ESL Reading Hints

For students learning English as a Second Language-- ESL, reading is extremely important.

ESL Reading Hints: a young man reading in a library. Text:

You can learn about a language by studying its vocabulary, grammar, and pronunciation, but to understand and speak it there is no substitute for listening and reading.

Your mind makes connections and recognizes the normal patterns of English as you concentrate on understanding meaning, not just words.

Reading is a wonderful way to increase both your vocabulary and your fluency in English.

As you soon as you understand enough English to focus on the author’s ideas, you will absorb the words and structures you read almost unconsciously.

Hints for Reading Fluency

  1. Don't look up every new word.

You don’t need to look up every unfamiliar word. In fact, experts suggest that it’s better not to look up too many words. It interrupts the thoughts and makes it harder to understand the author’s point. When you aren’t sure of a word’s meaning, try to guess from the context (the main idea and the surrounding words.)

IF you still feel unsure and the word seems important (or if it is used repeatedly), then look it up. Was your guess close? As you improve at guessing and understanding from the context, your reading comprehension will also improve dramatically.

Remember, the point of reading is not to recognize a lot of words, but to understand what the author is saying.

     2.   Adjust your reading speed to your purpose.

Not all reading is the same. When you are looking for one piece of information you can scan quickly for the right section. To read difficult academic text or study for an exam, you must concentrate. Look for the main point and the most important details. If you are reading for pleasure, you can read more quickly, without looking up as many words. See Reading for Specific Purposes for more suggestions on effective reading.

     3.   Try these strategies:

In Reading Comprehension Strategies you can find several ways to increase your ESL reading comprehension and retention (memory of what you read.)

Improve Reading Skills suggests more ways to increase your ESL reading skills, including by learning to scan and skim for information, decode words, recognize context clues, make inferences, and draw conclusions from what you have read. (See ESL Phonics, Consonant Digraph SoundsShort and Long English Vowels, and English Vowel Digraphs for more information on decoding.)

Check your reading skill gives a practice reading and questions so you can see how well you can use these skills. Reading Strategies for Comprehension Practice gives more reading tests and practice activities (interactive versions), and Reading Comprehension Worksheets and Listening and Reading Comprehension Exercises each give the pdf versions of some of those pages.

Find ESL Reading, Online and Off 

lady reading in a library

There are lots of places to find simple English reading suitable for ESL students. The Internet is a good place to start. If you want to read away from your computer, you can often print articles for later use. See

for some good places to start and some specific books and authors.

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