read 1 million words

I heard about an interesting idea last week. It’s sort of a mental game, suggested by someone from japan who was learning english. The idea is that if you read a million words, then you’ll be quite good at reading that language. simple enough.

The rules are as follows:

  1. No dictionaries
  2. When you don’t know a word, just keep going
  3. Read a total of a million words.

With something as simple as this, it’s hard to go wrong. There are several ideas that i take away from this game. One is that you should read for enjoyment and read for understanding the story, not just for “sentence mining”. Previously i had trouble getting anywhere in my reading because i was always trying to precisely understand every word in every sentence, and always on the first time that i saw it. This kills the natural ability of my brain to figure things out via multiple exposures.

I used to try and add tons of sentences to anki just because i didn’t know a word in them, and i was always using the dictionary compulsively, but it just slowed me down. What i actually need is better reading speed and more content (ie more input). I don’t need to memorize every word in the order that i see them. If it’s a common word, i’ll see it again soon anyway. No need to worry right now.

This way, i can focus on which words are particularly awesome…something i really want to learn. Hopefully i’ve seen it a couple times already so it has partially sunk into my brain via text, and then i can use anki to fully insert it.

This method is also supposed to be somewhat of a long-term method. Don’t pretend that you’re going to learn a language super-fast overnight, because you’re not. But i think you can actually read a million words in a reasonable amount of time…like several months. This is the proper length of time for your language learning goals. If you expect to see awesome results on the order of days or weeks, then you’re doing it wrong. You will see the BIG results on the order of months, so i think this game is good for that.

In the short term, just read and enjoy reading. Reading is fun! In the long term, it’ll make you awesome. If you can just avoid interrupting your reading to make notes or look up things in the dictionary, you’ll actually get more practice reading and become faster and better at it. In a short time, i’ve already noticed an increase in my chinese reading speed, just by not caring about a couple of unknown words and plowing on through the rest of the text.

Currently i’m reading 祝福, a short story by 鲁迅 (Lu Xun). I estimate there are about 350 words per page and i’ve read 15 pages, so maybe about 5000 words so far. I’ll probably have plenty more reading time this week, so i hope i can get past 20000 words. The book is a collection of short stories by Lu Xun, and i think it has about 80000 words total, so it’s a good start if i can read the whole thing.

Happy reading!

One Response to read 1 million words

  1. Keith says:

    1 million used to be a big number. There was an expression, “one in a million” that meant something or somebody was pretty special. But nowadays, a million dollars is not what it used to be.

    But 1 million words does sound like a lot! I see you are just estimating the number of words you have read.

    The rules for this are brilliant!

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