There are several occasions every day when we read our native language, usually very quickly, in order to understand a sign or a text message. There are also several tricks that you naturally use in your own language that enable you to understand written text quickly. What are these tricks and how can you apply them to English?
Types of reading
There are different ways of reading that we all use in our native language, usually without noticing.
- Skimming – when you want to have a quick idea of what a text is about you quickly read a few parts without giving much attention to every single detail. This is the type of reading you can use when you read the news online and want to have a general idea of the story.
- Scanning – when you’re looking for a particular detail (e.g. a word, name or place) you scan. You do this when you’re looking for a particular product in a price list or when you look for a name or location.
- Reading for detail – when you read a book for leisure you read every word of the text. You probably also do this when you read the instructions about how to assemble something or in a recipe.
So the next time you read in English, think about which type of reading you need because it will help you save time and even help you understand better.
Titles and subtitles
Before reading any article, make sure the first thing you do is read the title and any subtitles (secondary titles). Titles are like sign posts on a road – they let you know where important things are and where you need to go. Just by reading a title you can start to have an idea of what the article is about and predict what you will find.
First lines of paragraphs
If you have quite a long article to read, it can help a lot to read the first line of each paragraph. The first line of a paragraph always introduces the main idea of the next few lines (the paragraph) and so can help you understand what the writer wants to communicate. This is a particularly useful skill when you are doing an exam and don’t have much time to read the whole article in detail.
Limit the words you look for in the dictionary
It can be tempting to look up every new word you don’t understand in the dictionary. But doing so is very time-consuming and often doesn’t really help you understand a text. Try to accept that there will be several words you don’t know but that you can still understand the general meaning. You can choose to look up two or three words that repeatedly appear and that completely block your understanding. And when you do look up these words, try to do it using an English-only dictionary. Learning words in English will help you remember them much better.
Look out for important words
In every phrase there are two or three words that are crucial, and the others are much less important. By learning to identify these key words you will be able to read and understand much faster. This will take some practice but it’s a good habit to try to learn. The key words are usually nouns, verbs, adjectives and adverbs. Articles and prepositions are usually less important words in terms of the general meaning. You can notice this much more quickly when you listen, because the speaker will put a stress (accent) on the most important words in the sentence. For example, in the following sentence the accented/stressed words are underlined:
The speaker will put a stress on the most important words.
Obviously the best way to get faster at reading is to practice. But even better is to practice at an appropriate level for you. At Wall Street English you have the advantage of being able to read texts that were written for your precise level, so it might be a little challenging but you will be able to understand. The reading texts we use always include the same grammar structures and vocabulary that you’re currently studying in your unit, as well as introducing some new terms and review previously learnt ones. Our method avoids you finding too many words you don’t understand, making reading quite frustrating.
Wall Street English students can also try reading the articles available in the Practice area of their dashboard. These are reasonably short and include a quick comprehension quiz at the end.
Everyone can learn to read faster and understand more by using these simple techniques. Try putting them into practice now by reading some of our other blog articles.
Find out the best English course for your with our interactive activity below: