My June project is coming to an end, so I want to let you know how it went.
I’ve got a lot to cover, so this article is split up into two parts. Today I’ll go over my results and my initial impressions.Just to remind everyone of what the project was about, I listened to and read German texts–shows, movies, novels, and newspaper articles–for a total of 10,000 words a day. I looked up words here and there, but for the most part did my best to figure out new vocabulary from contextual clues. I didn’t do any additional studying. I also didn’t do any speaking or writing–just took in as much language as possible. I focused on volume to see if volume alone could lead to improvement.
The Bottom Line Up Front (Or Near the Front)
The bottom line: Listening to and reading 10,000 words a day improved my language as much as anything I’ve ever done. Basically, I got really, really good with understanding easy-to-medium difficulty texts that contain a lot of everyday language.
The routine was simple, I saw improvement right away, and I never got bored. BUT (there’s always a but, right?) the program needs to be tweaked for long-term use, and there are definitely some things to watch out for.
The Good Stuff
In some ways, adhering to the program is really easy. Out of the 30 days or so I tried to follow the program, I only missed hitting 10,000 words 3 times. Twice, it was because I was on a work trip out of town and my daily routine was messed up. The other time was because of laziness. But even on the days I fell short, I still took in about 5,000 words a day.
In other ways, adhering to the program can get tricky. If I listened to German on my drive to and from work, that worked out to about 5,000 words. I still had to schedule specific studying time after that. Sometimes I’d be up at 10:30 pm after my son fell asleep, watching a sitcom dubbed into German or reading Harry Potter und der Stein der Weisen.
In any case, the results were awesome. It’s difficult to quantify this, but I just felt my language getting better.
Here’s the best way to explain it. I like to say that in a language, vocabulary words are bricks and grammar is the mortar that holds those bricks together. So you know that to improve, you have to get more bricks and slap them together with more mortar.
But there are additional, more subtle characteristics that improve the stability of your structure–the quality of the bricks, the composition of the mortar, the way you stack the bricks together. For lack of a better term, I’ll call these the “less noticeable qualities.”
Well, all that reading and listening I did didn’t make my vocab go through the roof (probably learned about 5 new words a day from context) and I probably couldn’t do much better on a grammar test than I could before. But something deep has improved. The “less noticeable qualities” of my language have gone through the roof.
Just so you don’t think I’m blowing smoke, I’ll try to give some specific examples of what has happened:
- My reading speed has increased.
- My reading and listening comprehension have improved. For example, I can watch any episode of The Simpsons dubbed into German and follow the plot very closely, even if I hadn’t seen the episode before. Same with reading an article in the newspaper. Even if I don’t catch every word, I know what’s being said.
- My frustration with texts has gone down.
- I fully expect to understand what I read or hear, and when I don’t it’s becoming a little bit of a surprise.
Remember, this was only a month. Language acquisition takes time, and for me to notice real improvement in that time frame makes me wonder what a year or two of this would do.
The Not-As-Good Stuff
Focusing on 10,000 words a day wasn’t a cure all, though. Some stuff was less than ideal:
- No big bump in speaking ability. I can speak to myself a little more freely, as if I can draw words from my memory bank faster. But I would still get tripped up in a real-world conversation.
- No huge improvement in writing.
- I got great with easy-to-medium difficulty texts, but didn’t see any improvement in difficult texts containing more specialized vocab. (Admittedly, this might come with time.)
- I felt like I was close to burning out on a couple occasions. At times, I just got sick of German, which is pretty rare for me. I also felt tired, as if I were pushing my brain to the limit. I suppose this means that something was going on and my brain was having to expend energy to adapt.
- I felt like I was running out of materials. That’s absolutely not true, because there’s a lot of German out there. But there were times when I felt like, “I don’t have anything to watch.” Usually, I’d get over it, but it was something I noticed.
That’s it for today. Part 2 is coming soon. In that article, I’ll talk about some things I’m going to try going forward and how you can design a 10,000-word-a-day routine for yourself.