Learning Strategies: Reading as a habit

This is the transcript for the English with Stephen podcast on how to make reading in English a habit.

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Hello and welcome to English with Stephen, the podcast that gives you everything you need to learn English.

This is the second episode in my mini-series on how to read in English in order to learn English. Previously, I looked at why reading in English is important and so effective if you want to learn the language. Next week, I will talk about some ways that you can become an active reader to fully exploit your reading and recommend some books that I have used with students.

This week, I am going to talk about some of the ways that you can become a regular reader. I’ll start by looking at why many people do not read, and then suggest some tips for how to overcome these problems and make reading a normal language learning strategy for you.

After this…

In today’s episode, I am going to mention some links for some extra resources to help you start reading in English. You can find all of the links on my site EnglishwithStephen.com. That’s S T E P H E N, EnglishwithStephen.com. On that site, you will also find free transcripts and links to all the previous episodes of this podcast.

Ok, so this episode is aimed at two groups of people. The first group is people who don`t read for pleasure very much in any language. The second group is people who do read in their first language, but haven`t been able to transition to reading in English.

Not everyone is a great reader, even in their first language. If this is the case, I think it is important to identify why you don’t read very much. Once you have done this you can try to find ways to overcome these problems.

Perhaps you didn’t have access to books when you were a kid, or maybe you never saw adults reading. If this is true for you, then maybe you just never got into the habit of reading. I have spoken before about how we can create good habits. Keep listening and I’ll give you some tips later about how to get into the habit of reading.

Maybe you don’t read because of the way you were taught at school. I know for some people their teachers make reading into a job, something you had to do to pass exams. It doesn’t need to be like this. Reading can be fun, exciting, and interesting, as well as educational. I have some tips for you as well later in this episode.

Or maybe you used to read a lot but just fell out of practice. This was the case with me until recently. I used to read a lot. But over time I just stopped. Part of this was work and family, but also the competition from Netflix and the internet. I have some ideas for you if this is the reason why you stopped reading as well.

Or maybe you are a member of the second group, which means you read in your first language, but not in English. Again, there are a number of reasons for this.

Maybe you tried reading in English, but the book was too difficult and it became hard work.

Or maybe you tried a book that was too childish or not the sort of thing that you would normally read.

Or perhaps it really is just time. You can find the time to read in your first language, but not in English.

And then there is a reason that might apply to everyone: cost. Maybe getting books is just too expensive for you to buy them regularly.

If you want to start reading or even read more, then the most important thing is to make it into a habit. Here are a few ideas for how you can make reading into a habit.

First, make sure you know why you want to read. I gave some reasons in last week’s podcast and I will post a link to that on my site. Basically, reading will improve your vocabulary and your grammar, whilst also being an authentic skill.

Second, it is not enough just to want to read. You have to create the space to read. Finding the space is both literal and metaphorical. It is literal because you need to find a comfortable and quiet place to read. Make sure it is free of distractions. Turn off your phone or computer. Make sure you will be on your own for a short time.

Creating space is also a metaphor because you need space in your schedule. Either you can have the same time every day, for example after lunch. Or you can put a time in your calendar so that you know you will be reading between 5 and 5:30pm every Monday.

If you don’t read much in your own language, or you never saw other people reading when you were a kid, then this idea of finding a time and a place to read can be essential. By doing this, you are making a commitment to yourself. There is a lot of research that shows people who make a commitment are more likely to achieve their goals. If you tell somebody else about the commitment, then you increase your chances even more.

If you didn’t pick up the reading habit when you were younger, or if you have fallen out of the habit, then making this commitment to yourself and others is vital.

Once you have made the time and the space, you need to find something to read.

My number one rule for reading is that it should be a pleasure. It should not be difficult or hard work. You should finish a book and actively want to start another book. With this rule as a guiding principle, we can create a criteria for selecting a book to read.

  1. Read what you want

Don’t think there are ‘good’ or ‘bad’ books. All books are good. Do you like crime stories? Thrillers? Classics? If so, read an Agatha Christie, a John Grisham or Dostoyevsky.

Or perhaps you prefer to read non-fiction books. That is great too. Graphic novels are brilliant. Children’s books are wonderful. Business books, self-help books… The list is endless.

The most important thing is that you read. Not what you read. Find something you like and read it.

  1. Don’t read what you hate

Sometimes, you pick up a book and it looks great. You start reading it, and after a couple of chapters, you realise you were wrong. The book is awful. You hate it. But there is a part of you that thinks you should complete every book you start, so you try to keep going. You pick up the book once a week, read a paragraph and stop. The book seems to get bigger and bigger.

I have one word for you. Stop! Stop right now.

Life is too short, and there are too many great books, to waste time reading a book you don’t like. Ok, at school there were books you read that you hated because your teacher told you had to. But we are not in school now.

Remember, read what you love.

There is another reason why it is important to stop. If we refuse to move on to another book until we have finished the one we are currently reading, and we hate the book we are currently reading so much that we never finish it, we will never start another book. And we might love that book!

  1. Read a book below your level

As I’ve said before, reading should be a pleasure. If the book is too difficult it will not be a pleasure. You will find yourself stopping to check words in a dictionary or not understanding parts of a book.

So find a book that is easy, and pleasurable, to read. This is especially important if do not read a lot. Reading a few books below your level will give you the confidence to try something a bit harder later.

You will still learn vocabulary and you will still practise grammar. But it will be fun and interesting instead of hard and frustrating.

And this piece of advice applies to everyone, from the elementary level learner to the advanced learner. Most publishers have a catalogue of books called ‘graded readers’. These are books that are designed for different levels of English. For example, Oxford University Press has hundreds of books at elementary level, as well as pre-intermediate, intermediate and so on. They have all types of different books, from crime books to non-fiction to self-help.

So even if you are not an advanced learner, you can still find books that are at, or below, your level.

I will post some links on my site for different publishers so you can get an idea of what is available.

  1. Watch the film

When I was at school, my English teacher hated it when we had watched the film of a book. He thought we were cheating in some way.

I love it when my students have seen the film. First, because it means they understand the story and so maybe they can try a book that is a bit more of a challenge.

Second, because you can compare the book to the film. They are almost never the same. So, watch the film.

  1. Get a free book

Money can be a problem. If you regularly buy books the price can get very high very quickly. There are no easy answers to this, and sometimes it depends on where you live, but I will suggest some possible answers.

First, join a library. Not all areas have libraries, and even then, they often don’t have many books in English. If you have access to a library, go for a visit and ask about any English books they might have.

Second, get together with friends. If there are 4 of you, and you all buy one book, then you can share the book and so only pay a quarter of the price.

Third, you can find free books. I am not talking about illegal copies or pirate books. Instead, there are some companies that provide free ‘graded readers’ for English students. I will post some links on my site. There is also Google books that has lots of legal and free copies available.

That is about all I have time for today. I would love to hear from you. What books have you read in English? Do you have any other tips for how people can create a habit of reading?

Leave me a comment on my site or social media. I promise to answer everyone.

Thanks for listening, and I hope to speak to you again next week.

So long, and happy reading!

Useful Links

Graded Reader Catalogue

Oxford University Press

Macmillan Publishing 

Richmond Readers

Free books

ELI Graded Readers

Free Graded Readers

Google Books

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