Looking for a quick way to increase your vocabulary? Try reading articles to improve your English! You’ll pick up the rhythms and grammar of English as well as new vocabulary.
Of course, it’s important to choose articles that aren’t too far from your current English level, so you won’t get discouraged.
You should understand most of the article you are reading with a few dictionary checks or guesses.
If you’re just beginning in English, most articles will be too difficult. See Easy Reading for ESL Beginners for some suggestions. Online Reading has more ideas for beginners and intermediate English students.
But if you have been studying English for a while, you’ll be able to read most of the articles mentioned on this page.*
*I check how many words are common and how many are less so before choosing the articles, but their interest level and importance matter more. If there are less common words that occur several times in the articles, I'll usually explain them.
Since Dec. 2012 I’ve written the English Detective newsletter every 2-4 weeks for this same purpose. Each issue has links to 1-3 reading articles to improve English reading skills and vocabulary. (Issues also may link to TED talks. Most have transcripts so you can use them for reading and/or listening practice.)
The links in each issue are on the same subject to make learning easier due to common vocabulary and themes. Many issues also have had vocabulary practice activities.
You can find a link to those back issues at the very bottom of the page. (See the blue section with site information). This spring I switched email providers. The new provider no longer archives the back issues.
Several former English Detective subscribers have contacted me months after the transition. They’re getting it again now, but I wanted a place to refer them to so they could read the articles they missed. That’s why I created this page.
Each section below includes the main content of one newsletter, from March 2020 (issue 143) on. There are brief descriptions of the articles and why I thought they’re worth reading, with links to each (or to the page the links are on, if there’s a page on the subject). Sometimes there are vocabulary definitions or a link to an EnglishHints’ page with practice.
If interested, you can subscribe to English Detective on Building Vocabulary. That way you'll get notified about each new issue. You can read the articles that interest you and improve your English vocabulary a little every month (or every week if you spread them out).
I’ve recently talked to several people who either lead or hope to lead a team of researchers. It made me start thinking (and reading about) about the characteristics of good leadership.
I’ve just finished a page on EnglishHints with that title. It talks about some key characteristics (with brief explanations, in case any words are new vocabulary to you.) Then it links to my favorite article and TED talk on the subject.
It also links to a podcast about Ernest Shackleton. He was an early 20th century explorer who demonstrated many of those qualities in a disastrous expedition to Antarctica. He and his men were stranded on sea ice for nearly two years—and yet all survived. His men attributed their survival to his leadership and encouragement.
The TED talk and podcast both include transcripts. You can practice listening, then check your understanding with the written text if you’d like.
We’ve lost precious time to limit climate change while many Americans questioned whether people caused it or not. Recently we lost precious time to control Covid-19 when it first started spreading around the world. Misinformation and misunderstanding of exponential growth slowed decision-making during the crucial first weeks.
Scientists and health professionals understood and tried to sound the alarm. Korea, Singapore, and Taiwan understood (after previous experience with other coronaviruses). They saved many lives with their decisive actions.
To me, it underscores why the general public needs to understand how science works, what we know, and why it matters. It isn’t easy, since there are people promoting misinformation and fake ‘news.’
I found several useful articles that discuss ways to communicate science more effectively. They’re all linked from the new Communicating Science page on EnglishHints. I hope you find them as thought-provoking as I have!
Have you been wondering more about the future of work in the past few months? I know I have. (We have a new granddaughter now. I can hardly even imagine what jobs may be available when she grows up!)
There are some things we do know about future jobs, however. We know there will be fewer jobs in manufacturing as robots do more and more. We know there will be increased needs for health and eldercare personnel. We’ll need more people with computer, technical, and STEM skills.
Most of all, we know the needs for clear communication, creativity, and teamwork skills won’t disappear. Neither will the need for critical thinking, focus, persistence, and a strong work ethic.
I found five different perspectives on 21st-century jobs that are well-worth sharing. They’re linked from the page above. Each has a brief description so you can decide which you want to read.
You can practice the key vocabulary with a crossword puzzle. (The link is below the article descriptions on that page.)
