I’m making good progress towards my goal of reading a million words of German. I’m starting to get really caught up in the novel I’m reading, which is a fantasy novel that I read in English about 10 years ago. This is an update of how it’s going so far, but first a quick word on exactly what I’m doing.
My methodology has adapted slightly over the course of this experiment. What I’m currently doing is spending time just reading, with no dictionary…but I’ve made the slight adjustment that I can write down a couple of words every page. Sometimes I do this while reading, other times I go back through a couple pages I’ve read and pick out a couple of words. Later on, when I’m on the computer, I’ll take this list of words or phrases and make some of them into flashcards in Anki.
The purpose of all the reading is to get vast amounts of input. I do this with no dictionary beside me because each dictionary lookup takes away valuable reading time, and ruins the sense of immersion. Previously when I tried to read this book (about 8 years ago) I really got stuck on it because I tried to use the dictionary to look up almost every word i didn’t know. I lost all the enjoyment that comes from reading, and I didn’t get much exposure to the language….just lots of boring dictionary time.
On the other hand, I really think there’s some value in looking up a small number of things. Looking back at my logs, I seem to have written down an average of 3 words per page…sometimes zero, sometimes up to 10 if I got greedy. I try not to write down any word until I’ve seen it at least a couple of times. There are still plenty of frequent words that I don’t know, so there are many possibilities. If there’s a word that I haven’t seen at all before then chances are that I’m not going to see it again for a while, so the more frequent words are a higher priority right now.
This does two things for me. It builds my vocabulary in order of frequency, which gets me a lot of results very fast. This is encouraging, and encouragement is vitally important. Most of language learning is just keeping your motivation up. The other thing it does is increase my understanding of the story quicker than trying to absorb every word just via context. Yes, I’m getting plenty of words based on context too, but some of them continually occur in really general contexts and are hard to guess. These also tend to be really useful words.
Now let me be clear here, that on each page of approximately 320 words (avg) there are probably at least 100 words that I don’t know. If I looked up all the words I didn’t know, then after 2 pages I would have done more dictionary lookups than I’ve done for about 100 pages of reading already. What a supreme waste of time it’d be if I only read 2 pages and tried to learn every word in them. Instead, I’m getting much more benefit from reading vast numbers of pages.
Besides more cards in anki, the soft benefit I’m getting is i have more sense of comfort with German. At the beginning, reading was very tough, and I didn’t get much of the story. All that kept me going was that I’d already read the book in English 10 years ago, so I knew the vague outline of the story and who the characters were.
Right now at the 31000-word mark, I feel very comfortable with any spoken dialog between the characters. I still don’t know all the words, but I always get what they’re saying generally. The narrator’s description of the scenes and events happening is much tougher. In those spots, there tends to be much more varied and elaborate vocabulary. Whenever a character says something like “wait here, I’ll go get my sword”, then it’s followed by a few lines of stuff like “and he carefully lifted the masterfully crafted broadsword as it scintillated in the chilly eve’s moonlight”. Ugh. Sometimes I wish he’d just say “and then he went and got the sword” 😉
The other thing I’ve noticed lately is the huge connection between audio content and what I’ve read. Reading is really improving my understanding of spoken German, and listening to an hour of spoken German really makes reading much easier if I do it immediately after listening. Watching TV is great too, since there’s tons of dialog, which is much easier than dense description.
The result of this is that I’m really motivated to gather some TV shows, probably starting with Star Trek: Deep Space 9. If i order the full series from Europe, it comes dubbed in English, German, Spanish, French, and Italian. This could be great for my future plans for Spanish and Italian 😉
Anyway, I’m off to do some more reading. I’m only 3% of the way to my goal, but I’m already excited by my progress. This book has about 270000 words in it, by my estimate, so it’ll take me about 1/3 of the way to the goal. Next I have some new books coming along with the German audio version, so I’ll be able to listen and read at the same time, hopefully resulting in a whole new level of progress. Stay tuned for more details as the experiment evolves.