Improve Reading Skills to Improve your Language Learning

“Language is for self-expression; communication is a miracle. ”
by ~Caleb Gattegno~

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As I have mentioned before reading can be used to learn the grammar of the language you are learning. However you can learn other things whilst you are reading. Most people read for meaning and vocabulary but in reality there are other things you can learn by reading. I recently conducted a training for English language teachers on WizIQ  via a webinar where I showed just how reading can be used to encourage their students to read more carefully. By reading more carefully, readers can many times get the meaning of words or phrases without referring to a dictionary.

Dictionaries can be a great help in learning a language, however its over use can actually cripple your language learning powers. That may be too strong a statement for some of you, however after having taught many hundreds of language learners from most countries of the world, I have seen it with my own eyes. What happens is that over use removes the need to read carefully to try to work out the meaning. As a result readers may inadvertently learn to become one dimensional in their reading.

improve readingThis extends far beyond reading as your mind starts to adopt an attitude of getting a quick answer from somewhere and not having the understanding that meanings can be worked out on the run, as it were.  An attitudinal shift can improve your language learning! The understanding that language is like a puzzle, where you have to search for and workout the answer is at the core of effective language learning. Reading a text that is not tooooo(!) hard is great for that.

One strategy you can to revitalise or develop your reading skills is to discard your dictionary and start looking for clues for meanings of words. Sometime this can be slow when you start, or if you choose lexically dense texts ( lots of new and varied words in a text) then it is much harder or course. So the best way to start on this is with a light novel where the meaning is more predictable. By reading for the meaning, by looking carefully at what led up to the new word and by looking at the grammatical environment, it is possible to many times to start to approximate to what the word might mean. Getting the word exactly right is not a requirement. That can come over time. (Sometimes of course we do need it in real life)

Here is an example:

“Every day she spoke to me in her gentle, loving voice, reassuring me that no matter what those doctors said, I could walk again if I wanted to badly enough.”

The underlined word might cause some people a problem. So even if you did not know what it meant exactly, if you read the meaning behind the sentence you could easily enough get a sense about the word – from the grammar and from the meaning of the sentence. Your guess might not be exactly right but it may well be close enough for you to keep reading and not have to stop to know what it meant exactly. 

The language teachers amongst you might like to refer to the page that I set up for the teachers who participated. There is quite a bit of discussion there about these issues.

  • Rita

    Reading your article just likes being tought by you! Look forward your more articles. Thanks!

  • Cristina

    I have just read the article and I totally agree.I also am an adept of “out with dictionaries, in with contextually grasped meaning”‘. As for teaching learning grammar by reading, yes, it works, I fully agree again. Sometimes I get students who need a rapid intake of both basic grammar and vocabulary and I give them or suggest them the abridged version books on levels, from beginners to intermediate or even advanced, depending on how serious the situation is. I always tell them not to use the dictionary unless the understanding in seriously hindered by the meaning of a word repeating itself too often and impossible to get from the context, though with such books, this rarely occurs. Generally progress is quick and then they want to keep on doing it and getting to read unabridged novels.
    Just a few thoughts on a class I have really enjoyed and the follow-ups of it. Thank you.

    • Thanks for the input Cristina. A great idea for people to try.