In English as a Second Language, Learn English

4 Reasons to Improve Your English by Reading

Reading is one of the best activities you can do to improve your English every day. Yet, it is often the one skill that often gets overlooked for various reasons. One of the most common reasons is the lack of time. Another is that the text is just too hard. Still, some students don’t like to read, even in their native language. Many would prefer to watch a movie or a video on the Internet than to sit down and read. Books and magazines have a hard time competing with the immediacy of the Internet and cell phones. A lot of the time we could be reading gets used up by social media and surfing the web. However, actually sitting down with the mindful purpose to read an interesting article or book from start to finish can benefit both your brain and your English in many ways.

Reading Helps you Learn the Nuances of English Vocabulary

First, reading can give you access to a wide variety of vocabulary. Of course, you are probably already learning a lot of vocabulary if you are taking classes. Nevertheless, to truly incorporate a word into your vocabulary, you have to come into contact with it multiple times in different scenarios. There are some vocabulary words in English that have one very definite meaning, but not many. Over time, seeing words used in natural contexts will help a foreign language learner really understand the nuances of a word’s meaning. This is tremendously helpful because then the student will be able to adopt it into their brain’s vocabulary bank. In the future, when they hear that word in spoken English, they will already be familiarized with it. In turn, when they are searching their brains for the correct vocabulary words to construct sentences and carry on a conversation, they will feel confident they are choosing the correct vocabulary words to convey their meaning.

Reading with Intent Helps in English Conversations

Another good reason you should be reading extensively every day is to help you become a better reader. What? That sounds strange! I need to read more to become a better reader? That is correct. Just like anything you practice, the more you do it – with purpose – the better you get at it. Reading purposefully is key here. If we mindlessly read something, we may see the vocabulary words and look up their definition, but we may miss the meaning of the whole article or book completely. We need to read with the intent to discern meaning. This has several major advantages. One, obviously, is that we feel a sense of accomplishment. And we all need little successes to keep us motivated on the journey of learning a second language. Another, is that we improve our focus. Our ability to maintain focus while reading in a second language carries through into our ability to maintain focus while hearing a second language, which of course is necessary for engaging in conversations. So you see, not only will reading make you a better reader because you will become accustomed to finding meaning in the language, it will also enrich your other English skills such as speaking and listening.

Reading & Writing Informs Your Speaking

Thirdly, your writing skills can be greatly enhanced by reading. Well, you may be thinking that you really don’t need to write in English, so that’s not important. While it is true that you don’t need to write for most daily interactions in English, it is likely that you will need writing skills at some point. Just consider social media. As more and more of our communication is carried out by social media apps, it is important to know some basic skills in writing. Of course, Facebook, WhatsApp, and Twitter are not known for their grammar correctness, but weird or awkward grammar structures could be confusing or worse, send the wrong message. On a more advanced level, if you want to study or work in the USA, you will be expected to write papers or send emails. In addition to these reasons – and what I find to be so important as a teacher of ESL students – writing informs your speaking. This means that writing is a safe place where you have time to think and develop sentence structures with correct subject-verb agreement, verb tenses, prepositions and word choices. In sum, by reading a variety of texts you can improve your writing which in turn will help you with your overall language competence.

Reading For Your Own Enjoyment Keeps you Motivated

Yet another reason to read is pure enjoyment. In an age where we are dominated by cell phones, it is hard to detach and just let our minds shut off and enjoy a simple activity. Maybe we can achieve this kind of depth in focus by playing sports or doing some exercise. Well, think of reading like exercise for the brain. All the online reading apps are nice and convenient, but do they really let you focus? Or, when you hear that “ping!” do you stop what you are doing to check your message? If so, invest in a good book or magazine, and hide your phone for a good 15 or 20 minutes each day to read. If you can control your urges to check your messages every 2 minutes, then find a good online blog, journal, or book. The key is to choose something you enjoy and feel you are capable of understanding. This all depends on your interests and skill level. Novels are great, and so are scientific journals… if that is your thing. Maybe you prefer sports, or health, or …. whatever. Children’s books are great. I personally love teen fantasy series. Just remember, in order to keep up with reading on a daily basis, it needs to be your choice of reading material. What you read for class is great… for class, but it shouldn’t stop there. Reading is for your benefit, so it should be something that will engage you. This will keep you motivated and give you a sense of autonomy in your own learning – two things that are very important when it comes to the task of learning a second language.

I hope this blog has inspired you to go out and read. To find good “old-fashioned” reading material, your local library is a good start. Another really cool place to hang out is Half-Price Books. You can sit there and read on a rainy day, or on a really hot day, or just to get out of the house and explore on any day. Of course there are plenty of online resources for reading. You just have to find what is right for you. Set aside time each day when you can read. Stick with it until it becomes a habit. Over time, you will start to recognize all the benefits reading has for improving your English.

Happy Reading!

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