mentioned having tremendous trouble expressing anything even after some years of LingQ work. I'm paraphrasing of course, but my gut reaction is, he's not doing enough structure and output work. I would look to that.

"I don't want to make Colin feel bad or anything, so I hope I'm not speaking out of turn, but I recall a thread in which he mentioned having tremendous trouble expressing anything even after some years of LingQ work. I'm paraphrasing of course, but my gut reaction is, he's not doing enough structure and output work. I would look to that."

You must have me mixed up with somebody else. I only started using LingQ back in December. I only started learning German a year ago and I have very little trouble expressing myself on most topics that I have interest in.

I am told that I make few grammatical mistakes when I speak German. When I speak, I often have trouble expressing myself if the topic is unfamiliar to me, but this is usually due to a lack of experience talking about this subject and a lack of vocabulary and has nothing to do with a lack of grammar.


Anyway, if you ask me, which nobody did (lol), LingQ is a great system for encouraging and managing "massive input" (as Steve puts it). But I see no reason to abandon structure. Take the comparison: When people seek to become doctors, they aren't enjoined to 'just absorb' the structure of anatomy and physiology. No. They must sit their tuckus in the chair until they know the seven layers of this, and the arrangement of that, and this is inside of something else, and the hormones cause this, and the electrolytes are needed for that, etc etc. If they can't hack it, they must go and settle for being psychiatrists, where they can just make it up as they go along! lol Anyway structure is beneficial and real, so why not make the attempt?

1. I remember the post you are referring to. It was not Colin, but another user I will not name who somehow has around 100,000 known words, yet an inability to speak. It turned out she had never really tried to activate her vocabulary.

2. Who ever said anything about discarding structure/grammar entirely? I learned using lingq, along with the occasional glance at a grammar book. I just took an advanced French grammar class for foreigners (my first ever class) here in France, and somehow outgrammered most of the other students there, including several French majors from good British Unis who were in the midst of doing their year abroad.

Oh okay, not Colin. Yes I think a conscious effort must be made to activate. Out-go.

Your point 2 reminds me of Steve's video, about knowing something before you learn it. Which he got from some Eastern sages. So your massive exposure to French gives you ample experience upon which to build the grammar. It's a great combination.

"2. Who ever said anything about discarding grammar entirely?"

I certainly didn't. When I started learning German, I did four months at a language school intensively learning nothing but grammar. At the end of that time, I could have debated Noam Chomsky on technical linguistics issues and won. I still couldn't speak much and I couldn't understand a thing anybody said to me, but I found this knowledge of grammar very useful anyway. I don't know if it was the most efficient way to learn the language though.

I think Colins German is amazing in this short time!

I have always had the same experience. People who learn intensively with LingQ speak after a short time in a very natural way. But those who study hard, write for hours or cram grammar exercises, do not speak after years in a natural way.


creimann,in my view, language is not like science. It is not something you learn academically, with structure and experiments. It is not a matter of understanding concepts. It is a matter of acquiring habits, something you just get used to through exposure and eventually lots of usage. Most learners of English who get the third person singular present tense wrong when they speak, understand the concept.

I also read grammar books, often, but not in the hope of retaining anything, but in the hope that it will help me notice the patterns of the language what I'm reading and listening.

Your approach is different, understood. However, I don't think you can see that others "have to" do what you like to do.

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