How to Effectively Improve Your English Reading Skills on Your Own
Reading in English can be difficult if you’re still learning the language.
But the good news is that you can improve your English reading skills by yourself.
You can do it right from home in your free time, with just a few tips to help you along.
- Getting Ready to Read
- How to Skim
- How to Read
- How to Work on Your Reading Speed
Getting Ready to Read
Before you start reading, take some time to prepare. Here are a few steps to get you ready for reading.
Determine your reading level
Knowing your reading level will help you find good reading materials and keep track of your progress.
There are a few different ways to determine your reading level.
With the Oxford Bookworms tests, you can find your level by filling in missing words in stories.
The website A2Z Home’s Cool shows some other good ways to figure out your reading level, using lists of words. These are meant for parents teaching their children, but can be helpful for anyone trying to improve their reading.
Even if you don’t know exactly what your level is, the ideal (perfect) reading level is one that is comfortable but also a little challenging.
Determine the reading level of books before you choose them
Some books (especially children’s books) include information on reading level.
If you want to find out the reading level of a book or article, you can put a page or more of it into this tool, and it will tell you everything you need to know about its level.
Choose the kind of reading you want to do
Will you be reading books for kids or adults? Fiction or non-fiction? Are you studying English so you can get a job or make friends? All these questions are important in choosing the kind of material to read. Find writing that’s interesting or relevant to you.
If you’re not sure where to start, you can check out this post on easy English books.
If you’re interested in reading some English classics, you can find a list of free ones here.
If you love movies, why not read a book that inspired a movie adaptation?
Or maybe you prefer magazines. Magazine Line is a great site for finding magazines that match your interests, whether those include news, sports, fashion, music or something completely different. It’s an especially good place to buy magazine subscriptions because they give you discounted rates (lower prices). If you’re a college student, you may be able to get an even lower rate on some magazines. (Check the “Student and Educator Rates” section to find out how.)
Still can’t figure out what to read?
Browse through any summer book list, like these ones from the New York Public Library.
You can also browse websites like Goodreads or Amazon for lists of books created by members. Here’s a great one if you like mysteries, and another one if you want more variety.
Visit your local library…or don’t
You can get English books and other reading materials from your local library. If the selection there is not that great, try your library’s digital lending section.
You can also get discounted books from websites like Amazon or Half.com.
If you prefer digital books, Project Gutenberg and Amazon are good places to start.
Find a good time to read
Pick a time and place where you can read without interruption. Choose someplace quiet and well-lit, where you can sit comfortably for a while.
Have a notebook nearby
Have a notebook and pen or pencil close to you. This way, you can jot down new words as you read, or write notes if you like.
Now you’re ready to start reading…right?
But wait just a moment. Before you dive into your reading, there’s one last thing you should do!
How to Skim
Think about when you watch a movie. Before you go to the theater and spend money to see it, you probably want to know more about it. If none of your friends have seen it, you might watch the movie’s trailer.
The trailer tells you a little about what you’re going to watch. This way, you have an idea of what the movie is about before you watch it.
Skimming works the same way.
To skim means to glance over the text without fully reading it to get a general idea of what it’s about.
Skimming will become easier the more you do it.
Here are some tips for skimming your text:
- Read the title and first paragraph.
- Read all the headings and subheadings (the big words at the tops of some sections).
- Read the first sentences of a couple of paragraphs.
- Watch out for words in bold, italics, charts, pictures and lists (like this one!).
- Let your eyes wander over the page and stop on any words you don’t know.
- Try to understand what the main idea of the text is. See if you can answer the five Ws: who, what, where, when, why.
- Don’t spend too much time on skimming—five minutes at the most!
Try skimming this article. What can you learn about the content? You might conclude that the next section has some specific tips for increasing your reading skills. And you would be right! Moving on…
How to Read
So you have your perfect book. You’re sitting in a comfortable place and you have plenty of time. Next to you is your handy notebook.
Now we read!
Here are some tips to help you keep improving as you read.
To improve your reading skills, read a lot
As they say, practice makes perfect! The more you read, the better you’ll get.
Take your time
There’s no need to rush. It doesn’t matter if you read one page or one hundred. What matters is that you understand what you read. Pause if you’re tired. Re-read if you’re confused.
