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How many books until fluency

  Tags: Fluency | Reading | Book
 Language Learning Forum : Books, Literature & Reading Post Reply
15 messages over 2 pages: 1
Senior Member
United States
Joined 2784 days ago

1386 posts - 3054 votes 
Speaks: English*, French, Marshallese
Studies: Italian, Spanish

 Message 9 of 15
17 October 2015 at 2:51am | IP Logged 
I find that a mix of classic and popular novels works for me. I'll struggle with the
classics, but find that afterwards the popular novels flow much more easily.

I've been working on Italian the past year and a half, so my progress is still fresh
in my mind. I also wasn't even close to the level you have with Spanish, so my guess
is you'll move faster. My experience:

1. J.K. Rowling. Harry Potter e l'Ordine della Fenice. 2003
kindle. HP is a relatively easy introduction to Italian. I knew the basic story and
the characters already, and Rowling uses simple, direct prose. She also uses lots of
unfamiliar adjectives that aren't in the kindle dictionary, but I found that I could
breeze past most of these with just a general understanding of them.

note: the kindle Italian dictionaries suck. I hope the Spanish ones are better.

2. Hugo Pratt. Una ballata del mare salato. 1965
graphic novel. There's usually a lot of slang I need to look up in graphic novels,
but the pictures help a lot! It was still slow going, and I needed to re-read a lot of

3. Carlo Collodi. Le avventure di Pinocchio. 1883.
kindle. Still slow going. The style feels a bit archaic.

4. Luigi Pirandello. Sei personaggi in cerca d'autore. 1921
dual text. There was a lot of word-play and this was hard. I think I relied too
heavily on the English translation.

5. Giuseppe Tomas di Lampedusa. Il gattopardo. 1958
kindle. I had already read this in English, and saw the movie twice. I start to feel
like I'm making progress. Some chapters are a struggle, and some I can read
comfortably without having to look up words constantly.

6. Giorgio Bassani. Il giardino dei Finzi-Contini. 1962
kindle. I'm starting to feel a lot more comfortable reading.

7. Umberto Eco. Il nome della rosa. 1980
kindle, with dual text back up. Surprisingly accessible, and after the first couple
chapters I don't use the dual text again. For the first time I can spend an hour or
more reading without needing frequent mental breaks.

8. Italo Svevo. La coscienza di Zeno. 1923     (partial)
kindle. A struggle, partly due to the writing style.

9. Italo Calvino. Le città invisibili. 1972
hard cover, with English back up. Calvino has a huge vocabulary, and I rely a lot on
the English version.

10. Dante Alighieri. La divina commedia: Inferno. 1317
dual text. Is this even "Italian?" Enjoyable, but I needed the English.

11. Paolo Giordano. La solitudine dei numeri primi. 2010.
hard copy, no English back up. This was a major breakthrough - my first novel without
a crutch!

12. Dino Buzzati. Il deserto dei tartari. 1940
hard copy. omg I'm reading Italian. The last novel wasn't a fluke!

13. Primo Levi. Se questo è un uomo. 1947
hard copy. This was such an incredible and powerful book. I'd read a lot of the
chapters twice, once straight through and then once slower & looking up a lot to make
sure I caught everything.

14. Umberto Eco. Baudolino. 2000 (partial)
kindle. Not too hard, but slow going. I wasn't engaged in the story at all.

15. Primo Levi. La tregua. 1963
hard copy. I'm feeling pretty confident about my abilities now, and can guess the
meaning of a lot of unknown words through context.

current: Italo Calvino. Le cosmicomiche. 1965
hard copy. A sci-fi story about the history of the universe where each character is
based on an abstract mathematical symbol. This is a real test for me; if I can
understand experimental science fiction then I figure I'm close to reading fluency!

Edited by kanewai on 17 October 2015 at 3:07am

7 persons have voted this message useful

Mork the Fiddle
Senior Member
United States
Joined 1864 days ago

86 posts - 158 votes 
Speaks: English*
Studies: Norwegian, Latin, Ancient Greek

 Message 10 of 15
17 October 2015 at 7:36pm | IP Logged 
James29 wrote:
Mork, how much did you do in French in addition to the 1,200,000 words? Did you already have a pretty good base in French (other than reading)?

I took 12 hours of French in college in the 60s. Those classes taught me the basics of grammar. Much closer in time to then than to now I read La condicion humaine by Malraux and bits and pieces of Montaigne. In Paris in the mid 80s I bought a three-volume edition of A la recherche du temps perdu and read, say, 100 pages of that. Somewhere during that time I memorized a few dialogues of French a couple of times. The Paris trip was my only exposure to spoken French.

After the 80s I worked with French only very seldom and never for very long periods of time. But the basics of grammar stuck with me, at least for the purpose of reading. So that's where I was when I resumed French (in about 2011). I bought one or two books of exercises in French grammar and expression, worked on them for a week or two, and then tossed them aside because boredom set in.

