What are your experiences with texts with high percentage of unknown words?

I’ve just started tackling Harry Potter and each chapter has about 35% to 50% unknown words much higher than the recommendation.

This obviously is quite slow going as I have to look up a lot and relisten. What are peoples thoughts on doing this type of reading and what have your experiences been.

Did your vocabulary increase dramatically?

Is it better to do something with a lower level of unknown words? Before this I have been doing closer to 10-20%


I did that with The Hobbit. It’s probably not the best way to do it, but it’s doable if you’re prepared to spend your first 300 hours on one book. It ended up taking me the better part of a year to complete, however i can read a book in a week now!

It’s much better to read stuff that’s closer to your level, and leave the difficult stuff for when you want to build LingQs.


I’d have to agree with miscology. It’s much more enjoyable to read things that don’t require you to stop and look up words that frequently. I will say though, the other side of the coin is that if it’s interesting to you, it might feel a bit easier to do. The main issue is whether you’re really gaining a lot of knowledge from this, and unfortunately I think it’s much less efficient than reading closer to your level. I think you’re always better off going with something with as few unknown words as possible. On LingQ, I think this roughly around 10%ish in the words box. Honestly, lower is probably even better, but I can’t really find this ideal material. I push through a lot of 30-40% unknown material in the beginner/intermediate stage because there is a gap of interesting material in that area. Sticking just above your level helps you acquire the grammar patterns and it allows you to acquire new words with fewer encounters (just my opinion on the fewer encounters). Just remember that encountering words that you already know is a great thing. You’ll even find that you don’t really know all the meanings and nuances of the words. You’re gradually building them up a few percentage points each time you encounter them in new situations. When you read a whole book, you’re effectively adding percentage points for thousands of words, and you don’t even need to look at a dictionary. This is what makes extensive reading one of the most powerful tools for vocabulary acquisition. Not too mention that it’s also infinitely more fun than any other option.

I’ll be honest, I’m currently doing Harry Potter on LingQ, and now that I’m at the end of the 2nd book, the new percentage of words is closer to 10-15 % for each chunk. I think I’d have more fun reading if that percentage were lower, but that kind of content isn’t really there for me right now. :smiley: So I have to accept that it’s not the most efficient use of extensive reading time, but I do love getting the opportunity to re-read a favorite book of mine with the bonus of encountering new vocabulary and such. :smiley:


For me, 10% would be ideal. I’m currently reading Coraline and it’s quite challenging, but do-able at 20%. (I’m halfway through after a few months.)

30% and above, at least for me, is like a slog through a mud field.
HP1 is currently 34% (after trudging through ch1)
Laura Gallego’s “Omnia” is 38% (I was thinking of doing this one after Coraline, but now that I see the percentage, I may find something else or tackle HP)
Alicia a través del espejo (Alice through the looking glass) is 47%
and Laura Gallego’s “El coleccionista de relojes extraordinarios” is 50% !!

So, yes, the ideal material that makes me want to read is quite challenging to find. That’s why I’m currently enjoying Olly Richard’s StoryLearning podcast (well under 10%)

and his 30-day story challenges (a new one is starting tomorrow)

If you’re early intermediate, I think Olly’s materials may be right up your alley.


I prefer a 10-20% range. That feels like a sweet spot to me. Not so much that you’re overwhelmed with new words, but not so few that it doesn’t feel like you’re learning anything.

I don’t mind going higher though if it’s something of interest or maybe I know a little bit about the topic or story already. I feel the words don’t sink in very much on these higher percentage content sources since there’s so many new ones but can be a good exercise to get you out of a comfort zone. I suggest reading in sentence mode and looking at the totality of the sentence rather than focusing too much on the individual words. Certainly lingq them, but focus on the meaning in the context of the whole sentence. I will tend to re-read the sentences that have a lot of new words after looking at the sentence translation.


To be honest, I do have his books and find them a bit boring. The other materials I’m using are InnerFrench, but I decided to up the ante for a bit of a change - perhaps I’ve gone too far.
It’s a bit of an experiment just to see. I don’t mind the slow going as I know the stories well even though it’s been a long time since I read them…

Yeh, I do feel a bit overwhelmed with new words at the moment, and I’m interested to see if I can recall them as I progress through the book. It might be a bit too much at once. If the weather is bad this weekend I might do some long Lingq sessions intensively reading and then perhaps once I get to chapter 3 or something I’ll decide if it’s worth continuing.

I am enjoying that it’s different content and a familiar book to me but yeh I can see how it’s not the most efficient if the level is quite a bit above me.

You can use a bilingual translation in English in parallel. I used Deepl translation and added English translation under Notes section.This way I identified so many phrases and collocations in German. That’s how I read through my first e-book (Permanent Record by Edward Snowden)in German and also I was listening to an audio version of it in German simultaneously. It took me round about 35 days to go through 58 lessons in total. Each lesson had round about 150+ unknown words. The end result was very fulfilling. As an analogy, it is like driving on German autobahn with no speed limit then try driving elsewhere in the world. That’s how you feel like when you go back to handling short lessons containing less unknown words. My 2 cents.

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I had this experience recently with this Korean reader series. It’s kind of like a graded readers that gradually get more difficult with each lesson. After I finished the 3rd book I started the 4th book, but the gap between these two was too large for me:

After I did the first lesson my reaction was this
first: “Wow I just made it through this difficult lesson what an accomplishment”
second: “Wow what did I just read? I don’t remember anything…”

so now I’ve gone back to reading easier texts from a different source, they are mostly about 20% some lower, a few higher, depends on the topic

maybe reading a text with a higher % works if you do it with something you’re familiar with, something that you’ve read in your own language before (like Harry Potter or some other book or TV sitcom you’re familiar with…) I don’t know …

I agree with what Steve said on his youtube channel. mix the easy stuff and the difficult stuff. if you only do easy stuff, your progress will be too slow - and if you only do difficult stuff, are you actually learning anything?

