Reading in English
What do we usually read?
In an average week we can read all sorts of different types of texts ranging from entries in dictionaries and phone books to newspaper headlines and articles, emails, novels and even English course books! But do we read them all in the same way? Of course not! For example, if we need to look up a word in a dictionary we simply turn to the correct page and then run our eyes down the columns quickly until we find the word we want. With a newspaper we often employ a different strategy and flick through, glancing at the headlines until one catches our eye, whereupon we may read the whole article it refers to. With a novel our strategy differs again. We will most likely start at the beginning and read every page, in order, until we reach the end (unless, like me, you sometimes get impatient and peek at the last few pages when you get near the end!).
Reading in an English lesson.
Learning to read in English can seem a bit odd at first. Often the teacher will ask you to do strange things like predict words in the text before you’ve read it, or to write down questions about the topic before you read. The teacher may ask you to read the title and predict the main points of the text. If you are lucky the teacher or the course book may give you some new vocabulary and explanations for it so that when you meet the words in the text you can understand them. Even so, you know that you will probably meet some words that you don’t know whereupon the teacher may stop you reaching for the dictionary and encourage you to "deduce the meaning from the context" instead – i.e. guess what the word probably means by taking into consideration the sentence it is in. Not only this but the teacher may well ask you to read the text for the first time in just a couple of minutes, forcing you to read more quickly than is comfortable for you and making it very difficult for you to have any real understanding of what the text is about. Only later will you be allowed to read the text more slowly and more carefully so that you can understand it properly.
Why do teachers do this?
Improbable though it may seem to some, teachers actually have good reasons for approaching reading in class in this way! They are usually trying to make the reading experience as realistic and productive as possible and therefore help the student to develop useful reading skills that he or she can use outside the classroom. Think about it. When you read an article in your own language it may be because the headline appealed to you and gave you an idea of what the article would be about. Or maybe you skim an article quickly then decide that it looks interesting and want to read it more slowly to get a deeper understanding of it. Occasionally there may be a word you are not familiar with but you will probably not reach blindly for the dictionary – it is more likely that you will have a fair idea what the word means from the context so you’ll hazard a quick guess and carry on reading regardless.
How can you improve your reading?
As the old saying goes "Practise makes perfect". We get good at what we do most frequently. Reading regularly can make a real difference to your reading ability and also have a positive impact on your vocabulary in general and your ability to deduce the meaning of words from context in particular. So why not read a book in English over the next few weeks? If you don’t feel up to reading a "real" book in English you could always consider trying a simplified reader. These are "real" books that have been adapted for different levels of English. They are sometimes called graded readers and are a great way to maintain your English level during the holidays. If you don’t fancy a graded reader, how about selecting an article from a newspaper and underlining all the words you understand in it as you read it – this can be a great confidence builder. Whatever you choose, it will be better than nothing! Happy reading!
Quick Quiz: Read the clues below and write the solutions on a piece of paper. Then take the first letter of each answer and rearrange them to find the hidden word connected with this Talking Point.
1. In an average __________ we can read all sorts of different types of texts.
2. Learning to read in English can seem a bit __________ at first.
3. The teacher may ask you to __________ the title and predict the main points of the text.
4. When you read in class you know that you will probably meet some words that you don’t __________.
5. The teacher may well ask you to read the text for the first time in just a couple of __________, forcing you to read more quickly than is comfortable.
6. The teacher tries to help the student to develop useful reading skills that he or she can use __________ the classroom.
7. When you read in your own language there may occasionally be a word you are not familiar with but you will probably not reach __________ for the dictionary.
8. As the __________ saying goes "Practise makes perfect".