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How To Achieve Fluent English Reading Knowing Only 70 – 80 % of Vocabulary!


improve-english-readingFor those foreign English speakers who are big into reading, but still haven’t started reading English literature. If you think achieving English reading fluency requires building huge active English vocabulary first – you’re in a nice surprise!

Although I’m generally discussing all things about improving spoken English on my blog, I’m a keen reader too.

I have loads of English literature sitting on my book shelves. It covers different topics starting with yoga and meditation and ending with political and economical writings. The biggest part of my books, however, is taken up by historical and fantasy fiction and these genres are my favourite ones.

Initially I started reading English in order to improve my overall knowledge of the language. I made a mistake in that I didn’t actually define which aspect of English I needed to focus most on. For some reason or another it wasn’t clear to me that different aspects of English language – reading, understanding, writing and speaking aren’t merged into one big thing called English. I achieved complete English reading fluency but I was perplexed about the fact that my spoken English wasn’t coming along.

I haven’t had any regrets for a single second, though, having mastered English reading skill. During the last years I haven’t read a single book in my native language. For the most part it’s because I’ve fallen in love with David Gemmell’s fantasy fiction so much that I’ve read all his books and I re-read them every now and then. And also taking into account I live in an English speaking country it’s not hard to understand why I choose to buy books in the local bookstore.

OK, the point that I want to make in this blog post is the following:

You won’t start speaking fluent English by focusing mostly on reading English literature. In order to achieve natural English fluency and improve your spoken English you need to focus on speech exercising – just like the English Harmony System offers.

Reading English however, will help you with understanding the language which is also quite an important aspect of English language. Besides the direct benefit to your English understanding you’ll keep yourself constantly immersed in English. So while focusing on reading and writing alone will leave you frustrated and embarrassed in simple daily English conversations, combined with English speaking sessions it will improve your overall English level big time!

There is one main problem though, to be faced by everyone who’s quite competent in English and eager to start reading. It’s simply the number of unknown words in any English book you’ll pick up and start reading! 😯

If so far in your live most of English that you know comes from media and traditional English studies, the chances are that there’s a whole world of English vocabulary waiting yet to be discovered by you!

My first historical fiction was Tim Severin’s Viking trilogy. Many of the words that I learnt from the Viking books were never heard before. To bellow meaning to shout, to heave meaning to lift something heavy, rope went taut meaning rope was tightly pulled – have you often heard such words and expressions used in everyday English? Well, me neither and I wouldn’t even use those words in daily conversations because they’re not generally used.

Much of that new vocabulary is specific terms related to the topic of the book you’re reading. Nautical terminology like prow and stern of a ship (front and rear parts of a ship) and collocations like sail billowing in the breeze are typical words you’re going to come across when reading books where sea voyages are quite frequent events.

If you read literature about well-being involving taking care of your inner self and living in harmony with nature you’re going to learn different vocabulary altogether. Affirmations are positive sentences one can speak to program oneself for success in a particular area of life. Posture is a pose one adopts when positioning body in a certain way when meditating or practicing yoga, for example.  And to manifest means to bring about certain things using your imagination and visualization.

So the biggest question is:

How you can start reading an English book if you’ve never ever done it before and the text you’re reading doesn’t read naturally?

As you know, if you read a book in your native language you don’t have to exert your perception to read and understand the text. All you have to do is just scan a line and it reads itself in your mind. It happens automatically.

Would you like to achieve the same level of reading fluency in English? And here’s something even more exciting – would you like to achieve this English reading fluency without consciously learning all new vocabulary?

It is possible – I did it – and I’m sure I’m not unique! 😉

Anyone with intermediate English understanding skills can start reading simple English fiction fluently in relatively short time ❗

Make no mistake though – I’m not saying there’s magic involved. Most likely you’ll have to translate plenty of new words you’ll come across in your first 2 – 3 books. I remember my first book I bought in Ireland – Irish History. I had difficulties communicating in English so I decided I’d improve my English by reading, memorizing new vocabulary and studying English grammar.

Of course, it didn’t do much to improve my spoken English, but back then I didn’t know what else to do. So I started reading the book and I had to look up the new words in dictionary nearly all the time. It wasn’t the best reading experience but it gave me the basic vocabulary to build upon.

The next book was about meditation. I was in a bookstore and for some reason the book caught my eye and I started liking the idea of acquiring inner peace and taking bigger control over my spiritual life. This book was much easier to read as it was actually written using simpler language than the Irish History book.

The third one was my first English fiction – The Virgin In The Ice by Ellis Peters. Medieval times have always fascinated me so when I came across this book I decided to have a read and see how it goes. It appeared to be even easier than the other two books I’d read – so that’s something I’d suggest you do when jumping into reading English. Go for easy-to-read fiction rather than specialist literature ❗ That way you’ll avoid unnecessary disappointments and you’ll discover how easy it actually is to gain English reading fluency!

