While most learners want to focus on improving their spoken English, the other skills should not be ignored if you want to become a fluent all-round user of the language. Today we look at some of the many benefits of reading in English and offer some ideas to help you become a better reader yourself.
The benefits of reading in English
First and foremost, reading is one of the best ways to increase vocabulary and to consolidate your understanding of grammar. Not only will you come across many new words and phrases in context, you’ll also see grammatical structures laid out on the page that you may have heard in conversation but not quite yet worked out. With repeated exposure to the same vocabulary and language patterns, you’ll find they begin to make their way into your spoken English as well. In this way, reading helps speed up the normal language learning process that sees passive comprehension become active knowledge. In short, provided you’re also practicing conversation, the more you read, the more quickly your spoken English will improve.
One of the main benefits of reading in English if you’re learning the language is that there’s absolutely no shortage of material to choose from, especially online. Whatever your interests or hobbies, whichever sports team, band or celebrity you may be following, you’re bound to find something about them. Plus, reading is autonomous; in a way, you get to decide your own curriculum, one based not on textbooks but on authentic material that specifically interests you.
What’s more, you can read at your own pace. If a passage is puzzling, or full of unfamiliar language, you’re under no pressure to read it quickly and move on. You can simply go over it until you’re satisfied that you understand. Of course, it’s important not to get bogged down in the nitty-gritty of a text; quite often it doesn’t matter if you only have a general understanding of a passage, and many new words can be skipped over if the meaning is not clear from context. The more you read, the better you’ll become at working out when it’s important to reach for the dictionary or not.
Of course, this is not to say that reading in a second language is not a daunting task. If you’re not yet at an advanced level, you might well be put off by the idea of spending long hours with a novel in one hand and a dictionary in the other, pausing to look up words a dozen times per page. Fortunately, there are many things you can do to help you become a better reader in English. For example:
1. Use a graded reader. There are many available, giving you access to world-famous works of fiction and plenty of original literature written using a strictly limited vocabulary so that you can enjoy the flow of the story without the constant need for a dictionary, just as if you were reading in your first language.
2. Use an e-reader. There are many dictionary apps available that let you look up words just by clicking on them. This makes reading authentic texts much faster and more enjoyable, especially when you’re on the go, and is still a great way to learn new vocabulary in context.
3. Read what you already know. For example, if you have a favourite novel in your first language that you know inside out, why not find the English language translation and read that? Alternatively, if you’re following a particular news story, and you’re familiar with the context and the details, why not read an article about it on an English-language website? In both cases, knowing the story already will help you read with little aid. Familiarity with a topic often makes up for lack of vocabulary. Indeed, it even helps you work out the meaning of new words.
4. Use Wikipedia. These days most of us probably go no more than a few days without looking something up on the handy online encyclopaedia, but did you know that many articles on Wikipedia are written specifically with non-native English readers in mind? Take a look at their Simple English pages to see what’s available.
5. As with exercise, little but often is the way to build up your strength. Set yourself a goal: an article a day or a chapter a week. And again as with exercise, make sure you build variety into your routine. Reading news articles is great, but reading only news articles will expose you to only one style of language. To become familiar with as broad a range of English as possible, don’t forget the many other types of text that are available. Anything and everything from blogs to online-magazines, from discussion boards to film scripts, from recipes to poetry – it’s all there to help you learn.
Finally, don’t forget to sign-up to our ELT Learning Journeys blog. You’ll find lots of great stuff to read here!