ESL Reading Hints

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

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

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

As you concentrate on understanding meaning, not just words, your mind makes connections. You start to recognize the normal patterns of English 

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

Once 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 occurs often in your reading), then look it up. Was your guess close? As you improve at guessing from the context, your reading comprehension will develop fast.

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 relax. Read at a comfortable pace, without stopping to look up every unknown word. See Reading for Specific Purposes for more suggestions on effective reading.

     3.   Try these strategies:

Reading Comprehension Strategies suggests ways to increase your ESL reading comprehension and retention, (That's what you remember from what you read.)

Improve Reading Skills talks about the value of learning several skills. It tells how to

  • scan and skim for information, 
  • decode words, 
  • recognize context clues, 
  • make inferences, and 
  • draw conclusions from what you have read. 

Check your reading skill has a practice reading and questions so you can see how well you can use these skills. Reading Strategies for Comprehension Practice has more reading tests & practice (interactive versions). 

Reading Comprehension Worksheets and Listening and Reading Comprehension Exercises link to the pdf versions of some of those pages.

Learn More about Decoding

ESL PhonicsConsonant Digraph SoundsShort and Long English Vowels, and English Vowel Digraphs can help you decode words. They explain the connections between English letters and sounds. Some letters have one sound, but others have several, so it can get complicated!

Would you like to learn more about how to pronounce and spell English vowels and digraphs? Consider taking a short course to help you learn to use them. It's an excellent way to improve your English reading, pronunciation, and spelling! See Vowels in English for more information. 

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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