Are your English reading skills holding you back? What does being able to read English quickly and accurately mean for your studies and career? The habits and study tips in 10 Ways to Practice English Reading: Tips for ESL/EFL Learners are designed to improve your English reading quickly and easily.
Krishnatrya has nearly 15 years of experience teaching ESL/EFL. In this blog, he has organized the advice he has given countless students to help them reach their English reading goals, from improving a test score to getting a job to reading English novels to being able to travel confidently.
“Use it or lose it.” This is a popular English idiom. It means that you have to repeat something many times or you’ll forget it. This is the case when learning a language. You probably won’t remember if you study something only once. You have to use it many times before you’ll remember it forever. So, learn new vocabulary or phrases and then use them! Try them out in your English diary or when talking to a friend.
Make some flashcards and quiz yourself. Write a few sentences with the word and check with a native speaker whether or not they’re correct. Do whatever you can to keep using the new grammar and vocabulary that you learn!
Here’s an example of what NOT to do. Begin reading a novel and understand only 50% of it. Give up and never read again! Instead, read once and understand 50% of it. Read again and understand more (70%). Read one more time and understand almost all of it (95%). Reading a novel may not be relatively that easy, but keep at it, bit by bit. Then, don’t worry about the rest. You understand the main ideas. That's the most important thing.
Studies show that if he knew 2,000 of the most popular English words, he could understand 95% of what he heard or read. You’ll also be able to have a conversation or read about almost all general topics quite easily. The key is how you learn these 2000 words. Do it the smart way.
Many students love to do busy work. They write a million words on paper and repeat them over and over again. They then feel like they’ve accomplished something while learning English. They haven’t. They’ve mostly just wasted their time. Remember that being busy and being productive are two different things. Make your study time effective rather than simply active. If you are serious about learning English vocabulary, you must make flashcards. Write your native language on one side and English on the other side. Then, start with ten new words daily and ensure you know them 100%. Then, keep adding ten more every single day. Mix them up randomly, forcing your brain to learn them independently from each other. Go from English—>Your Language, but also the much harder Your Language—>English every single day. You need to be thinking about these words in your sleep! Make sure you’re using these words in your daily writing and conversations and keeping your ears and eyes open for them in whatever you’re listening to or reading.
Check out this list of the 5000 most popular common words in English. Check out Quizlet or Anki if you want to do it online or on your phone. Websites like WordHippo make it easy to take your vocab study to the next level. You'll quickly find definitions, synonyms, antonyms, and, above all, example sentences showing how to use the word.
For something a little different, give Idiom Generator a try. This website will quiz you on your knowledge of common idioms in four categories.
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Context clues are hints in a text that can help you define words you don’t know. Some common types of context clues are:
- Synonym or antonym
- Example or description
- Greek and Latin roots
Use these clues when you come across a word you do not know. Not 100% useful all the time, but most of the time this is all you need. Clearly, the main benefit of using context clues is the amount of time you will save by not requiring your dictionary so often. So, when you see a new word, take these steps and see if you can’t figure out the definition yourself.
- Finish reading the sentence. How does the word fit into the sentence? Can you guess the part of the speech?
- Read the word out loud. The pronunciation may give you a clue.
- Read each syllable. Up to 75% of English is based on Greek and Latin. If you see a familiar syllable, it may be a Greek or Latin prefix (beginning), root (central part), or suffix (ending). This is not always true; a single prefix or suffix may have different meanings.
- Read the sentences before and after the sentence with the new word. One (or both) may have more information about that word. The verdict after an unusual word often has a definition or an example.
- Use your common sense. You have reread the sentence with the unknown word and the sentences before and after it. You have read the word aloud to hear the pronunciation. You have considered the most likely part of speech. What do you think that word means? I could be wrong, of course, but I'm probably close enough to read on.
Make a note of the word and your guess about the meaning, and keep reading. After reading the text, look up the definition in your dictionary. Were you correct? Practice makes perfect; the more often you use context clues, the better you will get at it.
Before you start reading, take the time to complete some basic pre-reading activities. Look at the title and any images. What do you think this sentence is about? Is it fiction or nonfiction? If it is fiction, think about the genre and what you know about that genre. For example, a mystery will have a main character solving a problem.
There will probably be a crime and police vocabulary. If the story is romantic, there will be a lot of dialogue and terms about feelings and relationships. If it is nonfiction, you may want to read a related text in your first language to orient your mind to the topics and ideas that may be covered. Or you could go straight to brainstorming vocabulary.
