If you are reading this right now, you can probably read in English. But maybe you do not have the overall English ability you want. The good news is that reading material- one of the easiest kinds of English language materials to find- can be used to improve all of your English language skills.
Reading to Improve Your Writing Skills
Reading is especially good for improving your writing skills. If you want to know how to write, read other people’s writing for example. Be sure to read the kinds of things you want to write. If you are a student, you should look for sample student essays online. With a little bit of Google searching, I found this great collection of college admissions essays. And many top universities publicly post their best student papers. Check out Yale’s sample student writing page here, and search other university websites for similar stuff.
There are lots of non-academic kinds of writing you may want to read and imitate too. If you just want to use your English writing skills to have fun and socialize, read posts on social media sites like Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. Or maybe you need to write at your job. In that case, do a Google search for keywords such as “sample business writing.”
As you read to build your writing ability, remember that other writers are just like you- not perfect! So imitate the kinds of writing you like, but also remember the things you do not like. Reading can give you good examples to follow and help you avoid other people’s writing mistakes.
Reading to Improve Your Speaking and Listening Skills
So what about speaking and listening? How can reading help you with that? The connection between speaking and listening may be a little less obvious. But it is there!
In fact, carefully reading things out loud is one of the best ways to really practice your pronunciation. Try reading an English language storybook to your nephew, niece, grandchild, son, daughter, etc. You will learn, and you will help a kid to learn. For a more adult activity, read the transcript of a TED Talk. Then listen to the TED Talk, and reread the transcript out loud in the same speaking style as the TED speaker. From there, try to read the transcript differently, using your own speaking style.
Actually, reading material that comes with an audio of the text is also a powerful tool for improving your listening. Find a TED Talk, subtitled television show, or other audio that has a transcript. Listen without the transcript or subtitles at first. Then listen again while reading a text. Make note of the words you missed hearing but were able to read. Mark the words you really don’t know. Also make note of the words you do know, but were not able to hear correctly. This activity will help you learn new spoken and written vocabulary. It will also let you figure out what kinds of sounds, words, and phrases you need to listen for more closely.
Reading for a “Whole Picture” of the English Language
One of the best things about reading material is the huge variety of things you can read in English. In any language, writing is done in many different subjects and styles. Some of the most common types of writing on the Web include English language news, English language academic writing, sports writing, and writing related to pop culture.
All of those common readings use English that is pretty formal. Even pop culture news is usually more “proper” than everyday spoken English. But there are other kinds of English writing that can give you a good look at the less formal, more playful side of English. Try reading some blogs hosted on sites like LiveJournal and Tumblr. Blog writers are usually ordinary people (or celebrities!) with no professional writing skills or training. This is real English from real users of the language!
And when it comes to playful language that gives you a good look at what English really is, do not forget to read fiction. Novels and short stories are some of the most creative works in the English language. Besides showing you just how clever a writer can be in English, fiction also gives you a look at spoken conversations. Fiction writers write a lot of dialogue, or character speech. Looking at a conversation in writing can help you really study the language of spoken English. You can read a conversation over and over, noticing details you would not notice if you were just listening to people talk.
If you want to study all kinds of English conversation, you should especially be reading comics. English language comic strips often use a lot of written slang, informal language that is common in speech. And cartoonists love to write out their characters’ words phonetically, writing the words as they might sound instead of going with the official spelling. Here is a list of webcomics to get you started.
Try to read stuff from each of the categories I mentioned above. And look for as many other kinds of English reading as you can. Pay attention to the different kinds of words, phrases, and sentences used in each type of writing. Also pay attention to the tone that the writer or characters take. Reading allows you to take a long detailed look at all the different ways that people use English. This deeper understanding of the language will help you build your own English skills in so many ways.
This post was written by David Recine, TOEFL expert at Magoosh. For advice on TOEFL preparation, check out Magoosh’s TOEFL blog.