The importance of reading
“He that loves reading has everything within his reach.” – William Godwin, English writer (1756-1836).
I’ve always loved languages, and speak quite a few reasonably well. However, about a decade ago, I started learning Portuguese from scratch as I was planning to move to Lisbon. There’s something quite exciting and frustrating about learning a new language as an adult!
Reading is a very important part of learning English, at any level:
It improves your knowledge of vocabulary;
It improves your knowledge of grammar;
It shows you sentence construction and word order (e.g. S-V-O);
It shows you how to use punctuation ( e.g. , : ; .);
It is something you can do anywhere at any time;
You will learn new words without even trying.
Reading in my free time helped bridge the gap between what I knew (or thought I knew!) and what I didn’t. I read everything, online news, the free daily newspaper in the Metro in Lisbon on my commute to work, second hand books from book fairs, cereal box packets, public notices – you get the picture! The process of decoding all the new words I came across was sometimes easier – e.g. when the words were similar to other languages I know — and sometimes completely impossible – e.g. idiomatic expressions.
If you are, or have been, an English language student in class, you will surely know what it feels like to be the last student to finish a reading task or get stuck on a word you’ve never seen before. This can happen at any level. When we read, it is crucial to develop good survival skills and limit bad habits e.g. looking for every word we don’t know. The best way to do this is by being aware of how we read specific types of text e.g. when we read a sign in the street, we try to understand every word but when we read a book, we enjoy the story without spending too much time on every detail.
Let’s take online news as an example. This is one of the easiest ways to read in English, since most newspapers provide online content. Online news stories are brief, you can choose the stories which interest you and there’s something new to read several times a day.
News stories are usually written using the’Inverted Pyramid’ model, with the most important information appearing first. As a result, the active news reader is extremely selective, looking at the headlines and the images, and skimming over the first few paragraphs before deciding whether to keep on reading.
And now for the technical bit, knowing these common features will help you understand news language more effectively:
Headlines are different from traditional print as there is usually no capitalisation of headlines or use of exclamation marks.
However, some features remain: the omission of articles, auxiliaries, the verb “be”, prepositions, pronouns and punctuation (e.g. “Swiss Watch ExportsHit Record High”); a tendency to using shorter verbs (e.g. hit – instead of affected, jobless – for unemployment), blends (e.g. smog) and class-shifting e.g. where nouns are used as verbs (e.g. ban).
Tenses also change e.g. Past (has won/won) to Present (wins). Articles have shorter sentences and paragraphs and there are fact and quote boxes at theside to summarize the main points.
There is use of distancing language (e.g. reportedly).
Here’s my guide to reading an online news article:
Step 1: Read the headline, look at the pictures, what do you already know about it?
Step 2: Write questions you want answered in the article. Who? What? When? Where? Why?
Step 3: Read quickly and see if you can find an answer to your questions. DO NOT STOP. If you see a word you don’t know! Notice the “fact boxes” at the side.
Step 4: Read again, this time more slowly to understand a few more details
Step 5: Make a summary of the text and tell a friend about it. We understand things better when we tell someone about them.
Step 6: Well done! You have read and understood a news article!
Step 8: Visit this website to look for new words: http://dictionary.reference.com/
You don’t need to learn ALL the new words you see in a text, but when you think a word will be useful, it’s a good idea to look it up.
Please watch this space for my next blog post where we’ll discuss listening.