How to Read English Texts if You Want to Improve Your English

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  • 8/11/2019 How to Read English Texts if You Want to Improve Your English


    How to read English texts if you want to improve your English

    Reading for content

    Normally, when reading a text, people use a strategy that I call "reading forcontent". The goal of this strategy is to get the main idea of the text as quickly as

    possible and with as little effort as possible. To accomplish this goal, your brain willtry to read as few words as possible and spend only a fraction of a second on each


    For example, when reading the following passage, you dont really see it like this!

    nce when I was six years old I saw a magnificent picture in a book, called TrueStories from Nature, about the prime#al forest. It was a picture of a boa constrictor

    in the act of swallowing an animal. $ere is a copy of the drawing. In the book it said!"%oa constrictors swallow their prey whole, without chewing it. &fter that they are

    not able to mo#e, and they sleep through the six months that they need fordigestion."

    I pondered deeply, then, o#er the ad#entures of the 'ungle. &nd after some workwith a colored pencil I succeeded in making my first drawing.

    To your brain, it looks more or less like this!

    ncewhen I was six years old I saw amagnificent picture in abook, called True

    Stories fromNature, about the prime#alforest. It was apicture of aboa constrictorin the act ofswallowing ananimal. $ere is acopy of thedrawing. In thebook itsaid!

    "%oa constrictorsswallow theirprey whole, without chewing it.&fter thatthey arenot able tomo#e, and they sleep through thesix months that theyneed for


    I pondered deeply, then, o#er thead#entures of the'ungle. &nd after someworkwith acolored pencil I succeeded inmaking my first drawing.

    $ere are some characteristics of "reading for content"!

    Not seeing "grammar words" like a, the, in, of, through, that. The eye only

    stops at content words (main nouns, #erbs, ad'ecti#es and ad#erbs).

    Not seeing word forms! *as it lookor looked+ Has lookedor had looked+

    Not noticing the exact spelling. It is well known that the brain recognies

    whole words - it does not analye them letter by letter. Nati#e speakers see

    the wordpieceall the time, but many of them still misspell it aspeice, because

    the two spellings ha#e similar shapes.

    Ignoring difficult words that are not essential to understanding the meaning(here!primeval, constrictor). *ho has the time to use a dictionary+

    &n extreme example of "word blindness" is the rather wellknown pule where

    youre asked to count how many times the letter F occurs in the following passage!

    FINI/$01 FI20/ &30 T$0 30/42T F 50&3/ F /6I0NTIFI6 /T415 67%IN01*IT$ T$0 08903I0N60 F 50&3/.

  • 8/11/2019 How to Read English Texts if You Want to Improve Your English


    3eading for content is a great, timesa#ing way to extract information from printedsources. The problem is that you may not need the grammar words to understanda

    text, but you do need them to producea text. /o if you dont pay attention tothings like articles and prepositions, you wont be able to use them correctly in your

    own sentences.

    For example, here is a sentence from the opening paragraph of this article. 7ostlearners (except those who are proficient in 0nglish grammar or extremelyobser#ant) will probably find it difficult to fill in the blanks!

    To accomplish this goal, your brain will try to read as ::: words as possible andspend only a fraction of ::: second ::: each word.

    The abo#e explains why some learners can read a ;

  • 8/11/2019 How to Read English Texts if You Want to Improve Your English


    saying a similar phrase aloud or in your mind. The idea is to mo#e the phraseto your "acti#e #ocabulary".

    ;. If necessary, or if you feel like it, use your dictionaryto find definitions ofwords in the sentence and get more example sentences. This will help enrich

    your "feel" of the word.@. If you use SuperMemo, consider adding the phrase to your collection (e.g.

    as a sentence item) to make sure it will stay in your memory. f course, onlyuseful phrases should be added.

    If you dont like to stop reading (to look up a word in your dictionary or add a phraseto /uper7emo), you can write down all the interesting sentences, or you can

    underline them in the book with a pencil. This way, you can handle these sentenceslater.

    &nother important piece of ad#ice is that you dont have to use the a!ovestrategy all the time. 3eading in this mode can be quite exhausting, so dont do it

    when youre tired after a long reading session. &lso, do not try to gi#e equalattention to e#ery sentence. /ome sentences in books (e.g. long poetic descriptions)

    do not contain phrases or structures that are useful for building your own sentences.

    /ome characters in books use weird slang expressions which arent #ery usefuleither.

    Finally, the "pause and think" technique will not always make you remember the

    exact way to say something. %ut perhaps youll remem!er that this particulartype of sentence is "weird" or "difficult" in English. If you remember that, it

    will at least make you stop before you write that sentence, and look it up instead ofmaking a careless mistake.

    #n example

    Ill now gi#e you a short demonstration of the "pause and think" method. $ere are

    two 0nglish sentences and the thoughts I got when reading them!

    Former 9resident Aimmy 6arter will #isit Beneuela next week to mediate talks

    between the go#ernment and its opposition, which ha#e been locked in a powerstruggle since a failed coup.

    "Former 9resident" - not "The former 9resident", so I guess we say

    "9resident 6arter" and not "The 9resident 6arter", e#en though we say "The

    9resident will do something" when we dont mention his name.

    "to mediate talks" - not "to mediate in the talks" or something like that. I

    wonder if that would be C, too...

    "power struggle" - I think I#e seen this phrase before.

    "since a failed coup" - so I can say "$es been paralyed since an accident"

    (preposition use), not only "$es been paralyed since an accident happened"

    (con'unction use).

    "since a failed coup" - not "since the failed coup". The author does not

    assume we know about the coup.

    "coup" - hey, I know this is pronounced Dku!E=
  • 8/11/2019 How to Read English Texts if You Want to Improve Your English


    Aennifer 7c6oy, of the &tlantabased 6arter 6enter, told reporters /aturday that6arter may be able to help break the political deadlock when he #isits beginning Auly


    "Aennifer 7c6oy of the 6arter 6enter" - not "Aennifer 7c6oy fromthe 6arter

    6enter" (in 9olish I would say from). /o wed say "Aohn %rown of I%7", for


    "&tlantabased" - another way of saying "based in &tlanta". Guess I could

    say Im a "*roclawbased webmaster".

    "told reporters /aturday" not "on /aturday" - seems we can skip the "on"

    sometimes. "I met her Friday" would probably work as well as "I met her on


    "told that 6arter may be able" - not "told that 6arter mightbe able" - lack

    of reported (indirect) speech. &nd my 0nglish teacher taught me to say thingslike "/he said she might stay" (not "/he said she may stay").

    "to help break the deadlock" - It looks like helpcan be used without an

    ob'ect (it does not say "to help Venezuelansbreak the deadlock"), and without

    to(it does not say "help tobreak the deadlock"). This is different from some

    other #erbs like force(we cannot say "The 9resident will force break thedeadlock", we must say "The 9resident will force Venezuelansto break the


    "when he #isits" - not "when he will#isit", e#en though it will be in the

    future. I dont think I ha#e e#er seen willused in such a sentence.

    "to #isit beginning Auly " - interesting structure - I would say "to #isit on

    Auly ", but here beginningreplaces on. This may be the first time that I#e

    seen this phrase. It may be some sort of news 'argon.

    Reading everywhere

    If you think you dont ha#e time to read, try to carry a book with you e#erywhere

    you go. That way, you can read when youre waiting in line, waiting for a bus, ore#en when walking (but make sure you dont walk into other people or #ehicles).