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Language learning: Reading

languages readingReading skills are ESSENTIAL for learning a language, but are normally the easiest of the four skill areas to master. When you read, you usually have time to decipher unfamiliar words, and recognise the spelling of words you may have difficulty understanding when spoken. Read on for University of Southampton modern languages student Elizabeth Grant's top tips for  practicing your reading skills.

1. Read as much as possible. Newspapers, books, online articles, textbooks, poems, song lyrics, appliance manuals, emails - ANYTHING. For reading, practice really does make perfect.

2. Read a text through several times. First ascertain the general meaning, maybe by skim reading to pick out key words and not worrying too much about words you don't know. In exam conditions, you have limited time to spend on reading, so focus on skim reading to get the overall meaning rather than trying to understand every single word of the text. Focus on building up speed and understanding, and then attention to detail.

3. Highlight or underline everything you DO understand. If you feel that you are struggling a bit, this trick usually shows you that there will only be a handful of words or phrases that you don't know.

4. Try to guess what unfamiliar vocabulary or expressions mean before heading for the dictionary. Use clues from the surrounding words, i.e. if the sentence is about holidays, the unfamiliar word is unlikely to have something to do with the Middle Eastern Peace Process or Molecular Biology. Try to work out whether the word looks or sounds like any word you know in another language, e.g Spanish embajador = English Ambassador. Note down your guesses for each word and then check it with a native speaker or a dictionary.

5. Insert full stops to make long sentences shorter. If a sentence is long and you are losing the gist of what is means then breaking it down into smaller sentences means you won't lose your train of thought.

6. Use colour, post-its and drawings etc. One student devised her own marking system where she underlined certain types of words, circled key terms, highlighted unfamiliar grammar etc. Others colour code i.e blue for new vocabulary, orange for terms they may want to use later, green for everything they understand. Some people have Visual Stress Syndrome which makes it difficult to see black text on a white background. Using blue pens, many colours and coloured paper really makes a difference here. Research also shows that people with Visual Stress benefit from using coloured overlays over the text when reading, which can be bought from most stationary stores.

7.Read increasingly challenging and diverse texts. You  should be comfortable reading journalistic articles, academic writing, narrative, poetry etc as your language skills advance. Read and make note of what makes these different styles so distinct; is it the choice of words, the grammatical constructions, the themes being dealt with, the use of literary devices etc? Cultivating a critical awareness of different types of text will greatly benefit your reading AND your writing skills.

8. Read aloud. Once you have an understanding of the text, read aloud to yourself or someone else and focus on your accent, pronunciation and intonation. This will benefit not only your speaking skills but will also improve your confidence and reading speed.

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