I’ve talked to several professionals lately who are looking for the best way to increase their English vocabulary. Two were especially concerned with answering questions after they gave presentations. They wanted the most precise words to explain their thoughts to an audience of native English speakers.
I often mention the basics for increased vocabulary. You need to read a lot and learn about the roots and prefixes that are the key to so many English words. This time I needed something more. These people already read English well and know thousands of words. They still need the right word at the right time.
So, I did some research on English vocabulary size. What I learned was fascinating. (See especially this page from Test Your Vocabulary.)
I re-worked my lessons on roots and affixes to emphasize higher-level vocabulary. I’m now offering two levels of free lessons for that purpose. Each level will have five free email lessons on increasing vocabulary using roots and affixes. If you try them, please let me know if they help!
For those who are tired of my emphasis on vocabulary, here’s a short, powerful article on word choice and how it affects other people’s opinions of you. The way you express yourself matters!
I keep thinking about the Black Lives Matter movement and the partisanship that has seemed more extreme recently. Both have a long historical background it's important to understand. Reading about the movie release of Hamilton, it seemed to me one question sums up so much: Who tells their stories?
I found two articles that I felt tell urgent stories on these issues:
Thought Co. tells the story of Ida B. Wells, a black journalist of tremendous courage. She crusaded against lynching in the late 19th and early 20th century American South. (Lynching was mob execution without a trial, often by hanging. Large numbers of black men were lynched during those years. Some were accused of rape or trouble-making; others had “gotten out of their place.”)
Wells brought international attention to the issue in spite of threats and violence. (The small newspaper she owned in Memphis was destroyed. She later had to leave the South.) She was also active in the NAACP & campaigned for women’s rights.
The second article is by a 95-year-old Israeli who fought in World War II in the Polish underground. He writes about his fear that we’ll fail to learn the lessons we need to from those terrible days.
He argues that we need to recognize that “no nation has a monopoly on virtue.” People are imperfect and situations are complex. He urges us to take the power of lies very seriously and to not get complacent. As many of us have learned these past months, the life we are accustomed to can change forever in such a short time.
I want to add one TED talk, if you haven’t already seen it: The danger of a single story. This Nigerian author tells stories from her experience. She emphasizes the importance of knowing many stories about a culture or a person, not just one.
A single story limits your perception of them to one part of their experience. She points out, “The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.”
These experiences deserve to be considered and taken to heart. I hope they make a difference!
Have you ever wondered what people who aren't wealthy or powerful can do to make a difference in big problem like poverty and human suffering?
I loved these stories of how poor women in India, villagers in Kenya, and small organizations in Greece, the U.K., Geneva, & Pakistan have found ways to help each other and work on major human problems. I hope you find them inspiring too—and that maybe they spark an idea or two.
The first two are TED talks. Chetna Gala Sinha tells “how women in rural India turned courage into cash.” She describes the resourceful ways they overcame difficult obstacles to develop a new kind of bank.
Their bank lets them save the tiny sums regular banks weren’t interested in. The bank has enabled these hard-working women to finally reach goals like getting a home or helping their families.
She tells about the lady who started singing to ignore her hunger and now performs on national radio shows, although she cannot read the script. She also tells about a lady from an ‘untouchable’ caste who became such a good goat veterinarian that high-caste men have visited her to ask her to speak to their village.
Musimbi Kanyoro talks about a different approach to philanthropy: the way people in her village help each other. She came to appreciate its person-to-person approach after years working in international aid agencies. She also argues that the best way to solve big world problems is to invest in women.
Each talk is about 14 minutes—packed full of ideas that could apply in many situations.
The final story is an article from the Guardian about several small companies that employ or sell the craft products of refugees or other marginalized people (including prisoners, addicts, & people with learning disabilities.)
Each company sells lovely handmade crafts online or to larger companies, enabling people without so many resources to earn much more for their work than they could locally. Their artisans produce everything from doormats to candlesticks, jewelry to textiles, & soaps to lampshades.
