Jonas @howwedu


language learning


A question many language learners ask themselves is how many words they can actually learn on every day. You don’t have be a crack at maths to see that only 5 would add up to an vocabulary of an incredible 1,825 words a year. (Studying your first foreign language at school, you will probably have gone at a pace of only 400 a year or less). So wow, 5 should be enough, right? But then you go like: what if I learned 5 more? Or ten more? Or thirty? Or fifty? Then I would speak like a native, right?

4 things to consider when you want to find your personal learning pace:

  1. The number of words you know is not a very informative measure of your language abilities! (A fact that has become an integral part of our language learning manifesto) So don’t blunder into the trap of dreaming about knowing a lot words, start dreaming what it would mean to be able to apply all those fancy words you know, in nice, clear, native constructions that make your speaking and writing sound natural and confident. Word number can become an indicator of your overall learning progress, but only if you’re honest enough to take some time after your flashcards and work on applying the new words you know (as we suggest in the howwedu method).
  2. Don’t be naïve: Know yourself! Perhaps you are the kind of guy who’s very good at building many small little habits that will only pay out after 5 years, then please, go for 1 word a day if you want to. But if you’re like me and most other people, you will rather try out something for a month or two and then decide if you want to stick with it. So set your goal for a shorter time frame and stop talking about 10,000 and years, talk about hundreds and months, and set yourself a number of new words a day that – combined with other activities – will give you a real sense of getting closer to your goal. Keep your finger on the pulse.
  3. Still: Every little step is better than being stuck and often the problem is getting started. Never, never tell yourself that a learning session is not valuable because you’re only doing 3 new words today, or may it be only 1!
  4. Don’t forget that in a spaced repetition program like Anki, Memrise or Supermemo, words will be repeated when you are about to forget them. After some time studying, you will thus see the words of yesterday, of four days and two weeks ago add up to your workload. So take your number of new cards times 3-5 to find your actual daily amount. There will be days when you feel like you can learn a 100 new words, but them popping up the next day as reviews could demotivate you.


  • Set yourself a standard number you want to do daily (or as often as you plan to study). For me, being a person thinking in short term goals (I want to see results after one month!) and knowing 5 European languages (+ Latin), would probably be something around 12-20 for a Romanic or Germanic language and 8-10 for a non-European language.
  • Set yourself a maximum session limit (I would suggest the double of your standard value) that reminds yourself that firstly, you should do some exercises with these new words that you've just "learned" to really learn them, and secondly, that having a lot of reviews to do can demotivate you in the days to follow.
  • Don’t fall into the everything-below-my-standard-isn’t-worth-it-trap!

The howwedu course chooses 16 as a standard number. Why?

16 new words a day can look like a huge number. Especially if they are German words (although German is probably much easier than you think!).

There are quite some other things to do in a howwedu session: the apps, the project text, the daily special – doesn’t this all add up? Let me tell you something: You can handle this! The different activities don’t just add up to one another, they complement each other. The apps are applications of the words you just learned and also repeat words from later session – they will after all make doing your flash cards much easier. Then, the words are carefully chosen: All the words tagged top 1000 are really important parts of the German vocabulary and either consciously or subconsciously your mind will realize that and help you remember these words because you cannot do without them if you’re really serious about your goal. Then again the cognates (words that are similar to their English equivalents) are like a present, you are going to remember them without effort. Having them in your vocabulary list makes your 16 words much easier than they might look at first glance. So 16 is a manageable number that gave us a frame to decide how to structure our app texts and materials. But you can always go slower or faster! Simply start with session activities after you’ve learned the last words of the session vocabulary (if you choose the flashcard-guided approach). These words are marked with an asterisk (*) next to the session number on the Anki card, which allows you to do everything from 1-512 new cards a day. Just remember that every time you see a new asterisk you can start with a new app.

Best wishes


image attribution: Micha Klim