How To Improve Reading Skills in English To Understand Any Type of Text Easily

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In language learning, reading is one among four macro skills—the other three being speaking, listening, and writing. It means not only that reading comprehension skills are essential for any student to possess, but that they are also the base for working on any micro skill, such as grammar or vocabulary.

In elementary school, you’re first taught literacy. It’s one of the absolute necessities of modern life, meaning you need to know how to read and write as much as you need food, clothing, or electricity.

When you learn how to recognize letters and infer meaning from the way they’re organized into words and sentences, that’s not where your reading skills are perfected. It’s only where the journey of improving them starts.

Here you’ll learn what the best methods for developing your reading skills are and how you can employ them in your everyday life so that you can understand texts of any type or level of difficulty better.

The First Step to Improving Your Reading Skills Is Recognizing What They Are

Regardless of whether English is your native language or not, the ability to approach any writing and understand not only its meaning but also what’s beyond it with ease is an indispensable trait of any successful student, scholar, or employee.

Before beginning to work on your reading skills, though, you should know what they encompass. After all, there is a reason that the phrase is always used in the plural. Here are the actual skills that fall under the umbrella term reading skills:

  1. Phonemic awareness
  2. Vocabulary
  3. Fluency
  4. Comprehension

What Is Phonemic Awareness?

Phonemic awareness or decoding is your ability to derive meaning from speech and translate it into letters. This then allows you to tell one letter from another and understand the larger sequences into which they are combined to create meaning. These sequences are words and sentences.

Expand Your Vocabulary and Build Your Mental Lexicon 

The building of your vocabulary is akin to developing reading comprehension. Many tests that assess your understanding of the written word are vocabulary tests. As you work toward enhancing your reading skills, you are inevitably enriching your vocabulary as well. Likewise, you cannot comprehend complicated texts without having a wide range of vocabulary in your mental lexicon.

There’s More to Fluency Than Just Speaking

Fluency is usually talked of in terms of your speaking skills, but it is an important element of reading skills, too. After all, if you want to improve your comprehension, isn’t your aim to be able to understand different forms of text without having to make large pauses or search for the meanings of words in a dictionary? When you reach that stage, you’ve attained reading fluency.

The Three Aspects of Comprehension Skills

Working on your reading skills comes down to one goal—developing the ability to interpret texts in more than one way. There are three types of comprehension skills:

  • Literal
  • Evaluative
  • Inferential

As its name suggests, literal comprehension means you can understand what’s before you in its most basic form when reading any kind of text. For example, when you’re reading a novel, you can answer the questions of who the story is about, where it’s set, and what the major things that happen in it are. Only then have you acquired the skill that is a starting point to a more advanced comprehension.

Evaluative comprehension means you can judge the viewpoints made within the text by picking them out of context. For example, an author might not point out outwardly they believe the world is corrupt, but they might develop characters in their works whose actions embody the author’s views. Evaluative comprehension refers to your ability to recognize a subtle message in the text, explain your argument by backing it up with the source material, and form your own opinion on the topic.

Inferential comprehension skill is what is meant by your ability to read between the lines. For example, you could be reading a story about a talented pianist. Nowhere does the text say that the artist in question is indeed talented, but you can deduce it by the character winning awards or mesmerizing the audience with their performance. When you can rely on your pre-existing knowledge of the world to draw conclusions on what you’re reading, you can comprehend texts inferentially.

Why Does Developing Reading Skills Matter So Much?

There are numerous reasons why you should work on your reading skills. Some of the most common are:

  • Ability to perform better in school
  • Attainment of academic success
  • Achievement of professional goals
  • Feeling of personal satisfaction

While it’s plain how reading comprehension helps you do better in a subject like English, there is also a correlation between your reading skills and your performance in other subjects, like Science or Math. Reading proficiency means you deal with any subject more effectively, understand difficult concepts without taking too long to study them, and form your original opinions on the matters you’re being taught.

In college, you’re expected to approach texts with a critical mindset, employ complex writing strategies to do research studies of your own, and voice your opinions on any topic relevant to your course. It’s obvious then how improving reading skills leads to a stellar academic performance.