It's not over 'til it's over. Once you've read the text, it may feel like you're done, but there are a few different activities you can do if you want to get the most out of your text. You can write your answer, but you don't have to if you don't have time. If you are reading fiction, here are some ideas to think about the characters more deeply. This will help you understand the text and predict future reading.
1. Make a fact file about the main character. Some information you can include: appearance (What colour eyes does the character have? Hair? Is their hair curly, wavy, or straight? Long or short? Is the character tall or short? How old is the feeling? Who is in their family?
- Compare and contrast two main characters in the story. How are they the same? How are they different?
- Consider a situation that is not in the book. What would the main character do in this situation? Why do you think so?
- Usually, the main character in a story changes in some way by the end. How did the main character in the level you have just read change? How were they at the beginning? What was different at the end? What caused them to change?
- Consider one scene from a different character's point of view. In English, we say every fight has three sides: your version, my version, and the truth. This is because we see the same event differently. Thinking about the plot more carefully will also improve your reading comprehension skills.
Here are some ideas to help you consider the storyline more deeply.
- Make a timeline of significant events in the story. How does one event lead to another?
- Where does the action occur? Make a list of essential locations in the story. Would the story be the same in any place? Why or why not?
- When you read a book in Spoken English, please write a review for it online. Tell the world what you think of this book. You could even review the book you're reading right now! We'd appreciate it. Of course, you can use reading to improve your grammar and vocabulary as you read, circle or highlight any unfamiliar words. Use context clues to help you guess the meaning as you read. When you finish reading for the day, add these words to your dictionary and their definitions.
Some other activities you can do are:
- Write the sentence from the story with the definition giving you an example of the word being used.
- Choose a part of speech you want to work on, such as adverbs. Find 10-15 examples of that part of speech and write them down. Again, it would be nice to write the whole sentence as an example.
- Look for metaphors and similes. Choose one scene, and find all of the metaphors and similes. What two things are being compared in each?
Read a Series More than Once
When I was a child, I loved reading books. I still do, but I spend less time on it. I remember reading the entire Anne of Green Gables series every summer from when I was around nine until I was a teenager. When I was a teen, I read the Lord of Rings Series three or four times. During college, he loved Harry Potter and read the entire series twice. If you enjoyed reading the first book in a series, keep going with the others! Then, once you finish, reread it a year or two later. You’ll pick up more details the second or third time around. And you’ll also be able to read more quickly, which helps increase your reading fluency.
Reading a lot is the most important way to improve your reading comprehension. You’ll read a lot if you enjoy it. So, find something you love and get going.
Use your Dictionary Sparingly
Sparingly means only a little bit. When reading, it’s okay to use your dictionary a little bit. Perhaps once a page is a good amount, or even less than that. If you use your dictionary more than that, it’s too easy to get frustrated, and you can’t get into a good reading flow.
I’m sure you’ve had this same experience in your first language. When you’re reading, you might not understand every single word. But you skip over it, and you can figure out the general meaning of the sentence because of the other words. You can do this in English too! Just guess what a word means, and don’t worry about not knowing every single one. This is normal. Put away the dictionary!
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After making some assumptions about the content of the text, consider what vocabulary is needed to understand it. If you are reading nonfiction, think about the topic and make a list of related words. Look up any words you don’t know.
Prediction is guessing about a text before you read it. You probably do this every day online. You see a headline or article title and guess what it may be about. If the title seems interesting, read it. What did you guess correctly? What were you incorrect about? Could you have guessed correctly, or was the information surprising? Go to www.eslspeaking.org/reading for a worksheet you can use to practice making predictions (click on Making Predictions Graphic Organizer).
Newspaper Prediction Activity
Choose an article. Read the title and first and last paragraphs only. Look at the pictures. Write a summary of the content of the article. What is the main idea? Now read the first sentence of each paragraph individually. After reading each sentence, reconsider your summary. Do you want to change anything? Is there anything you would like to change? Make any revisions and read the first sentence of the next paragraph. Please continue to the end of the article. Look at your summary. Have you made many changes? Now, read the entire article and compare it to your summary. Are there still any important differences? If so, reread the topic sentences to see if you overlooked any information.
In conclusion, reading is an essential component of mastering the Business English language. By incorporating these 10 tips into your reading practice, you can not only improve your comprehension and vocabulary but also enjoy the process of reading. Start with a topic or genre that interests you, practice regularly, and use available resources such as dictionaries and audiobooks. It's also essential to be patient with yourself and celebrate your progress. By practicing these tips, you can take your English reading skills to the next level and become a more confident and effective reader. So, get started today, and happy reading!