Thursday, April 28, 2011

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Reading for Pleasure

This post was inspired by Jez Uden's British Council presentation on reading for pleasure.

Important Note: This is a long post but if you are learning English and you want to enjoy reading more and you want to improve your English, then this might help you a lot!  Keep reading, thanks.

So this week was going to be part 2 of Favourite Websites for English Practice, this time looking at reading, but I have postponed that until next week.

I was watching a British Council seminar last week and it started me thinking about reading for pleasure (if you are interested, here’s the link to Jez Uden’s presentation and his blog).  Personally, it is something I have to make myself do because I never feel that I have the time for it… but… when I do “get into a book” (really have an interest in the story) it is all I think about and I actually start fantasizing about the next opportunity I’ll get to pick up the book and continue the story.

I’ve recently got a Kindle and I love it and that has “re-sparked my interest” (re-started my interest) in reading.

But is this possible with another language?  Yes.  The problem that many people have is when they try to do too much when they pick up a book.  Think about how you read in your native language and think about these questions.

Is it a challenge?  No.

Why do we usually read a story in our native language?  For pleasure!

What do you do when you are reading a book which is difficult to follow and therefore uninteresting?  I usually abandon it and move on to something which is more fun.

Now think about some possible answers for why we read in a second language.

Is it a challenge?  Yes.

Why do we read a story in a second language (English, for example)?  It is not available in my native language / I want to improve my English reading skills / I want to improve my English vocabulary

What do you do when you are reading a book which is difficult to follow and therefore uninteresting?  I usually keep reading it and finish it but it was difficult / I give up trying to read the book and feel depressed because I my English was not good enough to finish the story and enjoy it.

Do you see the difference?  You are focusing on trying to finish the book, learning vocabulary, improve your reading skills, etc. but you are not reading for pleasure and you probably feel disappointed if you don’t finish the book.  If you finish a boring book then you have done well… but then how do you feel about reading in English?  Your experience was negative.

So, how can you change this?
Cambridge English Readers!  These are original (new) and adapted (already famous) stories for learners of English.  There are lots of different levels and the brilliant thing is they use high-frequency words a lot (high frequency words = words used a lot in English).

So what level should you use?
Well actually, you should NOT try to challenge yourself with a high level book!  The goal here is to enjoy using the English you already have, not improve it (don’t worry, it will improve naturally if you do this).  So really you want to have a book where you already know all the words (or at least 99.9% of them).

So what is your level?
Upper Intermediate, B1, Elementary, Advanced, Proficient, C2, Pre-Advanced, Beginner, IELTS 6.5, IELTS 5.0, TOEFL 103, etc, etc, etc.; what do all these names and grades mean?  What IS your level?  Well, Cambridge has a test for you to know what level of English book is appropriate for you.  Don’t worry if they suggest a level lower that you expect – remember, the goal is to have something that is easy to read. :-)  Just click on the link to go straight to the free level test.

And then?
Choose a book and start reading.  Maybe try to get a group of friends to join you.  You can all buy one book and then swap them around.  This means if you are reading a book you don’t really enjoy, you won’t have it for long.  Reading is something we usually do alone, but that doesn't mean you can't make it social.  If you have a group of friends who want to improve their English, try forming a book club (practise your speaking skills, perhaps!). :-)

And then?
Let me know how it goes! Post your reviews here on this blog if you want.

But Gordon, I don't have time to read a book!
Are you sure about that?  I never feel I have time to do anything but when I start reading a book and really get into the story I suddenly realize I have more time for it than I thought.

But don't worry.  These Cambridge readers also come with audio CDs if you want.  An audiobook to listen to instead of read.  On the way to school, work, at the gym, on the bus or train or even plane.  There are lots of opportunities.  For another opinion about audiobooks, take a look a Warren Ediger's recent blogpost about them.

As always, I look forward to your comments,



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