Reading is a crucial part of any language learning, as it helps you to improve your other skills, such as writing, grammar, and vocabulary. It can also help with speaking skills, in some ways! Although it can be difficult to begin the challenge of reading in English, it’s a decision you won’t regret, once you begin. Many questions come to mind, like “how long to read?” or “which books to read?”. To help you, we’ve come up with five tips which will help you improve your reading skills, so that you can 1) learn as much as possible, and 2) enjoy it!
1. Choose wisely
When choosing something to read in English, It’s important that you choose something which is interesting and enjoyable for you. It will also help your understanding if you choose a topic which you are already slightly familiar with, as you will be able to predict some of the vocabulary in the reading. It’s also a good idea to pick something slightly smaller, if you are new to reading in English. Although it seems like an impressive task to pick a famous English novel like Wuthering Heights or Great Expectations, remember that some of these novels are difficult even for native speakers, so don’t put too much pressure on yourself. Try to choose a short to medium length book that follows a simple plot and doesn’t use overcomplicated vocabulary. It’s even recommended to read a book designed for children or small teenagers to get started! Of course, if you’ve reached a higher level of English, and you feel ready to take on a challenge, feel free to try a more advanced piece of reading! But for beginners, start with something small. Another excellent idea is to try a bilingual book. These are small books which print the English version on the opposite page. They’re an excellent way to understand vocabulary in context, and they also show how direct translation cannot be achieved between languages. Seeing the change in language between both pages will really help you to improve not just your reading skills, but your own written and spoken skills.
2. Set a goal
As we’ve said in the earlier point, it’s crucial not to overwhelm yourself when you begin reading in English. As I’ve explained, choosing a small and easy-to-understand book is a great way to start. Another useful thing you can do is to set a reading goal for yourself. This can be time-oriented, e.g., 10 minutes of reading per day, or it can be content-orientated, e.g. 5 pages per day. Although these seem like small objectives, it’s really important that you don’t set unrealistic goals which are unrealistic, as you will only discourage yourself and fail to progress, so don’t expect yourself to find 2 hours a day to dedicate to reading, or ask yourself to read a book within a week. Reading in English should be something that fits naturally and effortlessly into your routine, and above all, it should be something that you enjoy!
You can even get creative with your goals as you advance in your language level. For example, you can challenge yourself to read until you find 5 new words, or 3 new phrasal verbs, or 2 new idioms. You can also keep track of your progress, e.g. noting all the new words you’ve learned this month, or the books you’ve read this year.
3. Take notes
It’s common knowledge that an effective way to remember things is to write them down. You can do this in many different ways. For example, you can keep a notebook beside you while you read and write down all the structures or words that you don’t understand. Another thing you can do is make a note of when certain vocabulary is used, in order to know when you should use it yourself. By this, I mean pay attention to the register of the writing (is it formal or informal?), the relationship between characters, the situation, etc. By doing this, you will help yourself to remember what you want to learn, and how to use it properly. It can also be useful to use coloured pens and highlighters to underline or circle words in a book, so that they will stand out. It can also help you feel more connected to a piece of writing if you have your own notes written on the page. Another important tip is to remember to take note of words you already know, but don’t use. Sometimes, when we feel like we know the majority of words in a piece of writing, we read it quickly and don’t think about it. But ask yourself, “Okay, I know all of these words, but do I use them?” If the answer is no, take a note of what you don’t use and aim to use it in your next conversation!
A good way to test your understanding of a piece of writing is by summarizing it. This can be done either via writing or orally, either of which will be another great practice for you! In order to summarize something, you need to give the gist (the general idea) of what you’ve read. This doesn’t mean including every detail, but the main ideas and themes. When writing a summary, make sure you have included these basic ideas, but that you don’t develop them. A good way to test if you’ve written a good summary is the following: Give your summary to someone who has no idea or previous knowledge about the topic at hand. If they understand, more or less, the gist of the main text from your summary, you’ve done a good job. Summarizing something orally is more or less the same thing, but a little more difficult, as you don’t have the words in front of you. It’s a good idea to summarize something orally to yourself after you’ve read it. In other words, pretend you are explaining to someone the gist of what you’ve read. It will help you to check your understanding and let you know if you need to go back and re-read the text. If you’re reading a larger text, it can be a good idea to summarize as you go, by checking your understanding of the reading after every few pages. This will help you to stay on track and not lose focus.
Re-reading is an essential tool when it comes to improving your reading skills. It’s pretty simple to understand, really. We all have topics which are easier to speak about, for example, our jobs, our families, our neighborhoods, etc. This is no coincidence: these are the topics we talk about most frequently, with both strangers and friends alike. This repetition allows us to achieve fluency and confidence when it comes to these topics. When we read something for the first time, it’s like speaking about a brand-new topic. It’s challenging and a little scary. So, what can we do? Read, and read again. Let’s take a page of a book for an example. You can begin by scan-reading the page, to understand the general idea of what’s happening. Next, you can read the words properly, underlining what you don’t understand, and finding their meanings. Then, you can read it again, now that you understand all the words. Lastly, read it one more time, this time out loud, so you can also practice your pronunciation of these new words. Having read it four times, I’m sure you’ll feel a lot more confident and familiar with this text.
Although reading can be seen as a difficult task, and perhaps not the most fun, it’s an excellent activity to do to practice your English. As with all English activities, doing this will help you improve other skills, such as writing and speaking. It’s extremely important that you have an ability to read well in English, as there are many situations which require you to read and understand texts in English, ranging from work emails, to novels, to official documents. So, the next time you’re faced with a reading challenge and feel overwhelmed, try some of these tips to make the process a little easier, and don’t give up!