Before we move on to more technical aspects of fluent English reading you have to understand a few things.

💡 Initially, especially with your first books, reading is not going to be the same as reading in your native language. There will be plenty of new words you’ll have to look up in dictionary and that will slow reading down considerably for the first time. The most important thing here is not to despair and throw the book away. It will come to you eventually.

💡 Don’t aim for 100% understanding! Let’s take a sample sentence: One of the novices, reported for the second time for a nocturnal excursion, received two hundred lashes with a scourge (Viking – Odinn’s Child by Tim Severin).

The key to English reading fluency is to understand that the meaning of the whole sentence can be grasped without knowing all the words!

The key words in this example are novice, nocturnal excursion, lashes and scourge. At the first glimpse they all might seem strange to you. I’d say, though, that only the last two are probably worth looking up in a dictionary. Of course it would depend on your native language background, but the chances are that you’ve seen the words novice and nocturnal in some context previously in your life. Novice stems from Latin word novus meaning new and would be somewhat similar to the same word in a number of languages. Factor in the context from the book and it’s not hard to understand that a novice is a person who’s recently joined a religious order, a new one to put it simply.

Nocturnal has obviously something to do with night. Just look up the word lash in a dictionary and it becomes clear that the whole point is about novices being punished for going out at night time. You don’t necessarily need to know the exact meaning of the word scourge as it’s most likely the object punishment is being delivered with. And what else could it be if not a whip that you use to lash someone? So if you come across the same word scourge for a few times, from context alone it becomes pretty clear that it’s a synonym for a whip.

💡 You simply must be patient and remember that the more you read, the easier it gets. You’ll start understanding the English text instinctively. Eventually you’ll reach a stage when you’ll stop using dictionaries and thesaurus. You’ll become a master at reading English fluently by knowing direct translations of just 70 – 80% of vocabulary used in a particular book.

❗ WARNING ❗

If you hold to a belief that fluent English reading can be ONLY achieved by knowing 100% of English vocabulary, don’t read more of this blog post.

You’re welcome to spend years of your life trying to build huge English vocabulary before embarking on the exciting journey of reading English.

But if you want to jump into unknown, immerse yourself in English and widen horizons of your spiritual world – I warmly suggest you start reading English fiction right now! 😉

Personally I read English fluently without knowing the exact meaning and translation of quite a few words I come across. It doesn’t prevent me from completely understanding the text that I read, though.

Also bear in mind that if you come across a particular English word a number of times, its meaning becomes clear from the context alone. You’ll start recognizing the word and as far as reading goes, it’s completely enough.

❗ IMPORTANT ❗

Recognition and ability to use certain English words are two completely different things! You can be a fluent English speaker with an active English vocabulary consisting of 2000 words. When you read English, you recognize meaning of probably 8000 – 10 000words. And it’s totally fine!

You have to understand that you’ll never use most of the vocabulary used in English fiction to communicate in real life with real people, so what’s the point of adding thousands upon thousands of words to your active vocabulary? You won’t be able to use them anyway as you won’t get to practice and use those words!

Easy Step-by-step Plan To Achieve English Reading Fluency

➡ 1. If you haven’t done much reading previously in your life – start with reading some children’s book. I’d suggest you buy a simple book about general knowledge like an encyclopedia about the world around us. Read a few pages every day and write down new words in a notepad. Try to avoid direct translations to your native language as much as possible – explain the new words using other, simpler English words. In a few weeks time you’ll have increased your English understanding level so that you can move on to the next level!

Tip: You can also read websites like Simple Wikipedia where everything is explained using most commonly used words. You’ll have little difficulties understanding complicated subjects and this way you’ll build your vocabulary very gradually and effortlessly!

➡ 2. The next step – walk into a school shop and buy an English reading book for a sixth grader. Don’t be too concerned about the topic of novels and stories in that book – they tend to be quite interesting and cover a large variety of subjects. Language used in such a book is much simpler than in adults’ books and you’ll get to practice your English reading and train the instinctive understanding of simpler texts. Again write down new words in your notepad but only if necessary and only in a context. If you can guess a meaning of a new word and dictionary or thesaurus confirms you’re right – don’t bother writing it down. Train yourself to become very good at guessing the meaning of new words and try not to rely so much on dictionaries.

3. Now it’s time to buy your first English fiction book. Well, it doesn’t really have to be fiction if you’re into something else. Just pick something that you’re really interested in as this is a crucial factor for maintaining your interest and motivation while reading. If you’re into sports – buy a book about sports nutrition or particular type of exercising. If you’re concerned about global issues – buy a book about rain-forest preservation or global warming. And if you’re mad into watching crime films, most likely you’ll find crime fiction is the one that fires your blood with adrenaline and keeps you reading.

