A student has asked me this question, which I thought might be interesting to open up to a broader audience:
After how long and how much study does a new scholar become proficient enough in Sanskrit to read the original unaided (especially if the AOS is primarily philosophy)?
My reply was this:
Your question is a good one, and I think it has no single good answer. If you are thinking about reading without a dictionary, then that depends on how much time you’ve put into reading that author and genre after getting two to three years of solid grammatical study. I think that after five years, it would be possible to read many texts without frequent recourse to a dictionary or grammar. And it depends on the author. Being able to read Gaṅgeśa’s navya-Nyāya style will take longer than being able to read Vātsyāyana’s commentary on the Nyāya-sūtra, which is much simpler grammatically, and less wide-ranging in vocabulary. Reading Mīmāṃsā texts requires a lot of understanding of Vedic ritual and other texts, too (especially the brāhmaṇas). However, this also assumes that one is practicing reading and not just translating.
After initially learning grammar, many students continue to “crack” sentences by analyzing sandhi, compounds, verb conjugations, etc., rather than to read as one reads difficult texts in one’s own primary languages. That is, to read holistically, not always stopping to look up problem words, but entertaining the best reading provisionally against context, and going on to check if that’s right. Grammatical analysis then begins to work in the background and is foregrounded in cases where there is difficulty.