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How can you improve your English or (other languages for that matter) when you read? Although reading is an essential part of language proficiency development, reading itself does not come natural to many of us. By that, I compare it with walking, talking, eating or drinking. We have to be taught to read, even though we would have acquired the skill of understanding how to pronounce some words intuitively without ever understanding the phonetic sounds in the alphabets. These words are usually referred to as sight words which will not be discussed in this post.

Well,if you have decided to spend more time reading to improve your language proficiency, I would like to suggest a few tips to help you get there:

Selective Reading:

Choose topics that help you find out more about what you already know. This way, you will only need to refer to the dictionary for the meaning of words rather than translating them first to your native language. When you are able to understand the meaning of the word without translation, your will to read is empowered.

Fluent Reading Means Reading At Your Level Of Language Proficiency:

Choose books that are written according to your level of proficiency. If you are not into literature or novels, it is perfectly alright. Many successful people in today’s society cannot even recite a verse from Romeo and Juliet. If they did, they might only have used the same verse over and over again just to impress their audience that they are well read. If you are interested in astronomy or wildlife; choose books that can feed and augment your knowledge not based on how bombastic the language is but how simply written they are to help you build your vocabulary faster and more effectively. Work or read within your level of reading experience.

Practical Knowledge

If you wish to build vocabulary, surely the best way is to put into action the word itself. For instance, if I read the word ‘bake’, surely I can understand what it means by referring to the dictionary. But if I actually go all out to start baking, I will understand more of what the word does when it is put to practice. It would involve cooking food in an oven. You may also understand that how to bake all kinds of cakes and cookies. Taking one practical baking exercise to help you understand what ‘bake’ means is far more valuable than learning a string of words from a dictionary that explains what the word means.

For the sake of argument or further elaboration on how I see this tip really works, let’s look at a child 3 years of age. He can understand perfectly the difference between ‘sit’ and ‘walk’ without being shown how these words are spelt or written. When they start running around playfully in a classroom, the teacher tells them to sit down quietly. Perhaps it is the tone of the teacher’s voice or they might have heard the word ‘sit’ so often at home when their parents tell them to sit down for dinner. The thing is, we do not know all these vocabulary by reading alone. These words come alive by us working with them. Before we have learned to read, we have heard about them somewhere or use them somehow.

Read Simple Books Written In Plain English

Why choose to read novels when you can’t get past the first sentence? The famous martial arts Chinese actor turned Hollywood superstar Jackie Chan certainly did not improve his English reading Shakespeare’s novels or the American history. But they are knowledgeable in the sense that they did not stop reading about the topic they are already good at and build upon those knowledge to improve their language skills. The simpler the books you choose to read, the more books you will read.

Pay Attention To Pattern

Pay attention to how the words are used in sentences and what gives the words meaning in other sentences. In sentence like “The girl is interested in going to the movies with her parents.” Notice how certain words are used together like “with her parents”, “The girl is”, “interested in”. Work with patterns and groups of words, picking out the context and how the grammar is used. “The girl is” versus “The girls are’, singular versus plural. The sentence is simple but the knowledge is plenty.

Give The Dictionary A Break

Try not to use the dictionary as it may interfere with the joy of reading. If a book is well written, you can find clues to the meaning of the unfamiliar words as the story unfolds. Once you have finished a page and you are still not able to understand the first few words in the first paragraph, then you have picked a book which is not suited to your level of reading proficiency. Choose another book. Reading becomes less enjoyable if you have to be challenged to understand what every word means.

Read Continuously

Keep track of the story without having to stop and look up words in the dictionary will also help you enjoy reading. I have learned to ask myself this question when I come across a difficult word, “Do I need to know its meaning?” If I have to stop for just one word, I might end up not reading the entire book or finish that page. How important is that word with regard to helping me understand the rest of the story I am about to read?

‘Story’ and ‘Word’; I want to finish the story, I can look up the word later when I am done with the story.

Let’s compare this to watching a movie called ‘Narnia’. Unless you have heard about the story of Narnia, it is very hard to understand from the title what the movie is all about or what Narnia means. Yet for many of us, not understanding what the word means does not stop us from watching the movie from start to finish. In the middle of the story, mystical characters come to live. You are brought to a different dimension in time and place. The subtitles give no meaning to the word Narnia but by the end of the movie, you finally understand Narnia is a fantasy kingdom. Sometimes, it helps not to stop at an unknown word to find out what the whole story is all about.

Discuss The Words

There are many books written to suit an individual’s level of language proficiency. Books about gardening, cooking, health, language and travel are available for new and advanced English learners. Speak or chat with people about these topics in plain English and use this exercise to build your vocabulary naturally through your discussions. You will be surprised at how deep you can go with a few words by discussing them with like-minded individuals rather than looking them up in a dictionary