Reading skills are also among the most desirable ones with employers looking for potential workers. Building a successful career after your graduate will hardly be possible if you don’t possess the skills to read different forms of texts fluently or know how to search for key information you need within those texts.

When you know the extent to which your reading fluency makes you a more competent student or job candidate, you are bound to feel better about yourself when working actively on improving those skills. Besides, a research led by Dr. David Lewis at the University of Sussex showed that reading is better in reducing your stress than even listening to music. Reading for pleasure also has positive effects on personal development and improves your social life.

Enhancing Reading Skills—How To Begin

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Before you select the material for improving your comprehension skills, you have to recognize certain concepts about reading and identify what your reading habits are.

More specifically, you need to:

  1. Examine whether what you’re reading suits you
  2. Learn the difference between skimming and scanning your text
  3. Recognize the importance of the ‘why’ factor in reading
  4. Set up an environment that is conducive to focused reading

Are You Reading That Wrong or Is the Material Not Right for You?

While you can benefit from any reading—from fiction, news articles, and blog entries to Instagram posts—you have to determine whether the material you chose for developing your reading skills is too hard or too easy for you.

If you’re struggling with a particular text, reevaluate it. Perhaps you’re not sufficiently knowledgeable about the subject matter to understand the writing. Maybe the larger part of the vocabulary used is above your level. Whatever the case, choose your reading material wisely.

You should look for texts that are challenging you both in terms of vocabulary and structure, but that are not out of line with your level or interests.  

Build Reading Skills by Learning How To Skim and Scan

We cannot talk of reading skills without underlying the importance of skimming and scanning as reading methods. The two are constantly used in tests that assess your comprehension too—and for a good reason. 

Though similar-sounding, the terms contrast each other. Here’s a table to understand the concepts, as well as how they differ:

Scanning a Text Skimming Through a Text
  • Searching for a specific bit of information within it
  • Focusing on individual word meanings that would lead to locating the required information in the text
  • Aiming to find an answer to a particular question you might have
  • Speeding through it to get the gist
  • Not focusing on every word or aspect of the text
  • Deciding if you would be interested in reading the whole text in more depth

You may not realize it, but you use both these methods all the time. For example, you might be browsing books on Amazon. You can enter Poetry in the search bar and skim through the titles to see whether there’s something you like. On the other hand, you might be scanning the page to see if you can find the specific book you’re looking for.  

Learning these methods and doing the tests that are designed to improve your skimming and scanning techniques helps you approach any text in a way that suits your purpose for reading it.

Remember Why You’re Reading the Text at Hand

When sitting down to read, always know why you’ve chosen your particular material. Maybe it contains the specific vocabulary you want to work on, or it’s the study on the topic you’re invested in. Whatever it is, knowing the reason why you’re studying the text in front of you will keep you motivated and make you go back to your practice regularly.

Select a Physical Space and Allot the Time for Reading

To keep your focus sharp while you’re reading, it’s important to have a space that you associate with your practice. It can be a nearby park, a cozy cafe, your favorite reclining chair, or at a working desk.

It’s also good to set up a specific time during your day when you’ll work on your reading skills. If you stick to your chosen physical environment and the time which you dedicate to your practice, you will build a ritual you’ll want to return to often.

Don’t forget to distance yourself from any distractions and bring everything you need before sitting down to read.   

Ways To Improve Reading Skills—Practice Makes Perfect

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There are many strategies you can employ to work on your reading skills. Which ones you’ll adopt—and how often—can vary according to your individual needs and tastes. Here are some nifty suggestions:

  1. Start a reading journal
  2. Pick a material and then change it
  3. Scan your text before reading
  4. Annotate
  5. Discuss
  6. Read out loud
  7. Reread
  8. Test your vocabulary

Reading Journals Are All the Rage

If you enjoy putting your plans down on paper, reading journals are for you. You can make a weekly, monthly, or yearly plan on what you’ll read. You should also jot down any thoughts you have on a particular text, and think about writing a review on it. The journaling will boost your motivation to meet your reading goals.

