Is it your 2017 goal to reach fluency in English?
Imagine that you can realize this goal while reading leisurely, in your pajamas, next to a hot cup of your favorite coffee or tea.
It sounds amazing, doesn’t it?
Reading English is not as hard as you think. It can be fun, inspirational and mind opening.
To have a great reading experience, you just need to choose the right types of materials to read.
The six great reading resources in this article will help you learn English through reading more effectively.
The Benefits of Learning English by Reading
See English vocabulary used in context
The best way to acquire new words is to learn them in context. This means that the word is used in complete sentences and is surrounded by other related ideas. You will learn exactly how that word is used naturally by natives when you see it in context.
When your brain can associate a word with something tangible, you’ll remember it longer.
So, context is very valuable! And when you read, you get lots and lots of context.
For example, in “The Call of the Wild,” the dog Buck is born into a close relationship with humans. As his life takes an unexpected turn, he ends up in various adventures in the wilderness with wild animals and he is called back to the “primordial” (ancient, wild) life that his ancestors held. The transition was emotional, as he struggled to let go of his affection for his last human owner.
I will keep remembering the word “primordial” in association with Buck and his story of becoming part of the wilderness.
Become familiar with what sounds right
In order to improve your English, you need to know more than the meaning of a word. You also need to know how to use it within a full sentence. Which verbs, adjectives and prepositions are commonly used with the word you learned? Basically, you want to know what comes before and after a word.
Take the noun “impact” as an example. Verbs that often go with it are “have,” “make,” “soften,” “lessen” and “minimize.” The oil and gas exploitation has an impact “on” climate change, not “to” or “at” climate change. Reading words in context will show you how to use words like this. This lets you see the bigger picture, beyond the definition of the word.
The most challenging matter for many language learners is to sound natural, like a native speaker. A good grammar book can teach you how to configure a verb and structure a sentence correctly. However, only after reading many pieces of good, naturally-flowing writing can you have the sense of what sounds native.
Reading English from high-quality resources is the way to purposely expose yourself to what sounds right at a certain point in time. Language is fluid, it changes from one generation to another. You can read the whole collection of Shakespeare’s plays and won’t find the word “emoji,” which was the word of the year in 2015.
Thanks to reading, you learn the difference and how to use words appropriately, like a boss.
Gain cultural insights and perspectives
The written text has been used by thinkers to express cultural beliefs and values for centuries. Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice” is not only a love story but a manifesto of social values in England during the Georgian Era.
When you become aware of culture subtleties, reading English is more interesting. If you are to move to a new English-speaking country, you will find it easier to fit in, armed with knowledge about their culture.
Have fun and stay motivated!
Reading is fun! By immersing yourself in a good story, you get to live another life, to see things in the eyes of another person and to make a decision in a different way, perhaps a way that’s totally the opposite of what you would do.
When you are able to read faster and comprehend meaning better in English, your pool of knowledge growers larger and deeper. You are able to learn more about the world, other people and other cultures, which could be the greatest motivation to keep learning.
Forget about reading bad English on the web
You might already spend a lot of time on the internet, reading posts on social media like Facebook and Twitter. Even though many native websites can help you learn English reading, bad quality websites are all over the Internet. Even big websites like Facebook and Twitter have people posting writing with bad grammar and incorrect words.
You should learn to avoid the constant distractions that have a bad impact on your ability to retain attention and learn more complex matters. Read the lovely types of English writing that we have for you here in this article, and you will be able to avoid this problem. Our suggested reading resources include longer texts that have great writing and perfect grammar and spelling.
Now, it’s time for the list of English reading material that I promised.
Learn English Reading Skills with 6 Exciting Types of English Writing
1. Classic Books
A book becomes “classic” because it stands the test of time, which means that it is still popular after many, many years.
Human beings born in different generations tend to have similar desires, emotions and relationship expectations. In 2016, we can still read classic books from 1600 or 1800 and relate to the ideas, emotions and events the author describes.
Many of today’s young readers find “Treasure Island” by Robert Louis Stevenson very exciting because they have the urge to explore and feel a sense of adventure, similarly to the generation before them and the ones before that.
Furthermore, classic books are loved by many generations thanks to the mastery of language usage and storytelling. When I first read “The Three Musketeers,” I felt like I was a part of the trio, even though I was born a few hundred years later in a country some thousands of miles away. At the time, I knew nothing about France and French history, but I was still drawn into the story. Alexandre Dumas was a skillful storyteller like Jane Austen, Hemingway and many other word mavens who have left behind countless books for us to treasure.
Classic books are fairly available to everyone, as most public libraries in the United States and abroad have a huge section of them. Plus, most of them are available for free to read online, on cool websites like Project Gutenberg.
I grew up in the late 80s in Vietnam when bookstores didn’t sell any books from the West. At school, Chinese and Russian literature was predominant. In the mid-90s, after a change in our foreign policy, we started to import more things made in the West and what came first in print were classic books like “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” and “Wuthering Heights,” followed closely by “Harry Potter.”
Here’s the list of my favorite classic books:
“Wuthering Heights” by Emily Brontë
“The Adventure of Tom Sawyer” by Mark Twain
“The Call of the Wild” by Jack London
“Emma” by Jane Austen
“The Picture of Dorian Gray” by Oscar Wilde
2. Long Reads
The term “long reads” refers to long-form journalism, when journalists investigate in-depth matters and write long articles about them. Thus, a “long read” is usually a long article which offers a wider and more complex perspective on contemporary issues while taking less time to read (if you compare it to most classic novels).
