10,000 Words a Day – How To Do It

This is the second part of my June project wrap-up. You can read about the project here and the first part of the wrap-up here.

The crib notes if you don’t want to go back: For a month, I listened to or read 10,000 words a day. It worked really well and I saw a noticeable improvement in my language.

If you want to experience those results yourself, here are five tips for incorporating 10,000 words a day into your studying.


By Scott A. Thornbloom [Public domain], Image Source

1. Just do it.

The easiest way to get in 10,000 words a day is to just do it. Just say, “I’m going to listen to or read 10,000 words a day” and then do it. Watch TV. Read novels. Listen to the radio. Listen to podcasts. Read online newspapers.

Then repeat the next day.

I know that sounds glib, but I do think people tend to over-complicate things. The nice thing about 10,000 words in general is that once you try this, you’ll start to identify some of the complications yourself and can make minor adjustments.

With that said, there are some things you can do to make things easier…

2. Use dead time.

In my life, there are plenty of periods of “dead time” throughout the day, when it’s not exactly scheduled time and not exactly free time. Here are examples from my daily routine:

  • My commute to and from work.
  • My short drive to and from the grocery store, mall, and gym.
  • The half-hour before my son goes to bed, when he and my wife are watching TV, brushing their teeth, and getting pajamas on.
  • My lunch break and coffee breaks at work, which I often take at my desk.

All together, this adds up to about three hours a day that would otherwise be wasted. Instead, I can use some of this time to listen to podcasts, catch an episode of a sitcom, or read a few pages from a novel. It only takes an hour and a half to get in 10,000 words, so I could very realistically use dead time alone to get those 10,000 words in.

(By the way, for a while I tried listening to German podcasts while walking on the treadmill or using the elliptical machine at the gym. I kind of hated that, though, and realized I preferred keeping my workouts and language learning separate. Still had plenty of other dead time, so it wasn’t an issue.)

3. Be entertained in your target language.

How much do you read, watch TV or listen to the radio in your native language? I know people differ, but I take in a lot of media throughout the day.

I only have so much attention budget, though. For example, I get sick of watching TV after a while and have to get up off the couch and do something else.

When I watched TV in German, I had to cut back on my TV in English. Best way to explain it: I watch TV to get entertained. I can only watch so much TV. So I got my TV entertainment needs filled by watching German TV shows (or English shows dubbed into German).

Same with reading. I only read so many pages a day–25 to 50 tops–in any language. To meet my 10,000 words a day goal, I put aside Tom Clancy and saved my reading energy for novels written in German.

4. Don’t try to understand every word.

I’ve mentioned this in previous posts, but it bears repeating: Don’t try to understand every word. Try to understand the main idea. If you’re watching a movie, watching a TV show, or reading a novel, try and follow along with the plot. If you’re listening to the news, try to understand the basic events.

If you can’t understand anything, then choose easier texts. Watching some kids shows, such as “Pocoyo,” in your target language is probably easy enough for even rank beginners, and you’ll get benefits from just following along.

However, if you can understand basic ideas but not every word, just hang in there. Let your mind process the language subconsciously while your attention is on understanding the general idea. This is where the magic happens.

5. Add in other activities.

One thing I learned last month is that an input based, volume heavy routine, such as 10,000 words a day, can be extremely effective as the bedrock of a language-learning routine. But it’s a little incomplete. You’re going to need to build other skills.

Easy solution? Get your 10,000 words a day, and then do something else. Try stuff like:

That’s what I’m going to try for the next couple months, in fact. I’m going to maintain this level of volume, and then I’m going to “build” my language skills with more intensive, targeted activities.

Wrapping Up

If you’re curious, give this and a try. But if you do, please let me know how it goes for you so that others can benefit from your experience.

Good luck!

  • Phil

    I’ve been doing a modified version of this for the past few weeks, and the results have been very positive. Right now, I’m immersed in a Spanish TV series called “Gran Hotel,” which is sort of a Mediterranean version of “Downton Abbey.” It’s on Netflix and there are about 40 episodes, each about 45 minutes long. So it’s not just immersion in the language, it’s immersion over time, with the same cast of characters, speaking a fairly formal register of Castilian (with the “th” sounds, which no longer sounds strange to me), and following a screenplay by the same writers. All of this, along with the lack of modern slang and a more formal, carefully enunciated speech, makes the dialogue easier to understand than some modern films and TV shows, at least for me.

    The show itself is engaging and the subtitles are good, and I definitely still need them. But I’m understanding bigger chunks of speech and there are times when I think my translation is better or more accurate than the subtitles. I’m also getting better at predicting what a character will say in response to what another character has just said, and because the subtitles often display the English version a few seconds before it has been spoken in Spanish, it gives me the chance to say in Spanish what I see in the English subtitles before the character actually says it.

    What has made the biggest impression on me is that I find that I need to hear fluent spoken Spanish some time during the day, or things don’t feel quite right. This is not the same as doing a Pimsleur lesson, listening to a podcast, or doing a Duolingo lesson. I’ve become accustomed to hearing the sounds and the rhythm of the language in concentrated doses over an extended period of time, and I need my daily fix. Right now, I’m meeting that need with this show, and when it’s over, I will find something else. I may go back and re-watch some of the early episodes and see if I can understand more without having to rely on the subtitles.

    Anyway, it’s working really well for me, so thanks for the idea! This comes as close to living in the country as anything I have done so far, and it’s a lot less expensive and much more convenient.

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

      Phil, this is awesome, and thank you for posting this. Watching the same show over time is an excellent idea. Same kind of language, same kind of dialogue. (When my wife used to watch “Gilmore Girls,” I’d have trouble following along sometimes because they spoke fast and I didn’t catch all the references. I got used to it, unfortunately.)

      “…there are times when I think my translation is better or more accurate than the subtitles.” <— That's an awesome feeling.

      I know that I'm not saying anything revolutionary with this 10,000 words stuff–"watch more TV"–but I'm a little surprised how few language learners are doing this and how slow people are to try this. You nailed it with your comment about how this feels close to living in the country. When I lived in Germany, I realized that 75% of the "immersion" I was getting was from media, and I can get that same media anywhere there's an Internet connection.

  • Hitrizie

    Actually it’s exactly what I am doing but I have no idea whether I reach 10000 words per day or not:) I like the idea of “getting entertained in the target language” :) And about improvement in language learning, I believe there must be an improvement, even though I do not really notice how far it is:) Sorry , for this complicated comment, perhaps because I learned the target language for more than 10 years, so it’s not really easy to say about the learning improvement;)

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

      Thanks for your insight, Hitri! Ten years. You’re an expert now, for sure. :) I think Filipino after German, definitely. I would like to learn French eventually too.

      • Hitrizie

        I’m not an expert Ron:) You are the language expert (linguist) 😉 😉

  • Maggie Sutton

    Hi, just wondering…how did you access german tv shows? I can’t seem to find any online, to buy or streaming.

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

      Hi Maggie! Myspass.de is an official site for one of the big German networks, and I haven’t had any problems with blocking. Look for “ganze Folgen.” YouTube has some episodes that have been uploaded. And kkiste.to streams a ton of content. With kkiste, check the legality in your area about viewing streams of possibly third-party/copyrighted content. (Most people are fine and the site is, as of this writing, still legal.)