Can you improve your English just by reading?
Given that reading is central to my StoryLearning method, it's no surprise that many people often ask me that question.
Of course, there's much more involved in learning English than reading can provide.
But I do believe that exposing yourself to written language has a tremendously important part to play in the language learning game.
But how to improve your English reading skills so you can understand more stories, read more and become a better English speaker too? Here are my 18 top tips.
For a quick overview, check out the table of contents below. Otherwise, keep reading.
Table of Contents
1. Read Regularly
Reading is a skill. Like any other skill you get better at it by practising it. So getting into the habit of reading as often as you can is fundamental. That’s why this is the number one tip on the list.
I read between 20 to 25 books a year not because I have a lot of free time to read (I’m busy – like you!) but because I never (okay, almost never) skip my 30-minute / 1-hour daily reading session.
You can start today. From this very moment, you commit to reading for at least thirty minutes a day. Do it in the morning, in the evening or at night – that’s not important. What’s important is that you do it.
Consistency is key to improving your skills.
2. Read What You Can Mostly Understand
Don’t read what you cannot understand. That will give you nothing but feelings of frustration.
If the book you’re reading makes you scratch your head every three words, put the book down and look for something more suitable to your level. Something easier.
Reading should be a pleasurable activity that makes you look forward to doing it. It shouldn’t become a hurdle.
So read what you can mostly understand. You can then gradually challenge yourself with more complex texts.
But say you want to read a particular book. How can you know if that book is suitable for your level or not?
It’s a useful tool to help you select your reading material.
3. Read What You’re Interested In
Don’t read something just because it’s written in English. Instead, read because you’re interested in what you’re reading.
This is a fantastic way to combine your hobbies and interests with learning English. It’ll make everything more enjoyable, interesting and effective.
For example, if you’re interested in cooking, then it would be a great idea to read cooking blogs. If you like bicycles, read about bicycles, but in English.
When choosing what to read, always ask yourself this question: Would I read this in my first language?
If you wouldn’t, then don’t read it.
4. Expand Your Vocabulary
Reading is all about understanding what words and sentences mean when they’re put together. So if your vocabulary is limited, then what you can read and understand is limited too.
Expanding your vocabulary is a way to become a more effective reader as the more words you can recognise, the more you can understand.
And guess what? To expand your vocabulary, you must read!
So you really have no more excuses not to read 🙂.
But you can also check out my post on advanced English vocabulary.
5. Don’t Look Up Words
As human beings who crave certainty, it can be a really stressful experience when there are words we don’t understand.
But when learning a new language, you must embrace confusion and uncertainty. In fact, that’s what successful learners do.
How can you tolerate confusion when it comes to reading?
The best way to start is to develop the skill of understanding what’s going in a story even when you don’t understand every word. Use the context to help you do that. Make a guess and move on.
Maybe the meaning of a word will become clear to you in a couple of sentences, pages or chapters. Or maybe that word is not that important and you can forget about it.
What’s important is the story and the message the writer is trying to express. Focus on the message, not single words.
HOWEVER, see my next point.
6. Do Intensive Reading
It's essential to incorporate two types of English reading into your practice: intensive reading and extensive reading.
Extensive reading is what I’ve been talking about so far: reading for pleasure things you can mostly understand because you’re interested in them. You read to enjoy a story, not to consciously learn new words.
Intensive reading, on the other hand, involves making an effort to comprehend every word on the page.
This type of reading requires focused attention and language tools such as dictionaries and translators because the focus is not so much on the message but, rather, on its form.
When you’re reading “intensively”, you can look up, translate, and record new words in your notebook or app. The aim is to understand every single thing. There’s no tolerance for uncertainty.
That’s why when you’re doing this type of reading, it’s a good idea to choose a short text that interests you. If the text is too long or if the topic doesn't appeal to you, you risk losing concentration.
Short articles, labels on a carton of milk, social media posts, tweets – these are all suitable texts.
7. Read And Listen At The Same Time
Reading while listening has so many benefits:
- It keeps you focused on the text so you don’t get distracted.
- You hear how words are pronounced so you can improve your pronunciation, intonation, spelling and listening skills.
- You engage multiple senses so you can understand more of what you’re reading.
- You can absorb information faster because you’re combining visual with audio input.
Try to combine listening with reading as often as possible.
8. Read Blogs In English
Maybe you’re not into books that much. Maybe you’d rather read something quicker and shorter than a book.
You can use blogs for that. There are billions of them though. Which ones are the best for you?
Have a look at my English blog suggestions here. (Number 2 and 3 are my favourites)
9. Read With Other People
Reading is often considered a solitary activity but it doesn’t have to be. So why not read with your friends, family members or other language learners?
You can join a book club or start your own reading group. You make it a social activity.
The benefits? You get to practise speaking, discuss and learn more about the topic of your reading sessions by sharing ideas and opinions with other people who love what you love.
