How to improve your English reading skills
Reading is one of the most common receptive skills people use in their native and foreign languages — obviously. Reading in a foreign language can be challenging, and practising intensive reading takes time. To make it more accessible, here are a few easy tricks to make intensive reading tasks easier.
Tip 1: Use reading strategies
The first trick to make reading comprehension and intensive reading tasks more effortless is to use reading strategies. These strategies function as training wheels while doing intensive reading tasks.
The first and most common strategy is activating your pre-existing knowledge before reading the text. Pre-existing knowledge is all the knowledge and information that you already have about a topic, and you activate that area of your memory by reading the title, looking at illustrations and pictures provided with the article, and scanning the text for headers. Then, consider what you already know about the topic and what you expect the text to cover. If you’re reading a film review, for example, you might look for the title of the film (usually given in italics), maybe a still shot from the film, and some actors that might be in the film. You should expect to read a summary of the plot and arguments that support the author’s opinion.
Next, you could skim the article by reading the most important sentences from each paragraph. As you know from writing articles, the essential information is usually (but not always!) in each paragraph’s first and final sentence. Reading these while skimming will create a general understanding of the article before diving into the details and answering comprehension questions.
Finally, when doing reading comprehension tasks, read the questions before diving into the article. Sometimes, a question covers one specific paragraph, and reading the question first will ensure you will only read on when that’s necessary.
Tip 2: Enlarge your vocabulary effectively
Another way to improve your English reading skills is by enlarging your vocabulary because the more words you know, the easier it becomes to read and complete reading comprehension tasks.
Enlarging your vocabulary doesn’t mean that you should study random words, as there are more effective ways for reading comprehension. Writers and authors of texts usually use linking words or linkers to connect (no pun intended) certain parts of texts together and to indicate the relationship between parts of texts and arguments. Knowing those linking words and understanding their meaning will make reading comprehension tasks easier. Find a link to a common list of linkers at the bottom of this article.
Another way to effectively enlarge your vocabulary is by studying words and phrases by category. Doing so ensures you’ll learn diction that’s relevant to you and the reading comprehension task. If you know that your reading comprehension exam will consist of a review, try studying vocabulary relevant for reviews (think of adjectives and adverbs that are used when giving an opinion).
Finally, consider that studying vocabulary entails more than knowing the word in one context and with one meaning. Words can have different meanings in different contexts, and studying words in different contexts will make reading comprehension easier.
If you’re looking for some tips on how to improve your vocabulary in English, here’s my article with tips and tricks on vocabulary.
Tip 3: Read more!
Finally, as I mentioned in my article on reading and language learning, extensive reading is an excellent way to practise your intensive reading skills. Extensive reading, which is reading longer texts and novels for fun, exposes learners to new chunks, CWOSTS (conventionalised ways of saying things), and vocabulary, and experienced extensive readers have been found to be excellent intensive readers too. They seem to be able to deduct the most important information from an article without any difficulties and are able to use different techniques while tackling an article.
Extensive reading isn’t only limited to novels: longer articles (also known as long-read articles) and short stories are also good ways to practise extensive reading. The difference between intensive and extensive reading lies mainly in the different purposes: while reading intensively, readers are looking for information, answering questions, or reading to study. Extensive reading is done for fun.
You can read anything you want but don’t choose too difficult materials. On average, a reader should know 98% of all the words in a text to understand it fully, and while this might not be entirely necessary while reading for fun, understanding what you’re reading and following along does make the reading experience more enjoyable. There are so-called guided readers, books written for learners at specific levels, which are an excellent place to start reading. They usually include vocabulary lists to stimulate vocabulary acquisition and aid further understanding of the stories.
Final thoughts: why are you reading?
In the end, the familiar doctrine will matter: the more you read, the easier it becomes. Before diving into anything, ask yourself why you are reading that particular text (for fun, studying, or looking for specific information?).
What is your ultimate reading tip?
Why you should read: the benefits of reading for language acquisition.
I always tell my students to read more, but why do I do this and what are the benefits of reading?