My mind, my thoughts, my words

96 words in 24 hours.

When I learn, say, Spanish vocab, I read a word once or twice and usually know it. When it comes to Arabic, however, it takes around 10 minutes longer (okay, well, maybe not thaaat long), which is according to research the norm, but seems incredibly long to me.

Studies show that the brain can learn a new word in less than 15 minutes, or by listening to it about 160 times. This process involves new neural networks being formed and happens faster than previously assumed (!).



Repetition is the key, but the best time for the brain to learn is when you’re relaxed and don’t try to remember anything”, says Dr. Shtyrov from the Medical Research Council’s Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit. Furthermore, the mind choses (not) to remember (un)important things (incl.words). That’s a pretty good and cool thing, because otherwise our brains would be crammed with useless data while that space could be used for more important information (and I really don’t mind not to being able to remember “business administration” in Arabic (actually, I do remember it now after ‘accidentally’ reading over it again yesterday)).

Generally, languages that are more closely related to your native language(s) are easier to pick up because they share more (phonological, morphological and syntactic) characteristics, so there are fewer new concepts to deal with.
I assume new networks in my brain for Spanish vocab can be formed much quicker due to the similarity between this language and the ones that I already know; it is easier to recall phonological strings that are familiar to you and could exist in your language.
There doesn’t seem to be much research done on this yet, I might end up doing some myself later in life.

Nevertheless, in the end of the day, just knowing loads of words won’t automatically make you able to understand, let alone speak a language. It’s not only about words, you also need to know a language’s grammar.


1 new word in 15 minutes. 96 words in 24 hours. Okay, realistically, if you were a normal human being, spent some time sleeping, eating and doing other stuff, and say about 4 hours learning new words, that would make 16 words per day. About 480 per month. 5760 per year. That should get you pretty far, seeing that, according to Professor Arguelles,”5000 words constitute the active vocabulary of native speakers without higher education“…


Able to Learn a Foreign Language Brain Less than 15 Minutes – Healthy Life Care News

Brain Learns New Words in 15 Minutes, Say Scientists

How Many Words Do You Need to Know in Spanish (or any other foreign language)?

Vocabulary Acquisition: a Neglected Aspect of Language Learning

Pimsleur Language Learning System

Difficulty of Learning Languages

What Makes One Language Harder or Easier to Learn Than Another?

Language learning is hard because ……


One comment on “96 words in 24 hours.

  1. Andrew

    First of all, thanks so much for citing my work, I spent forever researching and writing that post and I’m really glad that people are finding it useful and credible.

    Secondly, you’re absolutely right about how much easier it is to learn words in a language similar to one you know than it is in one you don’t. I find Spanish vocabulary very easy and quick to acquire, whereas while I was learning Japanese recently I had a much, much harder time. The worst part of it was I would think that I had learned a new word, then I’d wouldn’t hear it or use it for a few days or a week, it would pop up again, and I would think “I know that word!!! I ought to know what that means!” but I wouldn’t be able to recall the meaning–it was very frustrating especially because that almost never happens with Spanish (note: I’m a native English speaker who started learning Spanish about 4 years ago and Japanese about 6 months ago). I’m a very visual learner and I personally suspect that learning the writing system (I have not done that with Japanese) and having a symbol to associate the word with would help enormously.


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This entry was posted on 14/05/2011 by in Academia, Linguistic Musings and tagged , , , , , .
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