How I Learned 1000 New Chinese Words in Three Months Without Trying!

Learning 1000 words in any language is certainly an achievement to be proud of, and on the face of it, achieving this goal is quite doable – simply learn 10 words a day or more until you reach the 1000 mark. This is definitely a challenge, but still possible if you work hard.

So how come I learned the same amount of words without working hard? Before explaining further, I would like to increase the confusion further by also saying that in these three months of learning I not only learned 1000 words, but was also (and still am) in the process of learning 9,000 words. This means that there are 9,000 words I either have no idea of, have nearly learned, are half way through learning or know in some contexts but not others.

Now that I have established myself as a crazy person who somehow feels studying 10,000 words over the course of three months is reasonable (and all without trying) I better explain where I’m coming from!

Reading, if you can find something that interests you, is a very fun and enjoyable activity that I would not describe as work. So, I have been reading in Mandarin for the past three months. In this time I have read many movie transcripts, countless transcripts of drama episodes, podcast transcripts, and a book (Charlie and the Chocolate factory in Chinese) – these experiences have been really enjoyable, and made me really feel like I am making progress with the language… without trying.

But how did I get to 1000 known words just from using this method? Quite simply, you read the thing you are interested in, and whenever there is something you don’t understand, you translate it, check it’s pronunciation and make sure you understand the overall sentence before moving on. You don’t spend any amount of time actually trying to learn the word, you translate it, understand it and move on.

This sounds incredibly basic, however just think about what would happen if you did this simple process across many months. You would naturally learn the words without trying due to the fact that so many appear so often.

The growth is exponential as well. Although a success rate of 10% for words learnt isn’t high, remember that those other 9000 words are still in the process of being learned, and have not at all been abandoned, meaning that the more you read, the more you will learn exponentially without realising.

To clarify what I mean by exponential let’s compare a learner who has learned 1000 words to a learner who has learned 1000 words and is in the process of learning 9000. The learner in the process of learning 9000 words will be making slow and gradual process on all of them, and if you are on the cusp of learning 500 of these words, then most likely a simple read of a text where the words come up one more time would be enough for you to feel confident with the word. If you are very lucky and find a text dense with words you are on the cusp of grasping you could learn 500 words in a very short amount of time!

I can’t think of any methods that are able to surpass this one. It’s fun, feels effortless, has the option for huge exponential growth, not only teaches you new words but makes you more familiar with grammar, common ways of writing and common ways of speaking, has the same additional benefits that normal reading has and can make you more knowledgeable depending on the kinds of things you read.

The main downside to it is that it improves your reading ability much faster than your listening ability, meaning that listening needs to be studied and improved separately. Although in cases like podcasts and audiobooks you can train them both at the same time.

But doesn’t this whole method sound very difficult and tedious? Doesn’t it get annoying when you have to constantly copy and paste it into google translate?

This is why I use an app called LingQ, it streamlines this entire process. You simply open a lesson from the community, or import your own from an eBook, Netflix, YouTube or any other source of media such as a podcast with an accompanying transcript and start reading. If you need to translate a word, you simply tap it and it shows you. You don’t have to do anything complicated and it’s the least tedious way possible to obtain a good translation.

It remembers all the words that you know, all the words that you are in the process of learning and all of the words that are new to you, colour coding them so that you can see it clearly. It is incredibly straightforward and suited to this process.

That is not to say that it doesn’t come with it’s drawbacks. For example if you are just starting in any language I would not recommend using this app. Although it may be helpful, it’s better to have a grasp of the language first and know a good amount of vocabulary beforehand in order to avoid the boredom of going through beginner transcripts and the confusing grammar patterns that don’t make sense to you.

Unfortunately this app is locked behind a paywall of about £100 per year which in my opinion is a very small price to pay with respect to the positive benefit that it has, I mean people pay tens of thousands to study it at University and often still don’t end up getting fluent! This tool has improved my reading so much that it’s more than paid for itself.

But I believe there is a one month free trial, and also if you follow my referral link here: you will be able to try it for free with 100 extra LingQ’s before you even go into the free trial! So if nothing else, I definitely recommend you take advantage of these free sections.

Please let me know what you think about this method and whether or not you have been convinced to try this app out!

Thank you for reading about how happy I am with the progress I’ve made in Chinese, if you want to talk about language learning at all in the comments I would be really happy to!

9 thoughts on “How I Learned 1000 New Chinese Words in Three Months Without Trying!

  1. To further explain what I mean about exponential growth. I’m happy to report that since this time when I learned 1000 words, I learned another 700 in just 1 month. So it increases quite rapidly due to the fact that you are in the process of learning so many words. There are an additional 4000 words that I am studying as well, so it does feel like it will be a very long time before I’ve learned most of them!


  2. Interesting, sounds good. I also think reviewing with SRS can be – I don’t know – a bit unnatural and machine-like. It’s very efficient, but it takes the fun out of it sometimes. Plus, when you’re covering the amounts of vocabulary you’re talking about, I’m not sure even SRS can keep up. It’ll take more and more time, once you start accumulating new words. I agree that if you keep up your reading, the most relevant words (that keep coming back) will stick with you.

    I’ve heard of other apps like LingQ, but they’re all paid services. I’m not sure if this website comes close in terms of quality and functionality, but it is free:

    Another app I think is pretty good for reading is DuShu. It’s similar to Pleco’s clipboard reader, but offers some additional functions (text analysis, flashcards etc.) It’s free, except for the premium features.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It is quite efficient, but for me it took too long to review and sort of took the fun away from learning so I wanted to just stop using it.

      I had a look at mandarin bean and it looks really nice, very useful, I read some of the articles about Yi Gong and putting rocks in bottles and know what you mean. And I have Dushu as well. They have very similar methods. After using lingq it’s quite hard to go back, it remembering all your words for you is so useful, but I can see this definitely working well! One thing mandarin bean had was content that interested me a lot, however in LingQ interesting things isn’t always that easy to find for me.

      Thank you for sharing this with me, I’d still say try the free version of Lingq to see what it’s like, but what you have already looks really good! Hope you continue to have fun learning!


  3. Hi Rossiroad, thanks for this post about LingQ. I see you can use existing materials or import your own resources. How does the 复习 part work? Any tests, flashcards, spaced repetition? Because I use roughly the same method (with the help of other apps), but tend to forget quite a lot if don’t repeat the new vocabulary.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Hongshu! I very rarely use the 复习 part, however it does have one. They recommend that you use it after the end of each lesson to refresh yourself on the words in the lesson, however you can use it pretty much anytime you want. It’s not as good as anki or anything like that, it tries to be very simple and easy, unlike anki reviews which may be harder. But there’s a fair amount of control on how you review words so potentially it could still work for you there.

      If you read a lot and get 9000 words that you are in the process of learning, reviewing can be quite difficult as there is so much to get through. I find myself naturally reviewing words a lot because there are just so many words that get repeated in the texts I read, and I always prefer that way to an SRS as I’m really bad at keeping up with reviews.

      I would like to know what other apps you use? I tried looking for a version of Lingq that was free but couldn’t find anything, so it would be great if you were using something like this for free!

      Liked by 1 person

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