Chapter Outline1.1.5,000–15,000 words1.2. 500–1,500 hours (at 10 words per hour)1.3.Daily learning, do-it-yourself job1.4Quantifiable and predictable1.5.Major battlefield: 60% to 80% of total effortThe number of words you are familiar with determinesyour language abilities. The more words you know, the better you are. Put in numbers, this statement reads as follows:15,000 > 10,000 > 5,000 > 2,000 > 1,000 > 500You know more than 50,000 words of your nativelanguage. To be comfortable in another language you needroughly half that number – 25,000. As about 40 percent arevariants of other words, a good estimate of words you need tolearn is 15,000.In order to understand how many truly new words arewaiting for you – words you have never seen before andwhich you cannot deduce from other languages you know – we need a short history of your linguistic abilities:
What is your native language?
Have you learned other languages before?
Which level did you achieve in these languages?
Which language do you want to learn?Based on your answers, the number of truly new wordsyou must transfer into your brain varies between 5,000 for related languages (for example Spanish/Italian/French; seeTable 1.1) and 15,000 for completely different languages(European languages/Arabic).
Table 1.1: Related languages
How long will it take you to learn these words? At aconservative estimate of 10 words per hour, it will take you500 hours to learn 5,000 words and 1,500 hours to learn15,000 words. Based on the number of hours you are preparedto invest on a daily basis, your total study time will vary between 6 months and 6 years (Table 1.2).These figures have important implications: First,language learning means daily learning. ‘2-hours-a-week’schedules are likely to be insufficient. If you have little or notime – think of busy physicians – or prefer to dedicate your time to geology, biology, or neuroscience, new languages areout of reach. Second, language learning is mostly a do-it-yourself job. The thousands of words you need to learn arecurrently
your word brain and must get
. Nobody, except you, can do this job. Teachers are of no help.
Table 1.2: Study time (in months)*
Number of words to learnHours/Day5,00010,00015,000
* At five days per week; figures are rounded
Apart from these two cases, however, anyone whodemonstrated the ability to learn the language of their parentsare entitled to learn their next language. The figures presentedabove are excellent news: Language learning is quantifiableand predictable. What is more, importing 5,000 to 15,000 newwords into your brain in 500 to 1,500 hours turns out to be
major battlefield in language learning. In fact, itrepresents up to 80 percent of your total effort. Chapter 7shows how to learn the words.
Total workload after Chapter 1
500 – 1,500 hours