Is it difficult to read English articles and books? On average, how much time does it take you to read a CNN or BBC article and how much percent do you understand the message the author wants to convey? The fact is that not many people give the detailed answer to this question because often, we take quite a lot of time and our “level” of reading also fluctuates up and down. There are articles in which we understand almost the whole content but there are articles in which we do not completely understand anything at all. Even if you aim to read 15 English books a week, this will not help you become better at this foreign language unless you really understand most of the content in those books.
In English, fully understanding what is written is called “Reading comprehension”, and in fact, even indigenous people, not everyone of whom is proficient in this skill. The reasons are many, maybe because of the limited vocabulary, lacking focus on reading, being distracted by other thoughts or the unattractive content that make the reading process not go smoothly. You may be advised to practice reading a lot, and one day, you will understand everything written in English. However, this is really difficult to achieve without a suitable method.
Tips to improve English reading comprehension skills
Before you begin to unlock the secret, let’s think about the scaffolding. When building a house, you won’t finish everything at once. Workers will have to create a temporary structure to keep the house balanced and to build the foundation for higher sections. That temporary structure is called “Scaffolding”.
Scaffolding is also a method of learning. The idea is that to master a skill, you need to practice smaller parts that can help you gain that knowledge and skill.
If you want to master English reading comprehension skills, it is the same. To really understand what you are reading, you need to learn other skills first. You also need to practice reading fast (or reading slowly), stop the habit of selecting difficult titles and start looking for books that match your current level. Start with the easier, smaller ones and read at a slower rate, then gradually increase the difficulty.
From now on, keep this learning method in mind whenever you need to improve your listening, speaking, and writing skills, not just reading comprehension.
Here are 8 steps to help you conquer reading comprehension skills after short period of time.
Step 1: Always choose a special period of time for reading
You can read something funny anytime and anywhere, such as on the bus, in bed or at work and you can enjoy that interesting book.
However, if you want to improve your “understanding” skills, you need to be totally focused and spend time doing research. This means reading needs to be spent a special period of time: wholeheartedly thinking about reading, avoiding being distracted by external factors or other thoughts in a quiet environment without noise and other impacts.
Ways to apply:
- Take at least 30 minutes a day to focus on reading. The more you read in such an environment, the more you improve your skills.
- Turn the reading process into a “ritual”, like something you have to do every day.
- Look for a quiet, comfortable place with the light on.
- Prepare everything you need before sitting down to read, including books, newspapers, pens, notebooks, dictionaries, and drinks to avoid having to move many times.
- Decide the appropriate period of reading (30 minutes is a good choice).
- Keep phone, tablet, Ipad and all other electronic devices in silent mode.
If you do all of the above things, your brain will “understand” that it is time you are ready to focus on reading.
Step 2: Select the suitable content to read
When choosing a book or newspaper to read, there are two things you need to remember: (1) you are interested in the content and (2) it is suitable for your level.
Of course, you can challenge yourself by choosing content that is a bit more difficult than your current level. However, do not let it too difficult because you will not be able to fully comprehend the author’s ideas. There are some online websites to help you choose the right book to read:
- Listopia (Goodreads) has many lists of great books created by book lovers like you.
- Your Next Read allows you to search for books similar to the one you just have read or you can explore other book lists.
- Jellybooks helps you discover new books or allows you to read samples before deciding to buy them.
- Whichbook is a very different website. You can search for anything in a book, such as the topic of happiness, sadness, beauty, etc, and this website will suggest you titles that match that selection.
Step 3: Ask questions during and after the reading process
Understanding a book requires you to do more than read each word. Before reading, take a quick look at the content (do not read each word). After reading, do the same as well as summarize what you can remember. You can write or say a few sentences that can briefly describe the content of the document. In this way, you can grasp how much you understand the author’s ideas and what is still not really clear.
Ways to apply:
Some sample questions that you can ask yourself before reading:
- Are there any bold or italic words in the book or article ?
- Is there a title or note ?
- Are there any specific names or destinations mentioned ?
- Are there many conversations in the book ?
- Are the paragraphs long or short ?
Some sample questions that you can ask yourself after reading:
- What is the book / paragraph / article about ?
- What is most important idea that the author emphasized ?
- Is there something you don’t really understand ?
- Is there something that makes you feel shocked or surprised ?
- Is there something you disagree with in the author’s perspective?
Step 4: Improve your fluency first
“Reading. Is. Fun”.
Imagine reading an entire article or a book written in the same way as the sentence above and you have to stop after each word (because after every word is a dot). It is difficult to understand what it means. You cannot fully understand what you read if you only read each word instead of the whole sentence. That is the reason why it is important you improve your fluency first in order to improve your reading comprehension skills.
Fluency here refers to how “smoothly” you read. As you read in your mind, you should create rhythm for each word. The words will naturally connect to each other like when someone is talking to you.
Ways to apply:
- Mostly, many English words that you see while reading are often “sight words”, which are the common words that appear at a high frequency and cannot be learned by using images, such as “the”, “of” , “and”, “a”, “without”, “once”, “past”or “with”, etc.
- You can practice reading sight words very quickly, just by taking one or two minutes a day to browse through the words and read them as quickly as possible.
Note that this exercise is about reading quickly, not reading. Once you get used to a comfortable reading speed, you will have time to focus on “understanding”.
Step 5: Once you have learned how to increase your reading speed, slow down
Once you have learned how to read fluently, you can stop worrying about your reading speed and start thinking about the meaning of each word. It is time for you to slow the reading process in order to understand the content more thoroughly.
A great way to reduce reading speed by yourself is to read the sentence aloud. This not only helps you practice reading and understanding, but also improves your pronunciation, listening and speaking skills. Focus on reading and pronouncing each word carefully. If you can’t or don’t want to read aloud, stop temporarily after every few paragraphs to make sure you totally focus on reading. In addition, another way to control reading speed is to note and write down questions.
Step 6: Put lots of questions
The more questions you ask about what you are reading, the more chances you have to explore what they mean. You can try some questions, such as “what has happened?”, “Who is the main character?”, “What did he do?” or “what is she thinking?”.
Ways to apply:
- Write down all the questions in notepaper and stick to them as you read.
- After reading, review the questions and find out how many questions you have found answers. If there are any unanswered questions, reread the paragraph containing the question.
Step 7: Read again
When it comes to reading, the famous poet Ezra Pound once said “For the first time people read a book, no one really understand anything from that book.”
Sometimes, reading a book once is not enough for you to comprehend the author’s message, especially with abstract works. So, re-reading is a great way to help you decipher the meaning of each word, find the content that you accidentally missed in the first reading and memorize the content further.
Ways to apply:
- If you want to read an English book, choose a book that only contain a few paragraphs. Short stories or articles are great options.
- After reading the first time, try to write down the things you remember.
- Read it again and continue to do the second step. At this point, you will find you remember the content more vividly than before.
The first time you read, you understand what the book is about. The second time you read, you understand what the author really wants to say and the third time you read, you will understand how the content has an impact on your present life.
Step 8: Read different reading genres
Not only books, newspapers, you can also read emails, blogs, tweets, etc. The more contents you read in English, the deeper you understand the language. Don’t just read a single type of content but diversify the reading to understand how words are used in different contexts and you will find English much more interesting.
Ways to apply:
- StumbleUpon recommends websites based on your interests.
- Digg gathers interesting stories collected on the Internet.
- Reddit gathers websites and images collected by other users.
Right now, try to apply the above-mentioned steps to practice English reading comprehension and of course, you can also use this secret to learn the reading skills in other languages.