How Many Reviews till Fluency?
People like to choose a number of flash cards they have to learn in order to become fluent. X blocks of knowledge until you ascend past other mortals. 10,000 has been a popular choice for a long time. It’s a great looking number. It’s not too little; it’s not too much. It is reminiscent of the massively popular “10,000 hours” that gained steam a decade ago. Is it accurate? Who knows, but it’s nice and clean and motivating.
Everyone focuses on this learn number, despite the bulk of your daily flash card time going to reviewing everything you’ve learned. An important question arises: how many reviews will you have to complete before you become fluent?
Finding a Magic Number
I have thought about this for a while. I’ve seen my own total review count over the years, and I’ve seen the size of the effort people put into flash cards who went on to become fluent in 3, 5, 7+ years. The most common grouping of review numbers I’ve observed is:
- Small: 50/day
- Medium: 100/day
- Large: 150/day
- Extra Large: 250/day
For the ultra hardcore flash card learners doing 300, 400, or 500+ reviews a day, you could probably expand this to XXL, XXXL, and XXXXL. But this isn’t common, especially over extended periods of time like months or years. If you are pulling this off, you’ve got a big handshake from me in the future, but I want to focus on what is the reality for most learners.
Let’s assume the average user takes one day off a week. This accounts for people who take a small consistent break, a larger clumped together break, or those that spend some days dedicated only to learning new cards or immersion. That’s ~313 days of flash card reviews per year.
- Small: 15,650/year
- Medium: 31,300/year
- Large: 46,950/year
- Extra Large: 78,250/year
Breaking things down
With the above four, let’s take how many reviewed cards each user is going to complete over 5 years.
- Year 1: 15,650
- Year 2: 31,300
- Year 3: 46,950
- Year 4: 62,600
- Year 5: 78,250
- Year 1: 31,300
- Year 2: 62,600
- Year 3: 93,900
- Year 4: 125,200
- Year 5: 156,500
- Year 1: 46,950
- Year 2: 93,900
- Year 3: 140,850
- Year 4: 187,800
- Year 5: 234,750
- Extra Large
- Year 1: 78,250
- Year 2: 156,500
- Year 3: 234,750
- Year 4: 313,000
- Year 5: 391,250
On Jalup, I often give an average of 4 years for fluency. This average was based on someone doing a Large~Extra Large amount of reviews. That falls somewhere between 187,800 and 313,000.
How many reviews till fluency? 250,000.
Before even starting any thought behind calculations, catchy numbers that first stood out to me were 100,000 and 1,000,000. 100,000 seems way too low, and 1,000,000 seems way too high. 500,000 might have worked, but high level learners tend to decrease their new learned cards (which in turn decreases their reviews) as they increase their immersion. Reviews are a bell curve, and 250,000 just felt better than 500,000.
Now I know you could pick up apart the numbers above to death, showing me how wrong I am. But I’d rather have some number, that is somewhat in the ballpark, rather than nothing at all. It gives you something to work towards.
While this post has been all focused around numbers, it doesn’t actually matter if you learn 10,000 new cards or do 250,000 reviews. Japanese is such a vast world – your adventure is so unique – that where you start and where you end up over the years will vary wildly. Using numbers is fun and motivational. But always put the actual Japanese, and why you are learning Japanese, way above math.
How many reviews do you think it takes till fluency?
250,000 is highly subjective. Then again, so is fluency. I’m sure 10 people will give 10 different numbers that sound exactly right. So I ask you: how many reviews do you think it takes till fluency?
Founder of Jalup. iOS Software Engineer. Former attorney, translator, and interpreter. Still watching 月曜から夜ふかし weekly since 2013.
I’m at 331,000, and not fluent by most standards, but I think most of my reviews are behind me. I like the sound of 500,000.
Thanks for your estimation!
Something I also realize as I’m writing this, is that a review count can depend on how fast you actually do your reviews. I know some people who go as fast as possible with reviews (shooting up their review count, and lowering their accuracy slightly). Others will slowly say each sentence, write it out, play with a mnemonic, fully analyze it, and spend a significant amount of time per review. So this might affect whether it is 250,000 or 500,000.
This is actually higher than I was expecting but I can totally believe it. I am a year and two months in and have 60,165 reviews. Theoretically around a four year pace but I do less reviews now and more immersion, more like 50/50 so my review count will be slower going forward.
