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?
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