You can review & practice much of the business & financial vocabulary used in these stories on Business Vocabulary. I’ve given definitions below for a few other words they use a lot, in case you don’t know them all.
Today I want to share a couple of very hopeful TED talks and a collection of short virtual conversations about what different people have learned from their experiences in this pandemic year.
The TED talks are encouraging to me, as both follow up on poverty issues that I had looked at seven years ago, when I first began English Detective. They talk about some very positive things that have happened in the last decades, in spite of all the disruption and backward steps we’ve seen. They also show a path forward.
Jacqueline Novogratz talks about three “operating principles” necessary for making real change in the world. They all require a willingness to put aside our own views long enough to really listen.
I love the practical examples she gives of learning from the people she wants to help. It can be so easy for people to insist that we know what would work best for someone else—especially someone in a position of less power.
She also discusses the pitfall of choosing sides and shouting at each other. She says “Moral leaders reject the wall of either-or. They're willing to acknowledge a truth or even a partial truth in what the other side believes.” Her experience has confirmed the value (& difficulty) of “holding opposing values in tension.” She gives examples of learning to use markets “without being seduced by them.”
Shameran Abed describes the four interrelated steps of the program her father developed for ending extreme poverty in Bangladesh.
For two years it provides enough to meet the survival needs of women in the program, plus an asset like livestock that could help them improve their situation. It also provides training in the care of the asset & in budgeting, & helps them integrate better into their communities.
She says each step is important, “but the real magic is the hope” they feel as they work with their mentors. The program had such success in Bangladesh that it’s now being extended to other parts of the world.
This year StoryCorps started a program so people could record virtual calls to people they care about to share their experiences in this difficult year. They’ve posted several short recordings that highlight the value of friends and family and of not taking these ties for granted. The calls are touching reminders of what really matters in life.
The BBC has a fascinating article on what Sherlock Holmes can teach us about the mind. It explains why Doyles’ stories showed up on a recommended reading list for a new neuroscientist. Sherlock’s methods demonstrate the value of simple observation and logic for solving complex problems.
Examining problems that way, without relying on past experience and assumptions, can help researchers avoid the “curse of expertise:” “instances in which apparent experts in both medicine and forensic science have allowed their own biases to cloud their judgements – sometimes even in life or death situations.”
I also found a neuroscientists’ meditations on the difficulty—maybe the impossibility—of really understanding our own brains. (It’s quite long—but worth it if you also wonder about the limits of human knowledge.) He talked to several leading researchers to provide this elegant survey of what we know and can show about brain connections, and what we may never be able to fully grasp.
If you’re interested in reviewing nervous system vocabulary, here’s a summary and an online crossword puzzle to check your memory.
I’m excited to share a new page on EnglishHints—one I’ve been thinking about for a long time. It’s on connotations and why choosing the right word matters. It’s important for anyone who writes. (It’s important for anyone who speaks publicly, too, especially if you’re arguing for an urgent policy matter such as climate change.)
That page links to a number of others on EnglishHints. They each consider words on specific subjects and discuss which are appropriate for different uses. If you’d like even more suggestions on word connotations, there’s also a sign-up form to get a series of short emails on word use and connotations. Most will talk about one set of synonyms per email, often with a practice exercise.
I’d like to mention two related articles. The first discusses how small changes in word choice “frame” a subject and completely change the way people look at an idea or proposal. The writer explains the political consequences of framing and suggests ways to reword arguments so your audience will be more willing to consider them.
The second is a TED article and talk on communication. It notes that sometimes a change in word choice can make the difference between success and failure. Specifically, it tells how a group encouraging dispute mediation can get much more cooperation by asking “are you willing” rather than simply explaining the value of mediation.
Often people do not want mediation and insist that their spouse (or other opponent) will refuse to talk. They want to think of themselves as the cooperative one, so they feel they should agree that they would be willing to talk if the mediators can convince the other party. There are many other useful insights about communication—it’s well worth reading and watching!
I hope you've found reading some of these articles both interesting and useful for improving your English!
It really is worth your time reading articles to improve your English vocabulary and fluency!