Language learning "sprints"

rcwnsr us United States

For the last 2 weeks (really more like 10 days), I have been furiously reading in Ukrainian as fast as my poor, beginner brain can for as much time as a I could. Before this, I was a solid beginner, having completed DuoLingo's course (without much additional practice beyond completing lessons once), and having about 800 known words on LingQ (form about 40 mini stories).

During this sprint, I read about 60,000 words (4,000 per day on average). This is not a lot of reading for someone comfortable in a language, but this took many hours each day at my level. By the end, my "known words" had multiplied by over 5 times (from less than 1000 to 5000, or about 400 words a day). Even discounting the various ways that known word counts are inflated, this seems like quite a lot. And I am surprised that, when reviewing old materials, I remember almost all of the words I marked as "known" (there is very little loss).

These apparent results leave me with the following question: Is doing short sprints (1-2 weeks of intensive studying) a viable method for learning languages? Or will I just forget everything I learned when I reduce my study time?

Has anyone else tried short sprints to rapidly improve their language skills? What kind of results did you get? Is it possible to develop language skills by mixing "sprints" (for 1-2 weeks) with longer periods of low-effort "maintenance", or even no practice at all?

September 17 at 07:21
  • SergeyFM ru Ρωσική Ομοσπονδία

    I'm doing something similar with my German right now. Not sure if 115 days can be considered a sprint, though it certainly was a sprint for the first 90 days.

    I spent all my time reading, and accumulated 20 thousand words. Those are words that I know passively and can recognize in text with some mental effort.

    I truly consider it a success, after first 3 months I can watch german youtube and what is the most important - find it interesting. I only get a gist, some words here and there, but it is enough to keep me involved. Once youtube videos are comprehensible, I'll be progressing slowly but surely, as it was with English.

    As for 1-2 week sprints - I believe it is a good idea as long as you continue learning in between. I think about a language acquisition as of a marathon - you can run some sections quicker if you feel like it, but what you should never do - is to stop.

    September 17 at 08:24
    • qf um Απομακρυσμένες Νησίδες των Ηνωμένων Πολιτειών

      Wow, that first 90-days sprint of yours was really intense! Do you care elaborating on how you set it up? Was it just reading or did you supplement with textbooks, anki, and so on?

      What about listening comprehension? For me it is the hardest skill to acquire, so I find myself at a point where I can read comfortably but still can't understand any real native audio. The fact that after 3 months you could not only read, but also get at least the gist of youtube videos is what I find most impressive.

      September 17 at 09:50
      • SergeyFM ru Ρωσική Ομοσπονδία

        I used LingQ almost exclusively at first. I read and listen following the text, a few times, then listen a few more times during commute or wherever. After a while it became easier and now I listen to the lesson audio 2-3 times at most. Right now I'm mostly watching youtube in German and do the minimum in LingQ to keep my insane streak.

        Comprehension really depends on what experience you have. For example I was going to buy a new phone, and therefore I was quite interested in all the reviews and so. After translating and watching several of those I could understand this type of videos quite well. At such a moments it felt like being at the much more advanced level. This feeling evaporates quickly once I go to unfamiliar topics))

        To conclude, I'd say that sprints and hard work make sense mostly at the beginning stages of language learning. Later, to become truly fluent you'll have to spend years no matter what.

        September 17 at 11:32
      • khardy us United States

        Watching YT videos that I got the gist of and found interesting is exactly how I have been developing my listening comprehension. Hours and hours and hours, not of study, but of entertainment of a huge variety. All while continuing reading and building vocabulary. I used to be tickled when I could sort of understand. Now I'm ticked when I don't fully understand.

        September 17 at 14:39
  • qf um Απομακρυσμένες Νησίδες των Ηνωμένων Πολιτειών

    I've been using a sprint-like method for bootstrapping my language learning. Knowing that I must see results before my motivation dies out, I use a 4-8 weeks program where I try to focus on the following goals:

    - solve all the little problems that could become a bottleneck (eg. learning to type at acceptable speeds on a cyrillic keyboard layout, set up a quick system for finding interesting material, etc.)

    - cram a few thousands of the most common words on Anki

    - work through a basic grammar book - especially if I can find one that is focused on reading, which I did for German and Russian

    - read a few graded readers and children books

    At this point I usually find that I'm comfortable enough to switch to a "just read" learning system, so I can put the language in the slow cooker and stop worrying about studying it actively.

    Reading your post, I wonder whether it would be advantageous to also regularly set up "intermediate level sprints" to make new breakthroughs and refresh my motivation.

    The big problem is that, past the beginning stage, the stuff you have to learn is just not that "compressible" anymore. There are no more super high-occurrence words, no more basic grammar points that cover thousands of cases, etc. so it becomes more of a slow slog.

    September 17 at 09:47
    • KRBanerjee in Ινδία

      Exactly! This is something I have struggled with in the past. I feel that this is when it becomes import to find "niche" materials related to your interests or hobbies. Since the material would contain similar words, you're likely to see them more frequently than just reading random videos or lessons for your grammar level.

      I like to keep a grammar journal as well fore review and more advanced topics. I also keep a journal (I rotate languages per entry), and I try to take 1 Italki class per month per language, to keep my motivation up and practice speaking.

      September 17 at 12:01
  • kevindevos pt Πορτογαλία

    I did this with russian for about 3 weeks with the harry potter books (it was basically no lifing from wakeup to bedtime) and my russian just catapulted forward, i went from 18k knowns to around 33k . Now i just practice it consistently by reading but unfortunately i can only spend ~2hrs daily max, masters uni course takes a hella lot of time :/

    So yeah, consider these sprints to be very good, my next one will probably only be around christmas holidays.

    September 17 at 21:05