When learners ask me for advice about how to improve their English, I often tell them to read. In fact, I think reading is one of the best things you can do. Today, I want to tell you a bit more about why, what and how you should read!
Why you should read
1. One of the most important things that everybody needs to do in order to improve their English is to learn more vocabulary. And one of the best ways to learn vocabulary is to read! When you read something, you’ll probably find some new words that you want to learn. Also, words are often repeated and this is good because you’re more likely to remember a word if you see it a few times.
2. Reading doesn’t just teach you vocabulary. You can also learn about grammar by reading and it helps you to get a good feeling for what sounds natural in English. This will even help you to speak and write better!
3. Reading is something which you can easily do on your own. People often say that they want to improve their English but they have nobody to practise with. Well, you can read by yourself and you don’t need a partner!
4. The Internet gives you an enormous amount of learning material for free. If you don’t have money for English lessons or books, you can always find something to read online.
What you should read
1. Read something that you enjoy. It doesn’t matter if you read books, newspapers, magazines, websites or social media but you’ll be more motivated if you enjoy it.
2. It’s important to read something that’s the right level for you. If it’s too easy, you won’t learn anything new. If it’s too advanced, you will lose confidence and might give up. You want to find something with a few new words but not too many.
3. If your English is advanced, you can read anything you like! You can, and should, read things which are written for native speakers and not just for learners.
4. If your English is not advanced, you might like graded readers. These are books that are written in easier language for English learners. They come in different levels making it easier for you to find something at your level. You can get them in a bookshop or online.
5. There are lots of websites with reading materials for English learners, at all different levels. You can find a list of suggestions here.
How you should read
1. If you are reading in order to learn more vocabulary, then you need to be an active reader, not passive. Don’t just read the words but check that you understand what you’re reading. Notice things like how the present perfect is used in a sentence or interesting idioms. Look for words that you didn’t know before.
2. If you really want to improve your vocabulary, get a good dictionary and check the words you don’t know. Then write them down in a vocabulary notebook and review them later to increase your chances of remembering them.
3. If you want to practise your pronunciation, you could try reading out loud. But for everything else, it’s probably better to read silently. I know that when I read out loud, I understand less because I’m thinking about my pronunciation and not the meaning.
4. If you’re preparing for an English exam, you might want to take a different approach. Obviously, you won’t have a dictionary in the exam. Another problem is that you often have to read a lot in a short time. In an exam, it’s important to realise that you don’t have to understand everything. You have to practise skimming and scanning techniques to find the answers you need quickly. (Skimming means reading quickly to get the main ideas. Scanning means searching for the specific information you need.)
5. Another useful skill for reading in exams, but also if you want to improve your reading skills generally, is learning how to deal with words that you don’t know. Sometimes there are words that you only half understand or words that you don’t even need to know. Get comfortable with not knowing everything. Also, you can often guess the meaning of the word from the context. Try reading without a dictionary sometimes and see how much you can understand and guess. You can always underline difficult words and go back later to look them up in a dictionary.
I hope this will encourage you to read in order to improve your English! Leave a comment if this helped you or if you have any questions.
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