How to Improve your English Reading Skills - BELS Malta

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Understanding and Strengthening your English Reading Skills

Everybody knows the feeling of reading a text and realising that it’s harder to understand then anticipated. But how can you improve your reading skills? Before delving into the tips, let’s go over the different types of reading types and skills. Once you understand them, it will become much easier to develop your reading skills in English.

Essential skills for reading success

Let’s start with the basics. When you learn to read in your own language as a child, it’s a natural process of acquisition.

1. Decoding

Decoding is the capacity to sound out words that you may have heard before, but not seen written down. This is an essential reading skill and a vital part of the process since it serves as the basis for all subsequent reading abilities. Decoding relies heavily on phonemic awareness, which is the capacity to perceive and transform diverse sounds into words. Phomeic awareness is usually acquired naturally early on in life, when learning about syllables, words and sounds. If English is significantly different from your mother tongue – this process can be more challenging, so make sure to dedicate as much time and focus as you may need.

2. Phonics

The capacity to recognize the relationship between sounds and the letters they produce is referred to as phonics. This technique of mapping sounds in words to written words is a critical reading ability.

3. Vocabulary

Having a varied library of vocabulary in your mind that you can recall effortlessly is an essential component of success when learning a second language. When reading in English, this skill is required to comprehend the meaning of words, their meanings, and their context. So the more words you know, the more successful you will be at reading and comprehending texts in English.

4. Fluency

The capacity to read aloud with comprehension, precision and speed is referred to as fluency. It’s a necessary ability for excellent reading comprehension. Learners who are proficient readers know how to read fluently, at a good pace, with a suitable tone, and with few mistakes.

5. Sentence construction and cohesion

Cohesion refers to the ability to connect concepts between and within sentences, and it is required for reading comprehension. While sentence building and cohesiveness may appear to be more connected with writing, it is also a necessary reading skill.

6. Reading comprehension

The ability to read text, absorb it, and understand its meaning is referred to as reading comprehension. It is dependent on two interrelated abilities: word reading (decoding the symbols on the page) and language comprehension (being able to understand the meaning of the words and sentences).

7. Reasoning and background knowledge

This ability enables learners to utilize prior information to create inferences and draw conclusions. The majority of readers can link what they have read to what they already know. They may also read between the lines to find information that isn’t explicitly stated in the text but has a more subtle, underlying meaning.

8. Memory and attention

These reading skills are linked to one another and form a part of a category known as executive function. When you are reading, attention helps to absorb information from the text, while working memory allows you to retain the knowledge. Combined, these skills allow you to make sense of what you are reading and gain information from it.

4 Main Types of Reading Techniques to Improve

In daily life when we are reading for pleasure, or to complete a task, we make use of various different types of reading techniques. Once you know and understand these techniques, you will be better equipped to improve your English reading skills. Here are the different techniques, in the order, they should follow:

1. Skimming

Skimming, also known as gist reading, refers to going through a text to absorb the main idea. In this case, as a reader, you do not focus on every word of the text but focus only on the main theme of the text. Reading newspapers and searching for a name in a telephone directory are examples of skimming.

2. Scanning

When scanning, the reader moves fast between phrases to get to a certain piece of information (like a scanner would). Scanning is the process of dismissing unnecessary information from a text in order to find a specific piece of information.

3. Intensive reading

Intensive reading takes significantly more time than skimming and scanning since it requires full concentration. It entails close reading with the goal of achieving comprehension precision. In this case, the reader must grasp the meaning of every word.

4. Extensive reading

Extensive reading focuses on fluency rather than accuracy. It mainly involves leisure reading and is more of a pastime.

Guide to Improving your English reading skills

1. Start with getting an overview of the text

Use the four reading techniques in the order provided above to go through the text. That means that the first time you read the text, you can skim it to get a general idea.

That means that you can:

  1. Read the text but don’t get hung up on details. There is no need to understand every single word.
  2. Summarize every paragraph with one sentence

In the second reading, you can practice scanning, which includes:

  1. Reading the text in detail.
  2. If there are questions you have to answer with the text: look for the answers
  3. Look up unknown words

This technique will help you to get a general idea of the text first before you read it in detail. When you know what you are reading about it can become easier to understand it.

2. Summarise the text 

One effective method you can use in order not to forget everything you’ve just read is to summarize the content. This helps you to focus on the main points in the story and to come back to it when needed.  Here’s some advice on how to write a summary in English.

3. Use a text you know in your first language

Start with texts you are familiar with – for example, an English translation of your favourite fairy tale from your childhood. It will be easy to understand and the words that are new can often be understood through context.

4. Choose the right level

When it comes to reading it is important to choose the right text. If you read a text that is too easy, you will be bored. If you read a text that is too hard, you will get frustrated and might develop a fear or dislike of reading.

5. Take your time

Good things take time – the same applies to reading. It is better to read something thoroughly and multiple times, rather than rushing through it and not understanding half of what you just read. It is also important to note that your brain is only able to focus for 45 mins before you slowly start to lose it.

That means: reading in smaller portions. Take breaks and continue again. A little break can do wonders!

6. Extend your vocabulary

The more words you know, the easier a text will get. If you read a text with 500 words but only know 200, it will be difficult for you to understand. If you know 450 words, however – it will become much easier for you. So work on learning new words!  Our guide on how to improve your English vocabulary can be helpful here.

7. Read out loud 

Ever heard of auditory learning? Tan auditory learner is someone who learns best by listening. That means: Sometimes reading a text out loud can help you understand it better. Especially if you process information through auditory cues, this technique could benefit you. You either read out aloud to yourself or if possible, listen to the audiobook and read along.

8. Incorporate your interests

Nobody likes to read/watch or listen to topics they don’t like. It automatically makes us less interested and invested. So, if you want to read more but don’t know what – start researching about a topic you are interested in. Do you like romance novels? Try to read one. Interested in horses? Look for a story with horses. The more we are interested in the topic, the more likely we will actually like reading and learning.

9. Answer the ‘Five W’s’

To get some information from the text try to determine what the text’s major point is. Find the answers to the 5Ws: where, who, what, when, and why. This will give you an overview of the most important aspects of the text.

10. Practise makes perfect

Last but not least – maybe the most important tip: read as much as you can. That means making it a habit to read each day – even if it is for only 30 minutes. Practice and repetition make it easier to learn new words – if you see them more often, chances are you will know their meaning faster!

Improve your English reading skills with BELS

Sometimes having a professional guide you through your learning is needed to take your reading skills in English to the next level. If you feel this is the case for you, BELS can help in more than one way.  Joining our English schools in Malta and Gozo for an intensive learning experience is the most effective solution. You may mix group lessons at your level with individual training, which will cover all language topics and abilities. You may also have private lessons online with one of our expert tutors to help you improve your English skills at your own pace, from the comfort of your own home.

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