Find Beauty in Variety

Let’s say your first choice for reading material was a fiction novel. When you finish it, pick a newspaper article or even a research study before going back to fiction. Reading different types of texts is crucial to reaching the complete reading fluency, which is your primary goal. 

Give It a Quick Scan 

This is where the scanning method comes in. Going over your text briefly before you start reading helps you understand the text better. It also makes you focus your attention on the details that might be of particular importance to you.

Time To Jot Your Thoughts Down

Reading is an interactive process. You should never let the text before you serve only as an input of ideas and information. Use your reading journal to note down your impressions and reflections.

While reading, ask yourself questions about the text, annotate the parts that stuck out or you wish to go back to at one point, or decide how you feel about the author’s viewpoints. These will develop not only your literal comprehension skill but also the inferential and evaluative ones. 

Find an Outlet for Your Ideas

Once you judge the material you’ve read, you’ll want to share your opinions with someone. Talking to a friend, a family member, or your professors is the best way to feel the rewards of your practice and keep the flame of motivation alive.

If you can’t find anyone interested in the same topics as you are, you can join book clubs and even social media sites.

Here are some ideas for both of these:

Where You Can Discuss Books Online What They’re Perfect For
Reddit You can join subreddit communities that are specific for the books or topics you’re reading about. People on Reddit are always active and communicative, so you’ll certainly land in lively discussions.
Goodreads Goodreads is a great place to look for your next reading piece, but also join forums and book clubs to see what others have to say about your opinions.
Well-Read Black Girl (WRBG) WRBG is one example in a sea of online book clubs. If you’re interested in themes of race or how Black women paved their way through literature, this is the perfect place for you.

How About Reading Out Loud?

Reading out loud is great if you start to lose focus on the text or want to practice reading fluency. If English isn’t your native language, you can also watch TV shows, movies, or any videos with English subtitles to see how connected speech works and then mimic it.

If You Lose Focus, Go Back and Reread

When you like a particular book or a piece of writing, the only thing better than reading it is rereading it. This can also be true if you don’t understand the material from the get-go. If you challenged yourself with a complicated text, don’t give up on it before you reread the parts that were particularly difficult for you to grasp. 

Let’s Not Forget About Vocabulary Practice

While you certainly don’t want to pause your reading every minute to jot down vocabulary items or search for their meanings, practicing vocabulary is part of improving your reading skills.

Reading fluency means that you can infer the meaning of unfamiliar words from context. For example, in a novel A Feast for Crows, we find this sentence: “His mummer’s show with Edmure and the gallows had only made the Blackfish more obdurate, that was plain.”

You are not too likely to hear the word obdurate in everyday conversations, which means you might not be familiar with it—yet, you can infer, from your knowledge of the character and the context of the situation in which he is described as obdurate, that the word is synonymous with stubborn or unyielding.

In that case, you don’t need to distract yourself from the enjoyment of reading to look up the word. What you might do instead is highlight the parts where such words appear and later check whether you had indeed understood them properly.

There are also countless reading comprehension tests you can take that focus precisely on looking for and connecting synonyms of the advanced vocabulary items within texts.

Whatever you do, don’t forget to have fun with your vocabulary practice, as well as your endeavor to improve reading comprehension skills overall.

How Can Adults Improve Their Reading Skills?

When talking about reading skills and how to sharpen them, the focus is usually on high school or university students. Adults can also employ all the strategies listed above to work on their reading skills.

Whether your goal is to study the language, perform better at work, or something else entirely, when you introduce the habit of mindful reading practice in your daily life, you are bound to be happier and less stressful—the research conducted by the National Literacy Trust we mentioned above proved it.

What Do You Have To Say About The Ways To Improve Reading Comprehension Skills?

Do you agree with our strategies to develop reading comprehension skills? Do you have more ideas to add to the list?

It’s high time our education system was innovated to equip students with better methods to hone their reading skills and teach them how to translate them into their future careers.

If you agree or have tricks for developing reading skills up your sleeve, we invite you to share your opinion or your expertise with us, and we’ll publish your words on our blog.