A few tips when choosing your first book!

Always have a read of a few random pages in the book. You’ll get a good idea on how difficult reading is going to be. If vocabulary used in the book is too specific, reading will be hard and you can easily lose motivation. Look for something simpler!

Choose a book that is part of series of books. If not, go for an author who has a good number of books on the shelf. Reason behind this is the following – vocabulary used in one author’s books is consistent and you’ll increase your English reading fluency dramatically by reading a few books of the same author one after another.

4. Reading your first book. Frankly speaking – some authors write in a less exciting manner than others. I have started and stopped reading a few books simply because I found them boring OR written in a manner that just doesn’t seem right for some reason. The very fact that the book is on sale in a bookstore doesn’t mean the author is a true professional. He or she may be a professor in archaeology, but it doesn’t mean the historical novel written by that person is very exciting and an interesting read! So don’t start feeling as if you’re useless at reading English fiction if you just can’t read a particular book you’ve chosen. Bring it back to the bookstore and choose another one!

Remember – reading English fiction or whatever literature you’re into is supposed to be exciting and interesting for you!

Don’t go into reading just because you feel you have to! If you don’t want to – fair enough! If you’re good at communicating with English speaking people and understating enough English to watch films and read newspapers, you can still enjoy life at full in an English speaking country!

So when you’ve find the right book – the one that captivates you and makes you forget everything else while you read it – you’re on the right track to achieving English reading fluency!

More tips for reading:

💡 As I previously stated in this blog post – it’s all about understanding the text as a whole as opposed to striving for understanding the exact meaning of all words separately.

Of course, to achieve English reading fluency, you need to build your vocabulary. After steps 1 – 2 you will have acquired decent new English word vocabulary, and also when reading your first ‘real’ English fiction or whatever books you choose you will probably use notebook to put the unknown words down. But when you’re past your first books, that won’t be needed anymore.

You’ll acquire new vocabulary the same way you pick up new English words from context when you hear others speak.

Let me give you a very simple example – oil gushing out from the broken pipe. Do you really need to know the exact translation of the word to gush in your language to perfectly understand the meaning of the sentence above? Of course you don’t! The sentence draws a picture before your eyes where oil is leaking out from the pipe and you don’t need to know the exact translation as the meaning is all that matters! 😆

And this is actually the best way to build English vocabulary – through context and guessing, and it’s how you can achieve complete English reading fluency in a relatively short time. Just a few books will separate you from reading the sixth grader’s texts and adult fiction.

Anyone seeing you on a train reading it will definitely think you’re a native English speaker! 😆 OK, that was a joke – but it does help your confidence if you’re able to read English as well as anyone who’s born in an English speaking country. And if you incorporate decent spoken English training in your English studies – your overall English will improve big time indeed!

Another sample sentence from a book I’ve read a few times over – The Legend Of Deathwalker by David Gemmell. He staggered on, rounding a bend in the black cavern. Ahead of them an awesome bridge arced across a chasm. Druss stepped on to it, and glanced over the edge.

To be honest with you – I’ve never looked up the words to stagger, a cavern, and a chasm in a dictionary. I know their meaning because the author uses the same words over and over again in his books, and the meaning becomes quite obvious after a few times.

Of course, if the unknown words are the KEY words in a sentence you can’t do without, you have to look them up in a dictionary. But as I already said – once you’ve finished a couple of books, you’ll have the essential English dictionary.

From that moment and on you can rely on your natural intuition and the sentences will suddenly start depicting the events and situations before your eyes the very same way it happens when you read in your native language! 🙂

Robby

P.S. Are you ready to get on the fast track to spoken English fluency? Check out my English Harmony System HERE!

 

English Harmony System

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • zako ikay

    RIGHT,,,,,,,,THX

  • Well, the way I see it it’s the same thing -you can either focus on reading or listening, OR speaking, right?

  • zako ikay

    honestly my former question was about the concentration between whether focus on pronunciation or the general comprehension when we listen to some audio or videos , and you already responded me ,,
    so is it the same answer for my actual question ?
    and i really sorry for my repeated questions ,!!!!!!

  • Hi Zako,
    Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think I already answered the same question asked by you on some other blog post, isn’t that right?
    Regards,
    Robby

  • zako ikay

    robby san,when i read my concentration is divided between understanding the general idea of the text ahead,, and focusing on pronouncing the words and phrases properly ,when i read out loud
    thanks robby and i hope i didnt bother by my lot of question ,,merci !

  • Thanks for the comment, and it’s a very valid question you asked!

    To be totally honest with you, when I read my first English book, I did translate new words into Latvian because it was still back in the day when I hadn’t realized translation into my native language isn’t necessary in order to achieve fluent English reading.

    I used to write all those words into my dictionary notebooks and learn them off by heart – I basically memorized the English word and the corresponding Latvian translation.

