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Developing your reading skills

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Detailed reading comprehension

Reading in any language helps to improve your ability not only to read, but also to express yourself when speaking and writing. Most published written language is carefully constructed, and provides a useful model for your own work. Written texts can also provide a lot of information about how our target language is constructed, how vocabulary is used and how ideas and arguments can be presented.

Selected texts which are of general interest to you, or are similar to the kind of thing you may want to write in the target language, can be particularly useful for detailed comprehension and language analysis. However, before moving to this stage of a text, it is always useful to go through the predicting, guessing and skimming/scanning phases.

Activity

  • Select a text in your target language for detailed reading.
  • Read the whole text through carefully, highlighting words and phrases for further investigation later.
  • Look out for words/phrases and grammatical structures which recur in the text.
  • When you have been through the whole text in this way, return to your highlighted sections. Can you understand some of these sections better now you have read everything? Are there any words which you feel are more/less important now? Select those which you still feel are important and leave the others.

For vocabulary

Use a dictionary and the context in which the words occur. If there are several meanings given in the dictionary, consider carefully which is the most likely.

  • Can you think of a substitute word/phrase you already know which would fit into the sentence?
  • Can you identify why the new word was used rather than the word you already knew?
  • Is the new word important enough to explore further?
  • If you decide it is important, note it, look for related words, and ensure that you know how to pronounce it.
  • Make relevant notes in the margins of the text to help you when you come to review it later.

For structures

If they are completely new, you will need to check with a grammar book or with a tutor before looking at their usage in the text. If they are not new, but seem to be used very regularly or in an unusual way, consider:

  • What kind of text is this (genre - for example, is it a scientific description, a formal letter etc.)?
  • Have I read similar kinds of text? And if so, does the same structure occur in the same way?
  • Could I substitute a different structure?
  • Could I use this structure in this way in a different kind of text?
  • Make notes in the margins for future use.
  • Try to write some sample sentences of your own, using the structure.
  • If you are doing some written work for a tutor, try to incorporate the structure there to get feedback on your understanding of it and your ability to use it.