ESL Reading Doesn't Have to be Torture

Updated: May 25, 2020

Reading in English

Some people love reading in their native language, and some don’t.

By the same token, some people enjoy reading in a foreign language like ESL, while others would rather have their teeth pulled out...without an inexperienced dentist.

Yes, I’m joking, but it is clear to me that reading evokes a love/hate mindset in most people.

But whether you need to improve your English reading skills for the TOEFL, the workplace, or just to function more efficiently in your daily life, reading is an essential skill in your English journey.

Some people start off at a disadvantage though.

When I was teaching at a local language school, I was surprised by the number of students who were simply never encouraged to read in their native language. So, how were they supposed to learn to read in English—let alone enjoy reading in English—when it was their second or even third language?

And, how could I encourage a deep love of reading when the foundation for reading was never properly laid?

More importantly, what can an ESL learner do to cultivate a deep love of reading in English?

Using my personal experience in reading foreign language materials and my knowledge as an ESL instructor, I've discovered the following:

The Top 3 Ways to Make Reading More Enjoyable

ESL Reading

1. Choose a book about a topic that inspires you, intrigues you, motivates you, or interests you.

It MUST do one of these things, or you won’t finish it. In fact, you might not even start it! And, you certainly won’t enjoy it. Do not choose a book that you think you should read. Instead, pick a book about a topic that is meaningful to you.

I started reading a juicy book about the life of a German pop culture star named Uschi Obermaier. Trust me - this book would not make it on any German teacher's suggested educational reading list, but it is a fascinating book, and you wouldn't believe the vocabulary I am learning. It would make a sailor blush, but it keeps me engaged.

2. Choose a book that is at the right level for you.

You can’t tell this by looking at the title or by reading the blurb on the back of the book. Pull up a chair, sit down, and try reading a few pages before you ever take the book home (or download the book on your Kindle). You should be able to understand around 75-80% of what you are reading—not just the words themselves but the ideas the sentences represent. Choosing a book that is at the right level for you can make the difference between a miserable reading experience and a fun one.

3. Start with small reading goals.

Instead of trying to read a lot all at once, aim to read a couple of pages from your book before bed every night. Honestly, 2-3 pages of challenging yet enjoyable reading material is more than enough. Consistency is the key here. In my experience, daily reading will bring English vocabulary and sentence structure into the forefront of your mind, thereby improving not only your reading fluency, but your speaking fluency. When reading in English becomes easier and when you begin to see the benefits of reading in English, it becomes more fun.

So, even if you were never encouraged to read, you can still learn to make reading in English a habit that's not only fun but enriches your life. Do you need help finding a good place to start? Check out last week’s blog post to get you moving towards your reading goals.


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