Much depends on the language, how you study, how much time you put in every day, and other factors, especially what you mean by "learning a word". And of course how you count words.
My goal in learning words is to learn to recognize them when I hear them and see them in context. I want to have the largest possible passive vocabulary, so that I can read, listen to radio, and understand people when I talk to them. I am quite content to have a much smaller active vocabulary. When I have the opportunity to spend a lot of time speaking to natives, a lot of these passive words will be come active. Meanwhile my goal is comprehension, thus my focus on passive vocabulary. In my view, this is more practical when you don't live where the language is spoken.
If I look at my statistics at LingQ I can get a sense of what is possible with a learning style of intensive LingQing.
With languages with a lot of shared vocabulary, we can learn a lot of words quite fast. In the case of Romanian, I acquired over 24,000 words in 60 days according to my statistics at LingQ. This includes the 21,000 "known words" on my stats, and some portion of the over 10,000 LingQs that I created. (I assume that I know half of my "LingQs.)
This means I learned, from scratch, over 400 words a day. When I went to Romania, I could understand a lot of what people said and I could participate in conversations to some extent. You can watch my interview with my tutor on youtube.
In Czech, in a little more than a year, I achieved 55,000 "known words" and 44,000 LingQs. Despite having learned Russian beforehand, I needed to LingQ more and gained fewer words incidentally in relation my number of LingQs. I checked my LingQs on the Vocabulary page. Perhaps 20% of these LingQs are phrases, and I know maybe half of the rest, so that means I can add about 15,000 of the LingQs to the total, giving me about 70,000 words in let's say 350 days. This comes to roughly 200 words a day.
If you define words as word families, then you need to reduce this number by some factor. I don't what the factor is for different languages. In English, according to Stephen Nation, the ratio of word families to words is 1 to 1.6 . Maybe the number for Romanian is 1 to 2.5 and for Czech 1 to 5. I just don't know. At LingQ we count every form of a word as a separate word.
I am a heavy LingQer, reader, and listener. I am not a heavy user of flash cards. I think if you spend a lot of time on Anki or flash cards you will learn fewer words. You will pick up fewer incidental, or freebie new words. I find that the time spent scratching your brain over words while doing flash cards is time less well spent than reading and meeting up with your yellow saved LingQs again and again in context.
Want to perfect your Spanish and put your knowledge of vocabulary, grammar, and sentence structure to practice? Try these 25 Spanish writing prompts that tutor Joan B recommends…
To improve your Spanish, it’s important to apply the concepts you’re learning directly in practice. Writing is an especially helpful way to do this, since you can develop and practice specific grammatical structures, and then ask for feedback from a native speaker, your tutor, or a teacher.
The Spanish writing prompts below all address specific concepts that are crucial to expressing yourself fully and correctly. Even though there are many fun ways to learn Spanish, this exercise is very hands-on and your progress will be noticeable.
So grab a pen and paper, and let’s get started!
1) Write a one-paragraph biography of your life so far. This can include a variety of past tenses to describe habitual and one-time actions, as well as tenses to describe events that happened before or after another event. You can also practice using sequencing and transition words such as primero, después, and entonces.
2) Describe your family. Not only will you be using family-related vocabulary, you’ll also get practice describing age and occupation.
3) Create a written sketch of your best friend. Detail why you like him or her, and also make use of physical and personality descriptors (alto, rubio, amable, cómico). You can also explain how you met using the reciprocal verb conocerse.
4)Recount a joke or funny event. This will challenge you to correctly use colloquial expressions as well as unique vocabulary that will take you outside of the box of typical Spanish vocabulary.
5) Relate a specific event, either historical or personal, that occurred. Then rewrite it in the present tense. Bonus points if you rewrite it again in the future tense or the plus perfect tense! This exercise will help you to become faster and more accurate at conjugating verbs in any tense.
6) Write an ad for something (a roommate, an item for sale, etc.). This will help you practice describing cost and specific details (for example, size or shape), as well as expressing requirements and commands in a polite way.
7) Write an opinion piece in which you express your subjective opinions, wishes, and feelings about a controversial issue. This will allow you to practice using the subjunctive mood (when necessary).
8) Discuss an issue that affects the public (a drought, an electricity outage, etc.) and express the impersonal in a variety of ways to give suggestions and recommendations for what people should do (for example, “Hay que comunicar con el gobierno si…“).
9) Imagine you are a king or queen — what would you instruct people to do? Use command forms (for example, “Traiga la comida.”) to order others to fulfill your wishes.
10) Write a dialogue between two people. Use question words to form interrogative sentences, and make sure the other person responds with the appropriate verb form (for example, if the question refers to “you all,” the response to use is “we.”).
11) Write a short story. Try to make it as descriptive as possible while also including lots of action verbs to move the story along. Have fun with it; it can be a crazy story with a creative twist or unexpected angle! You’ll certainly improve your Spanish reading comprehension if you write enough of these!
12) Review a book or film. Take a stance and then justify your reasoning, using connecting words like además, pero, etc.
13) Write an instructional paragraph about how to do something (arrive at a certain location using the bus, cook a particular dish, etc.). Tailor the formality of your words to your intended audience.
14) Write a letter in Spanish to a long-lost love. What would you say to this person to express your anguish, your delight, your memories, and your regrets? Use diminutives to express your affection for the person.
15) Write a paragraph introducing yourself for a job. Describe your education, skills, motivations, and interests.
16) You completely forgot to do a huge assignment that your teacher is now collecting — what can you say to explain why you don’t have the assignment to turn in? What compromise can you request in order to not receive a failing grade?
17) Create a short poem — it doesn’t need to rhyme. Try reading a few poems (check out Pablo Neruda, for example) to find inspiration.
18) Pick an object you know well or have in front of you to observe, then describe the item as fully and descriptively as you can. You can use comparisons (tan … como) and superlatives (el más…).
19) Describe an ideal world (for example, “No habrá.”). This is another opportunity to use the future tense.
20) Write a letter to another foreign-language student. In the format of a pen pal letter, explain what you like about learning Spanish, what you find difficult, what you hope to use Spanish for, and why you decided to learn a foreign language.
21) Convince someone to adopt your position on an issue. Use persuasive language (en mi opinión es necesario….) to convince them of the strengths of your argument and the weaknesses of theirs. You can choose a political topic, a personal decision, or anything else that can be argued for or against.
22) Write a short gratitude note — what are you grateful for today? Express your thanks with words of appreciation.
23) Introduce a reader to your town, city, or region — what’s particularly unique and interesting about it? Aim for the style of language you find in guide books and travel section articles.
24) Where have you traveled to that was interesting? Describe your trip, your travel partners, your activities, and your experience of this new place.
25) What goals would you like to accomplish in the future? If you could do anything, what would you do?
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Try to practice writing one prompt each day or each week; by committing to a specific schedule you’ll make substantial and long-lasting progress as you learn how to speak Spanish. You can also respond to a prompt, go back at a later date, reread what you’ve written, and edit it based on your more advanced knowledge of vocabulary and grammar.
Alternatively, you can also respond again to a prompt without rereading your original copy first, and then compare to see how your Spanish has changed. Most of all, enjoy using these prompts as a creative way to find your voice, en español!
Want more help with beginner or intermediate Spanish? Check out our FREE classes — live and online through the TakeLessons classroom! Learn more here.
Joan B. lives in Carmichael, CA and has been teaching high school Spanish for more than 18 years. A lover of language, she’s studied French, Arabic, and Italian and spent time living in Spain. Joan aims to help students improve on tests and increase their conversational ability when traveling to Spanish-speaking countries. Learn more about Joan here!