Hope this helps, James.
4 persons have voted this message useful

Senior Member
United States
Joined 3270 days ago

1265 posts - 2112 votes 
Speaks: English*, Spanish
Studies: French

 Message 11 of 15
17 October 2015 at 9:01pm | IP Logged 
Yes, that is helpful. I was trying to get an idea how much reading one would have to do (without much background in the language) in order be able to read books the way you describe.
1 person has voted this message useful

Senior Member
Joined 2428 days ago

1546 posts - 3200 votes 
Studies: German

 Message 12 of 15
18 October 2015 at 11:33pm | IP Logged 
I have been learning German three years. Over that time I have watched about +1000 movies and read +25000 pages of (60) novels. I would classify myself (for understanding) as advanced-intermediate/low-advanced.

In a practical sense, I can enjoy TV shows and the like as a completely immersive experience where I forget which language I am hearing. On the other hand I find public radio shows (mostly) understandable, but nowhere near as immersive, presumably as the language is more technical.

I can read a good the daily newspaper without a dictionary, but there are certainly missing words. I can read popular novels fine too, but it's not that I can just read anything easily.

I am very happy with my progress, but I think it will take years, and much more reading before I can comfortably read everything I would like.

My sense is that there are rapid gains early on, which gradually slow down over time. So depending how you define things, you might have to do a lot of reading to get to a "high level".

In mathematical terms, information increases at the square root of the amount of evidence collected. So if you double the amount of evidence, you only increase the amount of information by 1.4 (not 2), if you quadruple the amount of evidence you only increase the amount of information by 2 (not 4), and so on. I suspect that reading is similar. So given I have read 60 books now, I'll probably have to read (at least) another 180 to effectively double my knowledge of German. Essentially that last bit to high level mastery takes a long long time.

Edited by patrickwilken on 18 October 2015 at 11:34pm

6 persons have voted this message useful

Senior Member
United States
Joined 3863 days ago

138 posts - 154 votes 
Speaks: English*
Studies: Spanish, French

 Message 13 of 15
24 October 2015 at 7:05pm | IP Logged 
Thanks for the great replies everyone. I've always liked this forum.

Patrick, what would you say your speaking ability is like in German? Are you able to have regular conversations with native speakers without problems? I'd like to ask the same question to everyone else too.

I'm going to keep chipping away at Spanish. The Hunger Games book is going pretty well. I'm starting to get a lot more flow going with the reading. With TV or dubbed movies, I still miss a lot of little things, but I often forget I'm listening in Spanish, and can enjoy things. However, I have a terrible time speaking. I went to Hope Depot yesterday, and couldn't for the life of me really explain what I wanted to buy (a desiccant product). My apartment's water smelled like rotten eggs when I got home, so I found the repairman, and I said something along the lines of "There's a strange smell from of the water. It smells like Thursdays and I don't know why." I can sometimes can my point across with bad grammar, but as far as having a real conversation or making friends with someone here, it's hopeless.
1 person has voted this message useful

Senior Member
Joined 2428 days ago

1546 posts - 3200 votes 
Studies: German

 Message 14 of 15
25 October 2015 at 12:11pm | IP Logged 
glidefloss wrote:

Patrick, what would you say your speaking ability is like in German? Are you able to have regular conversations with native speakers without problems? I'd like to ask the same question to everyone else too.

My grammar is not great, but I have been told it's not bad. I have no way of really judging as everything is automatic. My vocabulary is pretty good, so I have no trouble understanding what people are saying. This makes a huge difference in conversations: people can talk normal fast idiosyncratic German to me without worrying about me not understanding.

When I speak I speak at a normal speed without any great trouble with vocabulary. The problem is that I don't always use correct grammar and my pronunciation can be off which makes some words difficult to understand.

I find it depends a lot on the person I am talking with. Some people understand me fine, others seem to have great difficulty. I think in part this comes down to how much effort people are willing to expend in talking to me.

6 persons have voted this message useful

Senior Member
United States
Joined 3863 days ago

138 posts - 154 votes 
Speaks: English*
Studies: Spanish, French

 Message 15 of 15
04 January 2016 at 10:46pm | IP Logged 
I've been continuing to read in Spanish. I haven't been doing much else with the language except watching some TV, and using simple phrases for small errands.

1 Harry potter 3 300
2 Harry Potter 4 400
3 Zetas 200
4 En el camino 394 (still need to read last 90 pages or so)
5 Estrella distante 157

6 La vuelta al mundo en 80 dias (abridged) 180
7 En Llamas (Juegos del hambre 2)400
8 Sinsallo (400) (only finished half)
9 El Juego de Ender (174 long pages, around 380 regular pages)
2517 pages
10. La Sombra de Ender (484 pages)
3001 pages
11 La Sombra del Hegemon (480 pages, stopped with 200 ages more to go)
12 La Comunidad del Anillo

Lord of the Rings is fairly difficult. I can understand many parts of it fine. (I have read it before, years ago, in English.) But when the characters are walking for pages and pages, I completely lose track of the complicated (and boring) descriptions.

The last Hunger Games book was too boring to finish, as was Shadow of the Hegemon.

I'm approaching approximately 4000 pages (the same page count as Proust's In Search of Lost Time, which another member mentioned as being a milestone.) I am more comfortable with passive vocabulary, and passive grammar. I don't notice myself using many of the phrases of words when speaking.

I was thinking of continuing to read Lord of the Rings, then the Hobbit, then Confederacy of Dunces. After that I would really like to read some books that were originally written in Spanish.

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