An idea to read literature in languages you semi-understand

A big part of the fun of learning a language is being able to read interesting and complex things on them – for me, that would be literature. In particular, I started learning Russian many years ago in order to be able to read Russian literature in the original.

The problem with reading literature (or anything quite complex) is that you are not fully fluent in the language, so there are lots of words you don’t understand. Interestingly enough, it is vocabulary, not grammar, that gets in the way.

So I tried two approaches that didn’t work:

Recently I started adding the words I didn’t know on an Anki deck. The idea would be that I would translate them and then review the Anki deck. However, I didn’t do much of that and mostly the cards stayed there, untranslated and unreviewed. However, I kept on adding the words I didn’t know to Anki. The interesting thing is that, somehow, stopping to notice the words I don’t understand seems to be the sweet spot. I feel I’m no longer losing the thread of the narrative, and it’s so much less work to add a word to an Anki card (and never review it) than to go and look up a definition.

This shouldn’t work, but it seems it does. So perhaps the sweet spot is to stop and notice the words you don’t understand – and then just keep on going. A friend remarked that that’s what you usually do when you’re a kid and you are learning your own language.