June Project – 10,000 Words a Day

I need a little jolt in my German, so I’m going to experiment with something. For the month of June I’m going to:

Listen to or read 10,000 words of German a day.

Sound crazy? Not crazy enough? Well, let me explain.

Mercedes Benz Museum - Stuttgart Image Source

Mercedes Benz Museum – Stuttgart
Image Source

The Background

I studied German while I was living in Germany a couple years ago. After concentrating on Spanish for a while, this last February I started studying Deutsch seriously again.

This April, I took the Goethe A1 exam and passed. It’s a very basic test, but I’m pretty stoked that I got 98 out of 100 possible points and got a “sehr gut” qualification. (Passing score is 60.) I was docked a couple points on speaking, which is surprising, since I probably should’ve been docked several. 😉

My goal is to be at a C1/advanced level in reading and listening by the end of the year and ready to take a translation certification test.

Being right in the middle of the year and all, June is a good time to experiment with a slightly different approach.

The Details

This month I’m going to make sure I listen to or read 10,000 words every day.

I’m obviously not going to count each and every word. But I did some digging around and figured out that:

  • A sitcom style show has about 2000-3000 words per episode.
  • Radio or TV news broadcasts contain about 1000-1500 words for even ten minutes.
  • A newspaper article varies, usually from 250 to 1000 words per article.
  • A page of a novel contains 200-500 words.

I can use those estimates to keep a mental count. A typical day might consist of:

  • Watching an hour of TV and reading 4 medium-length news articles.


  • Listening to a half hour of news and reading 15 pages of a novel.


  • Watching a full-length movie.

…or any combination I can think of that adds up to 10,000 words.

I’m going to pay attention as I watch, listen, and read. The more engaged I am with the texts, the better. I’m definitely not going to listen mindlessly.

But I’m not going to pore over every word either. I might look up a word here or there, but not excessively. The idea is not to know the meaning of every word and sentence; if I could do that, I’d already be where I want to be. The idea is to use my intuition to try and figure out as much as possible from my current knowledge of German and from context.

I’m also not going to “study.” No vocab memorization, no language journals. If the research on extensive reading is correct, then I should still see improvement in my vocab from reading alone.

You’ll notice that all this veers slightly from the template in Language Master Key. But there are definitely similarities. Also, I’ll always, always acknowledge that there is more than one way to skin a cat, and I’m always open to experimenting and trying out new approaches.

Why 10,000 Words?

So what’s magical about 10,000 words?

Nothing, I suppose.

But I don’t believe that most language learners are getting nearly enough volume in their studies. In fact, I think lack of raw exposure to a language is the number one thing that keeps people from making real progress. If we accept that comprehensible input is one of the primary ways we acquire a language, then you have to actually get some input to make the good stuff happen.

Research has shown that children who did the best in school heard 30,000 words a day from their caretakers, while kids who didn’t do as well heard less. That should tell you that sheer volume of language input is vital.

I personally can’t commit to taking in 30,000 words a day, though. 10,000 words is more–much, much more–than what most language learners are getting, while still being a realistic enough amount to work into a daily habit.

I figure it’ll take me about an hour and a half a day, and I’ll be having fun reading books, watching sitcoms, watching movies–basically not even “trying” to study.

Wrapping Up

I’m just as curious as anybody else how this is going to work out. I’ll post my impressions in July.

If you want to try something similar in June and need help getting started or simply want to compare progress, let me know!

  • http://twitter.com/Sportstradernl SportstraderNL

    Interesting… Have to finish my regular exams in June so not able to join.. But maybe I am going to try this in July..

    I am moving to Germany for 7 months from the start of August and only have had some basic secondary school German (1/2 years experience).. so have to refresh and improve my German… Any recommendations how to improve it as much and most effective in only one month time?

    • http://www.languagesurfer.com/ Ron G.

      Since you have some experience, I think you’d do good with a combination of passive listening and a course. So I’d say do something like: 30 minutes a day of watching a simple program or listening to German radio, and then 30 minutes a day of a course, such as Pimsleur, Babbel, or Deutsch – Warum Nicht? I’d say start back with the basics, because most good courses will prepare you for the basics you need to get around.

      When you get to Germany, it’s an awesome, awesome opportunity to really see some improvement. I’m not an expert by any means, but I wouldn’t have scored a 98 on that A1 test if I hadn’t had so much experience fumbling around Germany, getting embarrassed, getting corrected, etc.

  • http://blog.fluenthistorian.com/ Natalie

    I love this idea and I look forward to hearing about how it works out for you. And I agree with this so much: “But I don’t believe that most language learners are getting nearly
    enough volume in their studies. In fact, I think lack of raw exposure to
    a language is the number one thing that keeps people from making real
    progress.” More exposure is always better and it’s definitely something I’ve struggled with.

    Good luck!

    • http://www.languagesurfer.com/ Ron G.

      Thanks! I’m pretty curious how this is going to work out myself. I’m confident, at least, that it won’t hurt…I think…hahaha…

  • Hitrizie

    Count me in:-) (Ich bin dabei) :-)

    • http://www.languagesurfer.com/ Ron G.

      Yay! I know your German is good, so I’m curious if you’ll see any improvement. I’m going to follow up in July.

  • http://lindsaydoeslanguages.com Lindsay Dow

    Very cool idea! I’ll be trying this with French over the next couple of months to help finish the joy that is my dissertation! Thanks for posting Ron – great idea! :)

    • http://www.languagesurfer.com/ Ron G.

      Cool! Let me know how it goes for you, Lindsay. Very curious if others get results as well.

      • http://lindsaydoeslanguages.com Lindsay Dow

        Will do, Ron! :)