    Needless to say, I improved my reading ability YET my spoken fluency suffered because of the UNNATURAL associations I created in my brain!

    All of those new English words had associated Latvian translations, so whenever I tried to speak using those words, Latvian kept mixing in my English and my fluency was terrible. Reading – fine, but spoken English – terrible.

    Shortly after that I figured out that translation isn’t necessary and I started reading by learning meanings of new words from context alone, but no doubt about it – if I had the chance to go back in time I would have embraced the contextual learning right from the very beginning because it’s entirely possible to build massive reading vocab just by reading contextually and looking up the odd word in an English – English dictionary without any need whatsoever to translate something in your native lingo!

    Cheers,

    Robby

  • son

    Thanks for the tips. But when you started reading your first English book, did you have to translate the words into your native language or into simpler English words ? I could watch TV and understood but failed to read fluently, so could I to know the exact process you had used yourself ?. Thanks and have funs reading

  • I’m actually using an eReader every now and then – my daughter’s Kindle – and I have to say it’s very handy indeed!

  • Clemens

    Robby.
    I see , you do not be bragging but that´s a fact; Reading will not improve your speaking.However you could increase your vocabulary in a natural style.What´s wrong in this way ? Nothing.You say and recommend it and yet you are right again, when you warn reading and speaking are different.You must use English again and again,if you want to speak English fluently.I try it more and more.
    Bye for now,Cle

    Ps.I recommend every beginner and all to use an e-Reader. You atmentiontely get the translation by press the word and more , if you want to make a note or…

  • Personally I started with self-help books and only then moved onto reading fiction, so that’s perfectly fine!

    Regarding using new vocabulary – as far as your reading is concerned, you don’t need to USE it. The process will take care of itself and you’ll forget words that are used very rarely and memorize the ones you’ll come across frequently.

  • Puputeh24

    Hi, Robby, I am wondering that if I choose self-enrichment books instead of those fiction books, what do you think? For instance, How to instantly connect with anyone and How to talk to anyone ,by Leil Lowndes. After writing down new vocabularies, do we need to use them instantly and frequently ? Did you mean that after first book, we do not need to write down any vocabularies anymore?

  • Anonymous

    thanks robby…..you are doing a very good job through your blog and videos……whenever i get time i come here to read your articles….Through your advice, I saves my effort and time up to 60%.

  • Hi Anuj,nnI know just the right website for you -u00a0http://www.voanews.com/learningenglish/home/nnAnd here’s their YouTube channel -u00a0http://www.youtube.com/user/VOALearningEnglishnnI’m pretty sure that’s exactly what you’ve been looking for!nnRegards,nnRobby

  • Anonymous

    hi. i am anuj from new delhi, india. is there any best website on which can read different types of articles of about 500-600 words on current international issues of all fields like economics, politics, technology, business, society etc ? because i want to improve not only english reading skills abut also my overall general knowledge in all fields. because my hobby is to become more aware about the world around us.

  • Jinalamin_94

    I will try….nand thanxxxxxxxx…….

  • Start with newspaper articles, magazines, online news articles, anything simple enough to understand and complex enough to add to your vocabulary.u00a0nnYour first books could be something from crime genre – they’re easy to digest and would serve as brilliant vocabulary building tools. Also books like Harry Potter are written in an easy-to-read style and would be a perfect jumping board towards something more sophisticated in the future.

  • Jinalamin_94

    hey but which books should we read at the initial stage…………….??

  • Hi Mshabbi,nnThanks, I’m glad you liked this article and I agree that reading is beneficial to one’s English improvement. With one caveat though – by focusing on reading exclusively you won’t achieve spoken English fluency! nnAs for my writing skills – well, I do write regularly and it’s all down to practice. The more I write, the better I get and I can clearly see the difference between something I wrote two years ago and now. It’s like with everything else – to improve spoken English, you must speak, to improve writing, you must write! nnYou can read a couple of guest blog posts I wrote about successful English writing here:nhttp://learnenglishfromhome.blogspot.com/2011/02/how-to-stop-struggling-with-english.htmlnhttp://learnenglishfromhome.blogspot.com/2011/03/secret-of-successful-english-writing.htmlnnBest Regards,nnRobby

  • Meshoo555

    Hey Robby.nWhat a great post, inspiring and well-written, i liked it so mush.nActually my english improved a lot since i started my reading just last year, in the beginning i couldn’t notice the difference.After a while, however, i decided to take some english classes, my teacher and the students noticed how good i’m especially in vocabularies and reading exercises.So, what i want to say is that reading paid off, and a person who reads consistently will gain not only english skills, but also much knowledge.nnI observed from this post that your writing style is coherent, and i want to ask how you achieved it, do i have to write regularly ?? Any advice would be much appreciated.nnMshabbi..