Wednesday, August 26, 2009

how many hours does it take to understand Chinese 100%?

Mr. gbarv has stated in a comment in the last post here:
I'm sure Keith will someday master his languages, with all that zeal and enthusiasm. It is certainly impressive to go from 0 to 25% percent understanding in Mandarin, but to be fair nearly 100% understanding should be attainable in 550 hours.
I'm surprised that nobody has challenged that yet. But then again, not that many people have kept up with the comments I suppose.

I don't know who he or she is or what background he or she has or what methods he or she proposes. So is Mr. gbarv speaking from experience, expectations, or what?


  1. 550 hours, is an hour a day for over a year and a half. I hope that in that time I will be fairly good, although 100% is always difficult to attain in any language.

  2. We don't understand 100% of audio material even in our native languages. I can say that during the course of a movie I find myself asking my companion(s) what has just been said a few times.

    I've read that a minimum of 60% understanding is needed to grasp the gist, the general message of text or audio. If you understand less than that it arguably means that you don't understand the text as a whole at all.

  3. alexvinidiktov, I do that too, but I still would have understood what was being said if I was paying attention. ;P

  4. I don't think gaining 100% understanding is a realistic goal. In fact, you don't need to have 100% understanding to be fluent. It is just an illusion.

  5. 100% or almost 100% understanding in 550 hours is just a dream, even in 'easy' languages like Spanish or Italian. Sure, it's possbile to understand 100% of your Teach Yourself book's dialogues, but that is no real materials.

    10+ hours of input and learning per day for one and a half years is more realistic to get to the ~100% mark.

  6. I didn't challenge gbarv's comment because I didn't feel it was worth the time. He doesn't have enough experience to know just how many hours it really takes to get from 0 to 100.

    I've now accumulated just over 2000 hours (in just under a years time) of context rich input (audio/visual, and reading once I had a enough experience). And though I can understand 100% of the material that falls under then same "sub-sects" of language as what I've watched and read, as soon as I watch something that doesn't fall under one of those sub-sects my understanding drops (for sports, a little, for particle physics, quite a bit, you get the idea). And rightly so, you can't know what you've never encountered. So for each new sub-sect of language I'm interested in I watch more material until I can understand it. And this process repeats over and over.

    My definition of 100% is when I can wield my second language as well as I wield my first, in not just daily conversation, but in every field that I am well versed in now. Is this impossible? Far from it, it is a matter of time and time always ticks by whether we want it to or not. Make the best of that time and it'll happen soon enough.

    To those of you that think 100% is unrealistic, is that how you treat everything in your life? Do you bend over and accept defeat even before the battle has begun? Do you have no belief in yourself? If you aim to be "pretty-good" then that is what you will end up being. If you aim for flawless perfection then you have a greater chance of reaching it than if you hadn't

    To those that mention not understanding 100% of your native language. It's not about understanding 100% of the language, it's about understanding 100% of the language that you've encountered. If you hear words and phrases that you don't know go google them, find a blog about them, etc. If you just let them pass by you're only feeding your own ignorance.

    To slightly derail back to the comments on the last entry referring to using textbooks, etc. to get an "understanding" of the language before going for immersion. Guys, I know what it's like to want to understand, and know how frustrating it is to watch a show and know jack-squat about what is going on. But you know what, you have to tough-up and get over it. These books and classes are truly only hurting you, and you won't have any idea until later.

    I started out with classic training, around 200 hours of it. We spoke on day one, recieved grades for pronunciation on day one, and every day forward were asked to speak infront of the class in that language. We were also asked to perform hundreds upon hundreds of translation drills from English into the language. And we were also asked to memorize grammar rules and create sentences using them.

    What did this do for me?

    First, it ruined my pronunciation for a really long time. Second, it left me unable to understand native material. Third, it had accustomed my brain to translating words rather than understanding them as they were. Fourth, it had trained me to use grammar rules to understand what was being said.

    I had some serious make up to do.

