Summer Reading Part Three: Easier Reading

In learning on July 23, 2009 at 10:15 am


This is the third of four parts in my little series on summer reading. Last month, we talked about the reasons that reading can increase your English vocabulary faster than any other type of English practice, and I shared a few novels that I think you might like. This week, I’d like to give you some tips on making reading easier.

It’s easy for me to say that you should read a novel in English, isn’t it? English is my native language. It’s faster for me, right? It’s true. Reading is a lot tougher when you’re reading in another language. I remember taking a literature class with my roommate (who was an international student). I would sit back in a fluffy chair to read the novels we had for class. I had a pen to underline fun stuff, but for the most part, the reading was a treat for me. My roommate, on the other hand, sat with several dictionaries, a stack of post-its, and a worried expression on her face. It’s tough to read in a language that’s not your native language. I can’t deny that. There are a few things you do can do to make the experience easier and more fun, though:

1) Don’t stop to look up every unfamiliar word in the dictionary. I know it feels like this is the right thing to do, but avoid using the dictionary as much as possible. If a word is unfamiliar, guess its meaning from the context and keep reading. Use the dictionary only if you’re completely lost in the story. Every time you stop reading, you slow yourself down, and you risk forgetting what it was you were reading about in the first place. This makes reading take much longer — and it’s not nearly as fun! If you want, you can underline mysterious words as you go and come back to them later with a dictionary, but try not to interrupt yourself unless it’s absolutely necessary.

2) Pick a book about a topic you like. This is important, because it’ll make the experience fun. We want to have fun!

3) Get rid of distractions. It’s hard enough to concentrate when the vocabulary is difficult. Do yourself a favor, and get away from the TV and the computer. Find a relaxing and quiet place to read. It’ll be so much easier to focus.

4) Know that the first 25-40 pages will be the hardest. After that, the reading gets easier. Novels are like entering dreams. The more you can imagine how characters look and sound, the more fun the reading experience will be.  Usually, the first 25-40 pages are the hardest, because you haven’t yet fallen into the dream of the story. Give the book a little time to lure you in. My guess is that, by the time you’re 45 pages into the story, your imagination will be captured. You’ll also know the setting, who the characters are, and in general, what the story is about. You’ll have the lay of the land, so it’ll be easier to move forward.

Reading in English is tough, but I promise that it doesn’t have to be a horrible experience. With that in mind, here are a few more novels you might enjoy:

1) The Catcher in the Rye, by J. D. Salinger
This is a story about a cynical teenager, Holden Caulfield, as he searches for escape and — well, something that he just can’t seem to find. When it came out in 1951, the language and themes of the book thoroughly shocked the world. The book is still banned in some places.

2) To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
High school students in the US often read this book in their English classes, not only because it’s a fun read but because it deals with serious themes of racism and stereotypes. It’s a coming of age story about a girl growing up in the American South during the Great Depression.

3) Lord of the Flies, by William Golding
This is a story about a group of boys who end up on a deserted island after surviving a plane crash. As the boys struggle to survive and stick together, the story raises some serious questions about civilization and humanity. It’s a good adventure read — and will keep you thinking.

4) Life of Pi, by Yann Martel
This is another adventure story. Sixteen-year-old Pi Patel is shipwrecked and stranded in the middle of the Pacific Ocean with the only other survivor, a tiger named Richard Parker. If you like survival stories and page turners, this might be a good choice for you.

5) Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, by Lisa See
This story follows the life of Lily, a girl growing up in 19th Century China. The story highlights the differences between the lives of men and women at this time. One of the most memorable passages is a description of the process of foot binding. The book also describes deep friendship that comes from Lily’s struggles.

6) The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini
This is a story about a boy, Amir, who grows up in Afghanistan and later immigrates to the United States. The story follows a friendship Amir has, the troubles in his country, and a lifetime of regret after Amir shows cowardice in the face of the danger.

If you’d like to check out other books that I’ve enjoyed, you can take a look at my GoodReads page.

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Once you decide what to read, it can be tough to keep your concentration — especially when there’s TV and the internet available. Learn how to stay focused from the Hack College blog, which has some “Tips to Keep Your Head in the Books.”

Learn some American Slang from the University Language Service blog.


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