Unknown words and reading choices

So I finished a book a couple of days ago and was not sure what to read next. I picked up a spanish book at random, started it and thought “this is pretty hard going”, switched to another, and then another. I finally settled on Tunel by Ernesto Sabato. It was very easy to read, and that made me curious as to what the unknown word % for this books at this moment in my language learning is. I don’t normally pay attention to this, so putting a random chapter into lingq gave me:

4.8% Tunel (Ernesto Sabato)

I compared that to some other books resting in my kindle:

14.3% Terra Nostra (Carlos Fuentes)
11.0% La Muerte de Artemio Cruz (Carlos Fuentes)
9.4% El Amor de Los Tiempos del Colera (Gabriel Garcia Marquez)
8.8% La Casa de Los Espiritus (Isabel Allende)
7.4% Abbadon el exterminador (Ernesto Sabato)

And just for fun:

7.0% El Codigo da Divinci (Dan Brown)
6.3% Kane y Abel (Jeffery Archer)

No wonder this book is easy to read!

So my question is, does anyone else take % unknown words into account when considering what to read. And also does anyone have an opinion on the optimal % for language learning. 4.8% almost feels a little too easy, although the book is good so I will continue. 14.3% is painful, especially for reading for pleasure and I don’t think I will go anywhere near Carlos Fuentes until my Spanish has improved a bit more.

(By the way I know the simple answer is “read what interests you” but I am taking that as a basic assumption. I know, from reading him in English, that I would enjoy reading Gabriel Garcia Marquez. But at 9.4% it’s a bit of an uphill struggle.)


That’s why I’m trying to ask the LingQ team to improve the searching by the percentage. I would like to have not the checkboxes 1 - 5%, 5 - 10%, 10 - 15%, 15 - 25%, > 25% but the ability to set any range. For example, 15-19%.

I find it very important to stay motivated when the content is neither too easy, nor too hard.

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Good idea, I don’t use the library but having more control with searching by % I imagine would be useful. The more I think about it the more this % is a unique advantage of using lingq. It really enables you to fine tune your material to your current level, much more so than any other system I’ve come across. And miles better than grading material as “intermediate” or “advanced”.

Great reading choices! Tunel is on my list of books to read :slight_smile: When choosing a book, I have never taken into account the percentage of unknown words, nor will I ever do so. If I’m interested in a particular novel, poetry collection, etc., I just dive in and read it. When the going gets rough I manage. How else should one get from intermediate to advance? How else to broaden ones knowledge? There is nothing but great revelations in store when one dares to wrestle with a text however difficult. I think that if I were to use a percentage-based approach to reading in a foreign language, it would greatly restrict the learning process for me.

I half agree, and applaud you for your positive attitude! My reticence is that if the level is too high, and I am stopping to study a word every other sentence, I lose a sense of “flow” that I associate with reading for pleasure. I think it is always good to challenge yourself, but I feel it can be a bit disheartening if you start feeling swamped by new words. I feel there is a sweet spot, and I am interested in better ways to find it. Thus my curiosity about percentages.

Tunel is great by the way. Gripped.

“putting a random chapter into lingq”…

How did you import the chapter into lingq?

Same way everything else is imported: Login - LingQ

(Nearly) everything I read in Spanish is eventually imported into Lingq and contributes to my known words.

Majority of the literature when it comes to vocabulary acquisition through extensive reading suggest that 95%-98% word knowledge is ideal. Less than that and what you end up doing is some great gisting, and the content becomes harder to follow as you push through it. 95-98% and you will get the meanings from context most of the time.

Interesting, Brad. You got any citations for that? 2% unkown words sounds incredibly low. And we also have to draw a distinction between what the literature means by word knowledge and word knowledge on Lingq. When I open a new lesson the % might be 15% but after I have converted all the blue words to knowns or to lingqs it may drop significantly. If we’re just counting the yellow lingqs I’d agree with the 2-5%, but if we mean lingqs and blue knowns, that feels too low.

I’m going to have to go searching. The philogist Pr Arguelles might be a place to start. I’ll have to see whether my log in to the Uni Library still works. Alexander Arguelles - Reading Literature in Foreign Languages: Tool, Techniques, Target - YouTube is his latest video. Steven Krashen would be another I’d read. I’ve read others. There are a few…

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Thanks! That looks interesting. Starting to read Spanish for pleasure about two years ago was almost certainly the most important turning point in my language learning. I love to read and strangely I had got it into my head that because I enjoyed it and it was easier than speaking and listening I should avoid it - and focus on my weaker areas. I’m so glad I changed my approach! Incidentally I wonder how to estimate our word family number from our lingq known word number.

Interesting… Arguelles defines extensive reading as reading without a dictionary and thus it has to be 98% to get accurately from context. I’ve always read Spanish with an e-reader and a built-in dictionary. A definition is just a finger press away. This way it is easy to read at 95% or lower without getting lost and barely slows your reading down.

I confess I use an ereader too, though these days my dictionary is in Spanish. Admittedly I’ve only been speaking for around 10 months, so I’m a work in progress. I definitely need to practice my writing more.

I’ve thought about it too, I’ve thought divide by three to take into account that Spanish has sooo many different tenses and conjugations :smiley:

:slight_smile: I don’t think an e-reader is anything to confess about! It means you can read more interesting material with a lower language ability. I can’t see a problem with that, it makes the experience more enjoyable!

Do you use a kindle? I looked the other day for a good Spanish-Spanish dictionary for it and couldn’t find one, but would be good to have one.

An iPad Mini with a combination Kindle, iBooks and Google Play Books. The retina screen doesn’t tire my eyes and the backlight in bed doesn’t annoy my partner. Admittedly, I read to her aloud in Spanish most nights as she goes to sleep.

I set all the language settings to Spanish to annoy my son who borrows it from time to time.


OK two observations after watching the Arguelles video.

(1) His 2% corresponds to a LingQ lesson AFTER we’ve done all our lingqing because he suggests reading a page and counting the unknown words. The % on LingQ really is a measurement of Unencountered Words which includes but is not limited to Unknown Words. So if we took his advice on LingQ (and confused the two %) we would end up reading material that is much too easy for our level.

(2) LingQ and E-readers are both really interesting and innovative because they really make possible a form of intensive extensive reading which he doesn’t discuss. We can read extensively but not have to depend solely on context and our knowledge of word families because (2a) lingq’d words make us notice unknown words - that we otherwise might skip over and (2b) instant translations give us support when we really need it, aiding overall comprehension, flow and our ability to tackle harder texts.

Which all adds to the argument that LingQ is one of the most powerful language learning tools around!

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In my experience, anything over 10% is a drag to read. You have to be really motivated. Under that you can actually enjoy reading and learn a bunch of new words in the process.

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I think that’s about right. Looking at the books I’ve given up on and the ones I’ve finished, I think it’s about 8-10%. Much below 5% it starts to feel a little bit too easy.

I think there is a great difference between reading a book away from the computer, without immediate access to an an online dictionary, or LingQ functionality, and doing so at LingQ. Away from the computer I like 95% known words. On LingQ I like to be around 15-20% unknown words. If I stick with content at 5% unknown words, it will simply take too long to reach the level of vocabulary I need, not to speak of the interest level of most of the easier content.