    If you use books and the like to get a head-start you are doing just the opposite. You are sending yourself backwards for the sake of "understanding". Here's the truth, you have no understanding of the language until you can understand it in that language. To understand that language in your native tongue is worthless. The best thing to do is to drop the books as soon as possible, and starting using materials by native for natives. Movies, tv shows, cartoons, etc. You can even find your favorite hollywood movies dubbed into that language. And don't feel like you're too old for cartoons, once you start immersion you are a kid again so it's ok.

  7. Ouch, the 4096 character limit is harsh =P I had to remove several paragraphs from the middle.

  8. I felt much more "enlightened" a while ago when i read khatsumoto's idea that you should aim to get 10000 hours of input. It sounds crazy if you're used to classroom learning where you do a few hours per week, but it makes you rethink what it will actually take to really learn a language.

    his reasoning was that kids get ~10000 hours of input before they even start speaking, so why should the rest of us expect to do it in like 500 hours? the numbers may vary, but i think the order of magnitude is correct. there's really no way 500 hours could be enough to learn chinese from scratch.

  9. If you listen to the language for 18 hours every day for 18 months, you will reach around 9700 hours. That would give you 8 hours of sleep every day, but you would have to have language input during every other daily activity. I think Khatz counts sleeping hours, too, because he does in fact listen while he sleeps. So at 10 hours a day for 18 months is 5400 hours. Thats still quite a bit more than 550. Also, Keith, is this the only input you get? Or are you just counting active watching as time spend in the language.

  10. ya, clearly all of khatsumoto's input is not equal. I think i agree with Keith that you need input that is connected to experience. Without having two teachers talking / acting at the front of the room, i think the next best thing for those of us playing the home game is TV and reading/listening where we're actively paying attention and trying to figure things out. listening/reading is hard at the start when you don't get that much, but after a while it becomes hugely beneficial once you can form a mental picture of what's going on as you read.

    i still think there's value in non-attentive listening too, though. it really helps me get the language into my head and to get my brain chattering away in the background all day. so definitely some of those thousands of hours of non-attentive listening are helpful.

    the spot where a few hundred hours might work is with a language closely related to your own, and where you use an SRS to give you extra focus on certain input. the stuff i understand the best is where i took a certain line from a tv show, and put it in anki. when that stuff comes up in a further episode, i get it instantly. i don't use any translation in anki, just the actual content itself, for reinforcement.

    i have no data for how long this would take, but i'm trying it with german right now, so i'll let you know next year once i've passed the 500hr mark. I'm only able to do about 3hrs of tv per day, not crazy amounts like 10.

  11. Thanks to all for all the comments!

    @James: For Chinese, I started out with listening-only to Assimil. Last year I started the TV method, and that is the only input and the only Chinese I hear. For the last 4 months and for a few more, Chinese is on hold for me.

  12. Hi! Sorry if I sounded a bit rude. And actually 100% it's a bit of an exaggeration, but I meant a level where you can understand easily the plot of say dramas even if you lose many details, say 80 or even 60%, certanliy more than 25 is doable imn 550 hours, also you mentined you spent about 300 hours on Assimil so that would make 850 hours. I don't count listening in the background, just active listening, paying attention. My point was that you could have be at a higher level if you hadn't refused to use any other kind of study rather that just watching barely comprehensible TV.

    Sorry if I offended any one, it was not my intention.


  13. By the way Ramses, It is no dream I achieved nearly 100% understading of radio and about 80% of movies in French in under 200 hours.

  14. gbarv, my stated figure of 25% is just the actual words used in the dramas. As for understanding what is going on in the dramas, it is no problem. 60 to 80 percent of the what is happening is understandable. As for the Assimil material, it is too limited, too small, not enough, no visual images either. So the Assimil time cannot simply be added onto the TV time.

  15. What I thought gbarv was saying (and it seems as if I was right...) was that you can reach the goal much faster with better content and/or method. Watching/listening to incomprehensible content for thousands of hours is not my method. Yes, Assimil isn't visual, but I wonder if that's a bad thing... No breaks, no music, just pure content.

  16. @gbarv: Chinese is quite a bit harder than French considering that in French nearly every other word is very similar to its English counterpart.


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