I forgot to mention one thing in yesterday’s manifesto: I keep track of my progress by the number of words I’ve read. My initial goal, like that of many other beginning extensive readers, is to read a million words. I track my progress because it’s motivating and doesn’t take much time, and I started by using words instead of number of books or number of pages because that is what my friends doing extensive reading in English do, but I’ve stayed with it because it reflects effort better: with number of books, one 2,000 word book doesn’t seem as impressive as five 400 word books, and with pages, a book with 1,500 words and one with 3,000 words might be just as long, but the easier book has bigger text and more pictures.

I estimate the number of words by flipping through the book and trying to find a page with a moderate amount of text; some pages have more, some pages have less, so I look for one that’s about in the middle. Then, I count the number of words. I omit particles but count things such as ながら and まで, and I count long verbs separately — that is, something like 描いてくれました would be two words, in my system. I tend to round down – so if there’s 37 words on the page, I’ll count it as 35. Then I count the number of pages with text on them — not the total number of pages — and multiply that by my representative word count.

I think the system’s biggest flaw is that I decided not to count particles, and now I think I should have; English word counts include words like “a” and “the,” and particles are hardly just empty characters. So now I suspect I’m significantly low-balling my word counts, and that a million words by my system would be a lot more than a million words of English. That actually feels right, because I feel I’m a lot closer to my goal than my current percentage of 16% would indicate. I bet that character count would be the best way to keep track of progress, because that you could theoretically do accurately — you’d probably just need cooperation from publishers.

Still, even if my system is objectively wrong, it’s at least consistent. There are exceptions, but a level 1 book is usually between 50-100 words, level 2 books between 100-1,000 words, level 3 books between 1,000-3,000 words, level 4 books between 3,000-5,000 words and level 5 books between 5,000-10,000 words.

I also use 読書メーター (Reading Meter) to track what I’ve read; it has graphs that show the total number of pages and total number of books read. I don’t really have any reason to do so, other than that I am a sucker for cheerful graphs.

I don’t mind the inaccuracy at the moment (I like having a crazy goal) but it might be worth revisiting. Thoughts?


2 Responses to About Word Counts

  1. El Lobo says:

    Just a few hours ago I came across the concept of extensive reading. I haven’t been able to stop researching it since. I’m enthralled by the idea. Your word counts were kind of confusing to me. I thought maybe you had an e-reader that has a word count functionality, but I see your system as very competent. Perhaps you should have done yourself a favor and counted the particles, but you seem to have learned from your mistake and as a person interested in partaking in extensive reading, I find it helpful to read your retrospection. Don’t worry about the accuracy. As long as you are consistent and know relative progress…I’m sure you’ll be fine! In the end, you still read the same amount, regardless of what your count says.

  2. Liana says:

    Thanks for commenting! If you give it a shot, let me know :)

    The more I read, the more I think that character counts would have been best. For now I’m simply OK not worrying about it — when there’s more extensive readers out there, maybe we’ll think about it a little more. I do think it’s a better metric than pages, though; the level 3 books I’ve been reading clock in at around 75-85 pages, but a level 4 book of the same length will have many more words, and a level 5 book that’s not much longer will have even more words than that! So like you say, it’s good for relative progress.