But that includes rtk reviews, do you think that should count? Without rtk reviews I lose about 22k reviews :)
The silver lining is before learning a language I would have called anyone able to have basic conversation in a language and read a short book ‘fluent’. Now I realize how deep the fluent hole really goes. But sometimes it helps my motivation to remind myself that a year ago I would have said where I am now is nearly fluent :)
I think it is fine to count RTK reviews with your total reviews.
Fluent is deep. Very very deep :)
Another thing worth noting is that as well as gaining knowledge of the langauge, you need a huge knowledge of Japanese culture in order for to really achieve ‘fluency’. You just need to watch any variety show and see how often they reference other celebrities, etc.
As the above comment says, the fluent hole is extremely deep.
Honestly at this point I feel like “fluent” is a loaded word and I kind of wish we had a better term to use. The problem is that “fluency” is context-sensitive, but usually gets used without context.
For example, I’m getting close to 5yrs since I started studying and have achieved my original goal. I play games in Japanese and have to look up a word maybe once every few hours. Nobody watching me cruise through a game would think I was anything other than fluent – until they hand me a food product from a JP market and ask me to explain the cooking instructions on the back.
Ultimately we’re all doing this for different reasons and “fluent” means different things to different people. Every sphere of interest has its own vocabulary and its own subset of culture, and nobody (not even JP natives) is “fluent” in every single one of them.
If I had to pick a core competency that absolutely everyone needs, it’s fluency in “explaining things and having things explained to you”. Once you have that you’ve entered a world where anyone who speaks Japanese could teach you anything else you want to know, even if Japanese is the only language you have in common. At that point I’d argue you’re fluent for all practical purposes and anything that lies beyond is “mastery” of specific subjects in which you have an interest.
True. Fluent has always been a loaded word, which can pretty much mean whatever you want. But people still like the word and is seen as the ultimate goal.
Another possible meaning is “being able to do what you want to do in Japanese.” For most people this is experiencing some kind of Japanese media (whether manga, anime, video games, books, etc.) or talking with Japanese people. So I try to adjust accordingly to this standard.
Agreed. So obviously if you did 250,000 reviews, and nothing else, you would not become fluent. This assumes you are experiencing everything native Japanese while also doing 250k reviews. The reviews just boost your ability to comprehend and work with native media.
Dumb question, but how does one determine how many reviews done?
On the Jalup App (iOS), tap the Level area, and you can see your total reviews.
On Anki, tap the vertical bars icon at the top to see total reviews (and other stats)
So yet to be implemented for Android, I take it?
Yes, correct. And in case you haven’t, this post shows all the features, and which version(s) they are currently on.
For an actual datapoint: I’m at 227,441 lifetime reviews on Anki and around level 55. I would not call myself fluent but I can see the path to get there on the horizon.
However I think on my JALUP cards I’m only around 140,000 reviews (possibly more) so the rest of the reviews are either RTK or the cards I used to make before I got the JALUP decks.
Thanks for the data point Victoria! The more we have, the better :)
I have been studying Japanese through anki for 6 months and I have about 85,000 reviews after doing 25 new kanji in Anki every day for 3 months until I finished RTK1 and then doing 25 new words per day for 3 months through both production (English to Japanese) and reading in full kanji cards. I would say that I am nowhere near fluent.
First time poster here. Yeah, I am currently at 22,000 reviews including RTK reviews and I am no where near any kind of “fluency”. In fact I have only just begun to start to understand a few full (albeit simple ones) Japanese sentences every now and then while watching the lower difficulty animes. Of course, I have always been frustrated at words like “fluency” and “mastery” for not seeming to really have a solid definition.
On another note, I am incredibly happy with JALUP as a product and will certainly recommend this to anyone I may ever meet who wants to learn Japanese. I have spent 4 months with JALUP and am now about level 22 in terms of JALUP cards but not in Kanji. I plan on picking RTK back up after I finish my graduate degree at the end of the summer. Switching to J-J was quite a translation but, after a month with it, I have finally been able to speed up my J-J learning to almost as fast as my J-E learning.
Kudos to putting together such an amazing learning system.
Welcome to the site Ryan!
22,000 is a really great start. When you get to 250k (whether that is actually “fluency” or not), things will be very different for you.
And thanks for the kind words about Jalup. I’m really happy to hear it has been helping you :)
Just saw the latest android update. Looks like im at 15k reviews around 4 months in. Nice to know I’m on track, relatively speaking.
And then ill be at nearly 16k once I break through the 500 card stack I’ve let pile up ლಠ益ಠ)ლ
I’m glad the new update is already being used :)
15k is a good number to be proud of. Keep up the good work.