My blog and also the whole English Harmony project are all about spoken English fluency and how to overcome related confidence issues. Reading English fiction most of the time, as I’ve pointed out numerous times throughout my blog posts, won’t help you improve your spoken English fluency and you still need to spend a considerable amount of time speaking English with other people in order to do that.
Nonetheless, reading English fiction will definitely help you as a foreign English speaker. After all – who else can judge the usefulness of this pastime other than me – Robby, who reads whenever there’s free time available? At launch breaks at work, in bed before sleep, while waiting on appointments … sitting at an open window on a sunny Sunday morning and drinking coffee – all those and many more occasions are perfect for forgetting yourself while being immersed in events depicted by some English writer.
1. Reading English fiction is great for learning new vocabulary.
Contextual learning is the best way to acquire new English words and expressions. The beauty of it all is that you don’t really need to keep a dictionary where you’d write down new words and memorize them on their own; just by reading and inferring new word meaning from context you can build quite a large passive English vocabulary.
A great characteristic of such contextual vocabulary building is that certain word frequency in the book you read will naturally take care of the memorization process.
To put it simply – the more often you come across a certain word or phrase, the more you’ll come to recognize it and its meaning will reveal itself ❗
Sure, it won’t do you any harm to write down English words you haven’t heard or read before; just make sure you write what words they go together (collocate) with because it’s going to help create useful associations between English words in your mind.
Bear in mind, however, that by reading you’ll hardly add any significant amount of new words to your active vocabulary – the one you can use when speaking with other English speakers. To achieve that, you have to make that extra effort and practice speaking either with yourself or others and incorporate those new vocabulary words in the conversation so that you develop natural ability to speak effortlessly and fluently.
2. Reading helps to develop a habit of thinking in English.
Thinking in English is crucial in order to develop natural English fluency, and reading might just be the trigger allowing your mind to bypass thinking in your native language and do it in English.
The reason why reading helps you eliminate your native language from the process is the following – when you’ve developed ability to read in English quite fast – just like you would when reading fiction in your own language – your mind simply doesn’t have time for the translation process.
At the moment you’re reading this article. Just think about it for a second – do you translate its content in your language before your mind can absorb all this information? It’s hardly the case because you’re quite an advanced foreign English speaker (otherwise you simply wouldn’t be able to read it!) so you don’t need to translate separate words to get the full picture of what’s being said.
When you achieve complete English reading fluency and your eyes are just scanning the text allowing it sink in without much real effort – that’s when reading helps you to think in English. Essentially you enforce your brain to think in English because it has no other option left; it’s quite impossible for your brain to manage two processes at the same time – read in English and think in your native language ❗
3. Reading develops your ability to infer meaning from text you don’t fully understand.
I wrote an article some time ago about achieving fluency in reading English fiction with limited vocabulary, and it’s all about learning how to read fluently despite not being fully familiar with every single word that you read.
Do you believe you should master the English language first and only then start reading fiction? Well, my friend, if that’s the case, then you’re on a mission impossible!
You can spend the next 10 years immersed in English studies and emerge as a really advanced foreign English speaker, yet I bet you won’t know every single English word. Even native English speakers have limited vocabularies so it’s no surprise all foreign English speakers will encounter situations when they become aware of their vocabulary limitations and they have to guess the meaning of what’s being said from the 80% of what they fully understand.
It’s even more of an issue when you read English fiction simply because vocabularies used by writers are quite large, and to be perfectly honest with you – I have abandoned a couple English fiction books because I found them to be too hard to read!
Having said this, however, I fully encourage any foreign English speaker to go and find an English fiction book they can read because we should make the best of time we have now – why postpone the enjoyment of reading in English for some unknown time in the future when our English skills are going to be honed to perfection?
It’s amazing how well you can train yourself to understand English texts with plenty of unknown words in them, and it’s even more amazing how well your brain picks up their meaning based on context. Having read your first couple of English fiction books you’ll have developed English reading skills and your passive vocabulary will grow over time to an extent where you’re able to read quite sophisticated English literature.
4. Reading English fiction helps with integration in an English speaking society.
It’s hardly a strong motivator for any foreign English speaker to pick up the habit of reading English fiction; after all I believe integration works only for practical reasons. You simply won’t maintain the level of motivation needed to keep reading on a constant basis if you try to do it purely because you’re aware of the fact that you should integrate.
To read English fiction regularly, you need to be interested in what you read first and foremost, and the rest will only serve as additional motivational factors.
Still it’s worth mentioning that if others see you reading an English book, it will reinforce the image of you as a fluent English speaker.
You might still be struggling with spoken English for the simple reason that reading hasn’t made you into a fluent speaker because you need to speak at least as much as you read in order to develop your ability to produce fluent and coherent speech; yet it’s still better than if you didn’t read at all.
Social acceptance is what I really mean by saying that reading will help you integrate, and here’s a simple example to help you understand what I mean by that.
Imagine there are two foreigners sitting in a waiting hall. One of them is reading a book in his own language; the other one is immersed in an English book. Then a native English person walks into the hall and takes a seat next to those two foreigners. Now tell me – which one of them is he more likely to ask a question or pick up a conversation with? I’d say that the one reading English fiction is more likely to be chosen!
I’m not trying to condone foreigner social exclusion here, and I’m not claiming that it’s OK to judge others by the covers of the books that they read.
My point is that it’s natural to be more likely accepted as one of your own if you have something in common; in this case it’s the English language.
P.S. Are you ready to get on the fast track to spoken English fluency? Check out my English Harmony System HERE!