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Learn to Read in English with Somewhat Challenging Texts

When you’re learning to read in English, it’s best to read just above your reading level.

This means you read articles or books which are a little bit difficult for you. Some words and sentences will be challenging or unfamiliar, but you can still understand what the text is saying.

Why would you read above your comfortable reading level? It can be fun to read something easy, but if you only ever read easy texts, you won’t improve. It’s still a good idea to read something easier every now and then, but it won’t push you to the next level. By reading just above what’s comfortable, you will be challenged to learn a little more each time.

This way, you can push your reading level higher and higher. Before you know it, a text that used to be a little too difficult will now feel easy!

Don’t push yourself to read something that’s way above your reading level, though—unless you must. Working with text that’s much too difficult can be very frustrating. So the goal is to find something a little challenging, but not too hard.

Steps to Take Before You Start Reading

Whether you’re reading something easy, difficult or just right, here are some steps you can take (before you even start reading!) to make your reading easier.

  • Choose a time of day when you’re the most alert (awake). Are you a morning person or a night person? Do you feel like your brain works the best at a specific time of day? Try to read at that time.
  • Determine your reading goal. Why are you reading the text? How you read a text will be different depending on what you want to get from the reading. Reading for a general understanding of a text will be completely different from reading to fully understand it, or to just learn new vocabulary.
  • Skim and scan. Scanning a text means looking for a specific part or for the answer to a specific question. Skimming a text means letting your eyes look over the text quickly without really reading every word. These are both excellent strategies to use before you start reading. They will let you understand a little bit about the text or topic so you have a rough idea of what you’re going to read about.
  • Make sure you’re comfortable and have plenty of light. Poor lighting can make you strain your eyes, and being uncomfortable is distracting. You want your mind to be completely on the text, not on how much your back hurts from your terrible chair!
  • Eliminate distractions. Find a place where you can have some peace and quiet when you read, to help you concentrate. Turn off the television, put your phone on silent, and go to a quiet room alone.
  • Use a pen or finger to guide your reading. If you’re still having trouble focusing, slide your pen or finger under the words as you read them. This will help keep your eyes from moving all over the page.
  • Take breaks. After a while, your brain gets tired. When you’re tired, it can be difficult to focus. Schedule breaks to give your eyes and mind a rest, or only read for short periods of time.

Learn to Read in English with an Article from The Atlantic

In 2008, journalist Nicholas Carr wrote an article in The Atlantic called “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” It’s about how Google and the Internet are changing the way we read and think. It’s an interesting look at how current technology is changing how our brains work—but it’s a pretty difficult piece for an English learner.

To show you how to read any kind of text, no matter how easy or difficult, we’ll apply our learning tips to two (slightly changed) paragraphs from Carr’s article.

Here they are below. Try reading them now, but don’t worry if you don’t understand it. We promise that by the end of this post, you will!

Reading is not an instinctive skill for human beings. It’s not etched into our genes the way speech is. We have to teach our minds how to translate the symbolic characters we see into the language we understand. And the media or other technologies we use in learning and practicing the craft of reading play an important part in shaping the neural circuits inside our brains.

Experiments demonstrate that readers of ideograms, such as the Chinese, develop a mental circuitry for reading that is very different from the circuitry found in those of us whose written language employs an alphabet. We can expect as well that the circuits woven by our use of the Net will be different from those woven by our reading of books and other printed works.

7 Hacks for Understanding Any English Text When You’re Learning to Read

1. Make a vocabulary list before you begin.

In the excerpt above, you might have noticed some words you don’t know. Some words are more important to understand than others (we’ll learn more about that in the second tip). Before you read a text, skim it for words you don’t know and make a list with definitions.

Look for:

  • Words that are repeated more than once.
  • Unknown words in short sentences.
  • Words you’ve seen in other places.

Here’s a possible vocabulary list for our sample text:

  • Instinctive: Something you do or know how to do without needing to learn it.
  • Etched: Something that is carved into a surface, or something that is remembered very well.
  • Circuitry: A closed route or path that something takes—usually an electric current.

2. Don’t define every word.

As mentioned in tip #1, you don’t need to know every word to understand the text. Stopping to define every word takes time and distracts you from understanding the text.

When you come across a word you don’t know, ask yourself if you can understand the sentence without it.

In our sample text, the last sentence of the first paragraph says:

“And the media or other technologies we use in learning and practicing the craft of reading…”

You might not know what the word “craft” means, but you don’t really need to! If you skip over it, you can still understand the sentence: “And the media or other technologies we use in learning and practicing reading.”

If you’re curious, though, “craft” means the skill of making or creating something. Now you know!

3. Use context clues.

The great thing about sentences is that they give new words context. This means the unknown word is surrounded by other words which clarify its meaning. By looking at the words that come before and after an unknown word, you can often figure out the basic meaning.

For example, the end of the last sentence in the first paragraph talks about the “neural circuits inside our brains.” What are neural circuits? By looking at the rest of the sentence, you can tell that neural circuits are something we have inside our brains.

If you made a list of vocabulary words before starting to read, you might already know that a circuit is a closed route that electricity takes. So you might guess that a neural circuit is the path that signals in our brains take when we think, act or learn something. And you’d be right!

4. Look for word roots, prefixes and suffixes that you know