Read along with an audiobook if you can
If the book you’re reading has an audiobook version, read along with the narrator. This may force you to read at a slightly faster speed than is comfortable, which can help improve your fluency.
Some learners may actually prefer audiobooks because they combine text with audio. Multimedia resources can help you build up not just your reading ability, but also your other English skills like listening comprehension and speaking.
So explore and try out audiobooks and other media that lets you read and listen to English. Even videos with subtitles can work, such as those on the language learning program FluentU. Its clips have interactive subtitles so you can read along and click a word or phrase to get information about it. Flashcards and quizzes are also included to help you review what you learn.
Read phrases, not words
Have you ever gotten stuck reading one sentence over and over…and still not understanding it? Try backing away from the sentence. Try not to see it as being made out of words. Instead of reading the words one by one, read entire phrases. Don’t try to understand the meaning of each word. Just try to understand what they mean together. (If you’re getting stuck on words you don’t know often, that might be a sign you should move to a slightly easier book.)
Learn sight words
To learn to read entire sentences instead of individual words, work on learning sight words. Sight words are common words that appear often in texts. You can find a list of some sight words on this website. Sight words are words that our eyes glide over as we read because we already know them.
Take a look at this sentence, for example:
“The cerulean cat is in a tree.”
You should only have to pause at the word “cerulean.” By the way, cerulean is a shade of blue.
What a strange cat…
Use context clues
Using context clues means trying to understand a new word by looking at what’s around it. If you’re stuck on a word you don’t know, try looking at the whole sentence for a hint about what it means.
In the cat sentence above, for example, you might not know what “cerulean” means. But you can at least figure out that whatever it is, it’s describing the cat. That might be all you need to know!
Don’t stop to look up every new word. It’s harder to focus on your reading if you keep interrupting it. You can write down the word and look it up later. Only look up a word if you can’t understand what you’re reading without it.
Use your imagination
When you’re reading in English, it might be difficult not to translate into your native language in your head. Don’t do this! Instead, try to picture what you’re reading.
Read for meaning, and test your understanding
After you finish reading, give yourself a few minutes to think about what you just read. How much did you understand? Try to summarize what you read. You can write it, say it out loud or just think about it. If you can’t do this, you might have been too focused on the words instead of the meaning. Next time you read, try to focus less on each word you read, and more on what the text is trying to say.
Use these tips when you read, and you will find yourself getting better and better!
How to Work on Your Reading Speed
When you’re learning a language, it’s better to focus on understanding what you read instead of reading quickly. Of course, you may have reasons for wanting to speed up your reading: Maybe you need to read a lot of text for school. Maybe you’re trying to improve your fluency.
Whatever your reason, if you really want to improve your speed, try these tips:
How many words per minute can you read? Time how long it takes you to read a couple of pages from a text at your reading level. Here’s an easy way to figure out about how many words are on a page: Count the number of words in one full line and multiply it by the number of lines on the page.
Use the same kind of text each time
It might take you longer to read a non-fiction article than to read a few pages from a thriller book. If you want to keep track of your improvement, use the same kind of reading material each time you work on your reading speed.
Set a realistic goal
Your goal right now might be to read “faster,” but how fast do you want to read? Speed is not just about how fast you can read the words on the paper. It’s about how fast you can read them and still understand them. If you read this entire article in a minute, but can’t remember any of what it said, then you are pushing yourself too hard. Aim for the middle—a faster speed where you can still understand most of what you read.
Use your pen or finger to guide your reading
You might think only slow readers use their fingers, but using a finger or pen to guide you is a great way to increase speed. Have your eyes follow the pen at a comfortable speed. Then slowly increase how fast you move the pen. This will help focus your eyes on the area you’re reading, and will push you to speed up little by little.
Don’t read every word
When we read, our eyes take in a few words at a time. Let your eyes take in more words, and don’t focus on every single word. Instead, try to read in chunks.
Sub-vocalization is that voice you hear in your head when you’re reading. That voice is actually much slower than your fastest reading speed—he’s slowing you down! Don’t read in your head. It sounds easy, but it might be the hardest of all these tips! The voice is not that simple to silence, but if you keep trying, you’ll learn to do it.
No matter what part of your reading you’re trying to improve, the tips in this article will help you get there.
Remember: The best way to learn is to practice.
So read read read!