Originally Posted by ficbot
Has anyone ever heard of a number for something like this?
Not heard. I did it.
I have started to learn English after I reached 18 years of age. At that time I was fluent in 3 languages. One mother language, another that I was exposed to from a very early age and a third, learned in school during some 9 years of study.
So, after a couple of years of learning English I have decided that I want to use my love for books to improve my English. This is how I learned my second language - reading, listening, watching TV.
So, I went to the Library and started to borrow simplified editions of books in English. We have nice library system here in this country, and I was lucky, because my library had nice, if rather limited (perhaps 6 meters of standard library bookshelves, 2 meters high, of fiction) selection of English language books. There are many levels of simplified books and I started with the lowest one. You have to build skill reading in particular foreign language. So I went through perhaps 70 books (with average page count perhaps 50 pages) in increasing difficulty.
In the meanwhile I continued to study at [evening] language school. The last simplified book I have tried to read was "Call of the wild" by Jack London. I had to abandon the book, it was so difficult for me. It was also the highest level of difficulty among the simplified editions. I never used dictionary to read the books, and I couldn't understand Mr. London even when I tried to use one. I went back to the library, very, very unhappy. At the library I noticed a book by Dick Francis, one of my very favorite authors. So I took it home and went through it in a few days. Little did I understood at that time, how incredibly lucky I was. Mr. Francis is one of the most accessible authors for non-native English readers. So I returned to the library and brought some 5 "regular" fiction books home. I was able to read one. Slowly I went through library books, and eventually I was able to read most of the books in the library.
After some three or four years (of reading a book a week) I saw I was way ahead of my classmates. When there was an exercise where you had to choose one of very similar words to finish a sentence I was starring. I could just look and see, somehow, if the text looked right or not. Most of the time I was right.
When it came to memorising grammar rules I was at, or below average. But understanding the text, talking and USING grammar was easy.
Eventually I have exhausted the English books selection in Library in my town. I haven't read all that stuff, because I wasn't interested in about half the books - stuff for girls, compulsory reading for school (Dickens and company). When I was almost desperate for a new, good quality English fiction (at that time new books in English have been prohibitively expensive here in this country) I have discovered ... drumroll ... EBOOKS. This was long before the first reading devices. Even pocket computers were very expensive at that time. The selection of ebooks was much, much smaller than it is today, but you can always get something good to read on the net.
Until now I have read *well* over a thousand books in English. I lost count a long time ago. Recently I took a test at www.testyourvocab.com
and I was very pleased with the result. It measured my vocabulary at level of university educated native English speakers (Americans). Not bad for somebody that learned English as an adult, as fourth language.
Writing on the forum (at least one post a day), a few months in a foreign county, studying for 8 years in an "evening" language school and constant watching of Discovery channel helps too ;-), but the books DO have significant impact. Especially if you read them every single day for years and years. For quite a few years I read 99% of books in English.
At this moment I can read almost any fiction in English with full understanding. I say almost, because I haven't tried Finnegans Wake, Ulysses and similar books. I can enjoy play with words and nuances in fiction books. At work I am (among many other things) also translator and interpreter.
Some of the words I have learned reading books most recently:
Clairvoyant, adze, sorghum, atlatl
Recently I have started to use dictionary built-in in my reader. It is OK to use dictionary if you do not *need* it to follow the book. If you find yourself using dictionary often, get an easier [to read] book ;-). Reading a book that you wouldn't read in your mother language (just because it is in French or English or whatever language), or reading a book where you need to use the dictionary to follow the book quickly becomes a chore and you will read less. I think that it is more valuable for your education to read a book that you can follow easily - because you read more and you read with joy.