The basic recipe to improve the level of English, that subject that in Spain seems to always remain for September, has a few ingredients. Private classes or in an academy to crush the theory. A summer abroad, if you can afford it. Or catch by band any native who crosses your path to practice the speaking, if you can not leave Spain. And of course, see so many series and movies in original version As you can. But reading is the great forgotten in this whole puzzle, although it plays a fundamental role in building the building of grammar and vocabulary on the most solid foundations possible.
"In order to learn something, you need to see models. If you read a correct English continuously, you internalize that model in such a way that when you have to produce the language, you will notice your own mistakes ", sums up David Bradshaw, responsible for the evaluation of Cambridge Assessment English for Spain and Portugal. "Vocabulary is acquired, expressions are enriched and you learn to structure a written discourse", Lourdes Pomposo, professor in Polytechnic University of Madrid (UPM), with more than three decades of experience as a teacher. Reading increases the ability to write, your sister skills, but also the ability to speak and listen. "The reason is that students who read a lot improve their comprehensive knowledge of grammar and vocabulary, which are the basis of communication in English," adds Andrew Dilger, editor-in-chief of Oxford University Press.
When to practice the reading it is, there is a typical exercise that is repeated again and again in any English class. Read this text first about the vacations that Jean spent with his family in Boston and, later, answer several questions to check that you have understood: what route did Jean and his family choose to travel the city? They were lost because they did not have a map or because your guide did not know the area well? It changes Jean and his family in Boston for an explanation of the organs of the human body. Or for a text about the history of Valentine's Day. Or for …
This is the only type of reading that is usually practiced when you learn English. It is called intensive reading and consists of putting a text under the microscope to shred it and extract the information that is needed from it. "This type of reading focuses deliberately on language. For this, relatively short texts are used, which usually include more than 2% of words unknown to the reader, "explains Dilger.
"It's about reading how contracts are read: every word and every detail matters a lot," exemplifies Olly Richards, English teacher and able to speak eight languages. But maintaining that intensity in everything one has to read throughout the day – the subway signs, a tweet, a column in the newspaper … – is a Herculean task. And unnecessary. Because we also read above. Or selectively. Or even for a purely emotional reason, as with that novel from which you can not take your eyes off.
The latter is reading for pleasure (or extensive reading, in academic language). "It focuses on reading large amounts of text because of its meaning in itself," continues Dilger. "Texts should be easy, with very few unknown words so that readers can process the language in a similar way to native speakers."
But if intensive reading, with its short texts and comprehension questions at the bottom, is the daily bread for any student of English, reading for pleasure is the great unknown. Although they are not interchangeable and each has its own role. "Intensive reading fulfills its function for language-based learning, but the meaning-centered learning offered by the extensive reading is where you can get great benefits in terms of fluency," says Clare Hambly, an educator and editor at Oxford University Press .
These benefits are widely studied. Reading comprehension is improved, of course, but also the skills of writing and attitude because, when reading for pure pleasure, intrinsic motivation is worked on, which in learning works as a powerful motor. The investigations that have been carried out in this field also indicate that improvements are possible without conscious learning. "There are two ways to learn the language, conscious learning and natural acquisition"explains Bradshaw. "When we learn our first language we do not sit down to study it, we acquire it and later we learn how it works. What we do to acquire it is to repeat what we hear, we need a input. The reading, especially the extensive one, is that input"
The problem with this type of reading for pleasure is that it is very difficult make her fit into a class. Clare Hambly, from Oxford, points out that "unfortunately" the emphasis continues to be placed on intensive reading, which can generate a feeling of "a lot of effort and little gain". "Many teachers use the typical graduated readings, but then they do not really know what to do with them. Everyone sitting reading your book in class can seem like a waste of time. And if you send it to read at home, you lose control of what you are doing, "adds Bradshaw, who in his experience as a teacher ensures that the students he has seen reach the highest levels they were avid readers. "A student who reads is a student with a greater sensitivity to the language."
If you want to start reading in English on a regular basis and for the pure pleasure of doing it, these are the guidelines given by experts to get the most out of it:
How to improve reading comprehension?
In general, both for extensive and intensive reading, the main objective is to increase the skill in the reading. But beware. "Being able to answer a specific question about a text because you found the answer in a sentence within the text itself is not necessarily an indication that you have understood it," says Clare Hambly of Oxford.