And of course you can help each other with the language and ask about tricky words you met in the book, article or whatever else you decide to read with your group.
Listen to my friends Cara and Masha talk about the benefits of being a book club member here.
10. Use Newsinlevels.com
News in Levels is one of my favourite websites for learners of English.
There you can find news articles at different English proficiency levels: Level 1 (easy), Level 2 (intermediate), and Level 3 (advanced).
Just choose your level and enjoy the article. You can also listen to it as there’s an audio player below each article. It's a great resource for you if you’re looking to improve your English reading skills while staying informed about current events.
And the News In Levels team uploads a new article every day so you’ll always find something new to read.
11. Reread What You Read
There is value in rereading a text you’ve already read as this helps you consolidate vocabulary, grammar, and sentence structures.
Repetition is indeed a powerful tool in language learning.
Okay, you don’t need to reread everything, especially if you didn’t find the text particularly interesting. But every once in a while, try to reread an article, a page or an entire book you read in the past.
If you’ve been working on your English consistently since the day you finished reading that text, you might even be surprised by how much you can now understand this time!
12. Read Widely
You may fall into the trap of reading only one type of text or genre. Only blogs, only books, only articles about travelling.
But to get better at reading, broaden your vocabulary and improve your English in general, try to add variety to your reading sessions.
Blogs, comics, true stories, transcripts, webpages, news articles, newspapers, magazines, recipes, movie reviews, restaurant reviews, tweets – the list of what you can get your eyes on is endless.
So read widely!
13. Speed Read
“Speed reading is about increasing the speed that you read at. To do so, it is important to ensure that you are pushing yourself to read faster.
The goal is the fastest time with about 70 percent accuracy on the comprehension questions.”
The paragraph above is taken from the ESL Speed Readings website.
ESL Speed Readings are quick stories that were first created in 1974 by Emmy Quinn and Paul Nation – two linguists – and were designed to help learners of English improve their reading skills.
These stories, like my books, are written in simple English and have become very popular all over the world. So much so that you can now get them in the Speed Readings App, which also contains short multiple-choice comprehension quizzes to test your understanding.
You can check out the app here.
14. Take Reading Tests
I know I know these might be boring.
But here at StoryLearning we take reading tests and answer comprehension questions only after enjoying a story!
So worry not, my dear reader.
These are useful not only to practise reading but also to test your reading abilities.
Enjoy the stories (and then the tests)!
15. Summarise What You Read
Rephrasing what you read in your own words is great for two main reasons.
The first one is that it forces you to reuse words from the text you read. This is particularly helpful for expanding and consolidating your vocabulary.
The second one is that it reinforces your understanding because you're essentially teaching yourself the information in a way that makes sense to you.
It’s a technique that many students use to internalise information when they’re studying for an exam (and you might have used it as a student too).
But it can also help you become a more effective English reader.
16. Use Your First Language
Many websites in your first language have also an English version. There’s no harm in reading an article in your mother tongue first and then in English.
In fact, that’s a very useful exercise that can help you understand more and discover some new words and expressions.
Here is a list of international newspapers that have an English version.
- Le Monde (France) – English version: “Le Monde Diplomatique English Version”
- El País (Spain) – English version: “El País in English”
- Deutsche Welle (Germany) – Offers news including English.
- El Universal (Mexico) – English version: “El Universal in English”
- China Daily (China) – English version: “China Daily Global Edition”
- The Asahi Shimbun (Japan) – English version: “The Asahi Shimbun Asia & Japan Watch”
- Corriere della Sera (Italy) – English version: “Corriere della Sera English”
- Folha de S.Paulo (Brazil) – English version: “Folha de S.Paulo in English”
- The Moscow Times (Russia) – English version: “The Moscow Times”
- Al Jazeera (Qatar) – Offers news in multiple languages, including English.
17. Use Simple English Wikipedia
Did you know that Wikipedia has a version that can be super useful to less proficient readers of English?
It’s called “Simple English Wikipedia” and it’s like the regular Wikipedia but uses easy words and short sentences to explain things.
It's meant for people who want to learn about stuff without getting confused by big or complicated words.
But it’s for you, too! Use it!
18. Read Stuff That’s Not Meant For You
Of course you can read authentic books written for native English speakers. It’s admirable that you want to challenge yourself. So go ahead and do it.
Only don’t expect to understand everything if you’re an intermediate learner. That’s simply not possible.
So, yes, read authentic material, but be realistic!
How To Improve Your English Reading Skills
So there you have it – how to improve your English reading skills. I hope you enjoyed my list of tips on how to become a more effective reader in English.
Which one are you going to try today? Did any of these spark your interest?
Pick one that you can easily implement and find some time each day to read.
And if you’re a beginner or intermediate reader, have a look at some short stories in English I've written for you.