Long reads are good for people who want to stay relevant and learn about modern issues, but who are fed up with the constant stream of headline updates that offer very little information. The quality of writing is high, so you can benefit from the best writing and best information.
You can find long reads on the website like Longreads or Digg’s Long Reads Channel. Reddit also has a Longreads subreddit that you can check out. My favorite source for long reads is The Guardian because the articles are also recorded and published as podcasts, available both on iTunes and SoundCloud. I love to listen to those podcasts when I am doing the dishes or running on the treadmill.
Here are four long reads you can bookmark and go through this weekend:
“Crash: how computers are setting us up for disaster”
“Liquid assets: how the business of bottle water went mad”
“The Very Quiet Foreign Girls poetry group”
Poems embody the fluidity of a language. Reading a poem out loud, or better yet, participating in a spoken word performance (which is when you read a poem for an audience) brings you in touch with what sounds right and beautiful in English.
Check out these TED performances by poets Harry Baker and Sarah Kay:
“Sarah Kay: If I should have a daughter…”
“Harry Baker: A love poem for lonely prime numbers”
If you like to read classic poems, study the works of Edgar Allan Poe, T.S. Eliot or Emily Dickson.
Poetry is a beautiful way of telling stories. In the last long reads article I shared above, “The Very Quiet Foreign Girls poetry group,” a teacher at an Oxford school organized a poetry club to encourage her foreign pupils to express themselves and their experiences in poems. It’s a great example of language acquisition and integration.
Benjamin Franklin shared a technique to learn English writing in his biography: He converted prose into poetry so the restraint of measure and rhyme would force him to search for variety in the language and make him master it.
Next time you read a poem, pay attention to the choice of a certain word and look for as many alternatives as you can. It is a good exercise to increase your vocabulary so you learn to appreciate poetry and the English language even more.
4. Books from Your Culture
I admit it sounds strange but let me explain.
You first read a book in your own language, from your own culture.
Then you find an English translated version of it, read that through, and carefully compare the two versions.
Think about the reasons to choose one specific word in English for a concept in your culture. For example, “bride” in Chinese literally means “new mother,” as shared Lisa Bu shared in her TED Talk. It makes you think, doesn’t it?
Some examples of books in a language pair:
“Le Comte de Monte-Cristo” by Alexandre Dumas, père (French) and “The Count of Monte Cristo,” translated by Robin Buss (English)
“Ngược dòng nước lũ” by Ma Văn Kháng (Vietnamese) and “Against the Flood,” translated by Wayne Karlin and Phan T. Hao (English)
“Cien años de soledad” by Gabriel García Márquez (Spanish) and “One Hundred Years of Solitude,” translated by Gregory Rabassa (English)
5. Popular Forums
Do you know that OpenAI, a research non-profit funded by technology leaders like Elon Musk and Sam Altman, is reading Reddit threads to teach itself language?
Forums like Reddit, Quora and Yahoo Answers contain English in its most natural forms, as it is all written casually by native speakers. Even if there are spelling and grammar mistakes, conversations are mostly enlightening, natural and full of everyday words. Head to these websites, read threads that interest you and learn to converse like a native.
Watching movies and videos is probably the most fun and interactive way of learning English. I don’t know about you, but I spent a lot of my younger years watching “Friends” and learned a lot of English from the TV show.
Don’t feel like you are wasting your time. The practice of reading the English subtitles in English while watching an English speaking movie will improve your language skills.
Reading and listening at the same time might be challenging, but it’s also rewarding. Your brain associates the sound with the spelling, not to mention the thrilling or humorous plot of the movie, and the words stay remembered longer. Besides, the sound and text complement each other, working together toward your overall comprehension of English. Because English is not a phonetic language, the subtitles remind you how to spell a certain word, regardless of the sound.
You can do similar things with TED Talks or your favorite videos on FluentU.
FluentU takes real-world videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.
Learning English reading might be a slow process, but it is so rewarding as you have so much fun, widen your cultural knowledge and improve other skills at the same time.
Pick the reading resources that suit you best or tackle them all in 2017 to bring your English to the level of fluency.
Quynh Nguyen works as a freelance communication professional while traveling the world. She loves learning languages, riding a bike and having many nice cups of tea. Connect with her @QuynhThuNguyen or visit her at www.quynh.nl.
And One More Thing...
If you like learning English through movies and online media, you should also check out FluentU. FluentU lets you learn English from popular talk shows, catchy music videos and funny commercials, as you can see here:
The FluentU app and website makes it really easy to watch English videos. There are captions that are interactive. That means you can tap on any word to see an image, definition, and useful examples.
For example, when you tap on the word "searching," you see this:
Learn all the vocabulary in any video with quizzes. Swipe left or right to see more examples for the word you’re learning.
The best part? FluentU remembers the vocabulary that you’re learning. It gives you extra practice with difficult words—and reminds you when it’s time to review what you’ve learned. You have a truly personalized experience.
Start using FluentU on the website with your computer or tablet or, better yet, download the FluentU app from the iTunes or from the Google Play store.
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn English with real-world videos.