The key, explains Hambly, is to focus on other more subtle but very important skills, such as "being able to extract meaning through context, deduction, paraphrasing and mediating the message." The expert assures that a very good formula to improve reading comprehension is to reread the same text several times. "Although for that to be effective, you have to find it interesting."
The extensive reading only focuses on reading for pure taste. It is not necessary to do homework or exams later, but certain additional jobs can help consolidate what has been learned:
Read the read. Rereading a text several times is an effective and simple formula to improve reading comprehension, explain the experts at Oxford University Press.
Make a mental summary. "Every time you read or at the end of the week. In this way, you also work on oral skills. You can even record yourself, "advises Lourdes Pomposo, from UPM.
Evaluate yourself "You evaluate yourself every time you read because to keep going you have to remember what you read the day before," recalls David Bradshaw of Cambridge.
And the vocabulary? "Write down words that you like or want to use. But do not do it in a notebook that you will later leave at home, do it on your mobile phone, "recommends Bradshaw. "When you're waiting for the bus every day, you take out the list and re-read it. You do not have to study the vocabulary, thanks to that repeated reading you are staying ".
The experts resort to the term of effective reading, that is, to extract the information you need from each text. No more no less. Professor Olly Richards points out that there is a series of "micro skills" that we use naturally in our native language, but that when reading in another language We forget completely: read over a paragraph to understand the general idea, scan a poster with train schedules to locate a specific time, devour pages of a particularly good novel … The problem, he explains, is that we endeavor to understand all and each of the words. "Reading effectively means doing it using the same skills we use in our own language," he says.
What reading material to choose?
There is only one rule to choose from: if it's about reading for pleasure, you have to be the one who decides what to read and it has to be something that interests you. "The indispensable thing is that the student feels motivated and attracted by reading," recalls Lourdes Pomposo, from UPM. "In the schools, many teachers insist on imposing books in English that are a brick, so the student gets up and gets bored."
But is it better that they be easy or difficult books? Richards sets the ideal point in readings that are a little above your level of English: "This way you'll find a lot of content that you understand and something that you do not understand, so that you lean on what you already know to understand the new".
But if reading does not seduce you much, even in your own language, experts recommend starting with simple things that are even below your own level. And on steps B1 and B2, it is better to resort to topics with which you are already familiar or even read a book first in Spanish and then sink your teeth into the English version.
Short story books are especially recommended for intermediate levels, as they reinforce that sense of progress and being able to finish something. Of course, be careful with the best sellers. "Many tend to use slang and more informal language. You have to know when you can use that and when not, "warns David Bradshaw of Cambridge.
How much time do I have to dedicate?
Ideally, binge every day. But since being a full-time reader is not a very viable option, what is recommended is little, but frequent. "At least three times a week, 20 minutes each session," says Pomposo. "The key is to establish a routine in such a way that when you can not follow it, you miss it," adds Bradshaw.
How much can you really move forward with those little reading pills? According to Andrew Dilger, from Oxford, research indicates that to learn the 1,000 most frequent words of English, you need to read 200,000. "Assuming a slow reading speed of 150 words per minute, distributed throughout the year, the result is less than five minutes per day. Anyone can achieve it with relatively little effort. "
Read, with or without a dictionary?
When we read in English, we are obsessed with understanding every word. That's why we use the dictionary constantly, on every page. And if this is difficult to move forward, let's not say enjoy. "There are many ways to read, but there are those who read well and who read badly," says Olly Richards. "Most students go word by word and, when they find something they do not understand, they stop. This generates two problems: it takes too much time and you do not see progress. You do not need to understand every word to understand what you are reading. "
In general, the dictionary hinders. You have to make an effort to try to decipher the meaning of the words by their context – a fundamental skill to learn vocabulary – and to stop looking for a term only when one is unable to venture its meaning and this is constantly repeated. If you read in a ebook, the function of the dictionary that these electronic devices incorporate makes it easier to consult without interrupting the rhythm of the reading. "In that case, it can be used as a way to confirm your guesses, not as a substitute," says Clare Hambly of Oxford.
The goal is not memorize grammar rules Nor end the reading with an immense list of vocabulary that later you will not even remember where you saved. The only task is to finish … and enjoy what you read.
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