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I personally think it’s best to look for something of a lower percentage to focus on. On LingQ I try to find things that are in the 10-20% unknown area. Frankly, at my level right now, that’s difficult to find. Many of the materials listed are 26-40%. While that’s fine for something very short, for a book I think I’d pull out my hair because I struggle to remember anything I’ve read when it becomes just a vocabulary list to work through before even comprehending.

I have the Swedish copies of Harry Potter for the future. While I don’t participate, I read the Reddit Language Learning subreddit a lot. HP books are quite difficult for their levels because there are a lot of words created just for the series which have no real-world counterparts. There is a lot of slang. So in addition to learning those words that are manufactured, you’re trying to make sense of it in a foreign language. Those things, combined with how disappointed I am with JKR overall based on recent news makes me wish I hadn’t bought the books and instead just waited until I had more experience.

Regardless of what we all think, if you like a challenge, definitely don’t back down. Just be sure you give consideration to how much you’re learning versus how much time you’re spending to learn that in order to get through it. It may not be a good use of time at your level.

I’ve been almost in the exact same spot as you. All my first chapters of the first HP book were 20-40% unknown Greek words. Notice that the real number of unknowns was higher, because many yellow words are as good as blue for me. And I don’t even find the first Harry Potter that interesting.
Pretty much everyone would tell you to start with something easier.
On the other hand it is entirely possible to treat this like a sprint and finish this damn book in 1-2 months, even as a complete beginner, so maybe it’s worth a shot - or at least that’s what I was thinking.

I set the pace at one LingQ chapter a day (my HP got split into some 40 chapters) and I did no listening at all. Even with pure reading it was initially very hard. First chapters were the worst. Some places just confused me beyond all recognise, but I just moved forward. One very nice thing about that sort of learning was that I didn’t have to make any decisions about what I’m going to do on a given day. I just picked up where I left and that was it.

Sometimes it took me two or three days to complete a LingQ chapter (about 2 thousand words). Two weeks in, I started to find my rhythm. At this point I was familiar with most basic words and it took me about an hour to finish a chapter, which is an acceptable amount in my daily schedule.

Next HP book had like 10-12 % blue words and I actually found it too easy (knowing around 10 thousand words). For me that was a great learning experience and although I did less listening at that time, I noticed that my comprehension did improve slightly, because I had become more familiar with the basic structures.

The downside is that it turns out this is a book for teenagers and children after all. It might seem difficult at first, but compared to original books for adult foreign readers, it’s a walk in the park. After two HP books I still have 30-40% unknown words in fiction written by Greek authors for mature Greek readers. Also, if you learn a language to follow the news for example or history books, you’d have better progress with reading that stuff, because that’s just another kind of language. Even though it would be more difficult in the beginning, you’d probably pick up the special vocabulary easier and achieve your goals quicker.


What was this Korean reader series called?

My experience with higher unknown word % is that it’s overrated. I’m the type of person to normally take on stuff like this, but after having read high % and low % content, I think the high % is not really worth it. Yes, you may add more known words (in one month I added 7k known words in Russian and another 3k in Spanish), but your reading ability won’t be as good as reading lower % content. Also, it’s more enjoyable to read lower % content. Most LingQ users (including myself for a while) focus on how many known words we have as the best measurement of progress and ability, but I think the two best measures are Words Read and Hours of Listening. To put it in perspective, I have 46k known words in Russian and a little over 1M words read. My goal is to reach 3M words read (which will probably produce 75k-85k known words). The known word count will continue going up as you read more and more, and your comfortability with the words also increases even if you already “know” them. Keep in mind that reading speed also is an important factor in coming across more unknown words. If it takes you 3 hours to read a 2000-word lesson, then that is going to negatively impact how many unknown words you even come across. Not to mention that the understanding of the words you come across will be very low when learning by context and you’ll have to rely heavily on accurate definitions. That defeats the whole point of learning by reading. In that case, just use flashcards.

As a rough estimate, I don’t like when I finish a lesson and there are greater than 150 yellow words per 2000 total words (7.5%). It’s still manageable at this level, but if there are 200 then there is too much that I missed in the reading. On the other hand, if I finish a lesson and have less than 80 (4%), then it felt a little too easy, but this is still probably a decent level to be at. Professor Arguelles says that efficient extensive reading requires something like 97% of known words.


I learned Spanish by reading books from Day 1. The best thing to do is to start with an NL version of the book, side by side with your TL version. This way, the % unknown words won’t matter, and you’ll start picking up words a lot faster because the context will be clearer. Then you can do away with NL version once you can get more comfortable.


I agree some are not the most exciting. But the more recent are much better. The free podcast is VERY good and I like the 30-Day story challenges covering grammar points.

Yonsei Korean Reading

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Name me books you started with if you do not mind.

I started with the Spanish edition of the novel, The English Spy by Daniel Silva, with the audiobook accompaniment.

Hmmm I would recommend that you keep tackling Harry Potter! Don’t look at the percentages, it’s all about enjoying the material. If you are however not enjoying how hard it is to slog through all the unknown words then I would suggest that you maybe read something else at the same time which is a lot easier. So for example: read one chapter of Harry and then one chapter of the easy book. This way you get the benefit of reading something interesting and challenging whilst at the same time not being overwhelmed.

Hope this helps.