Ouya International Education

How Reading Books Can Improve English

How reading fiction and non-fiction improves spoken and written English

This post will share with you, from my own learning experience, how reading books improved my English, both in terms of my reading and writing skills, and how I used various material and English learning tools to improve my skills, confidence and enjoyment in reading.

I will also provide you with tips for finding appropriate reading material, setting achievable reading and learning goals, and where you can go to find help when you are stuck.

Novel Reading

I have longed for the day when I could finish reading a novel in its original English ever since I was in high school; however, now I am in my first year of graduate school and still haven’t achieved this objective.

I’ve tried reading Jane Eyre and Pride and Prejudice, but I always come across words that I don’t know. I am always unsure as to whether I should look up such words in the dictionary, and I feel very discouraged when I can’t understand them.

I would like to ask those who have read these novels in the original English to give me some advice.

Handling Difficult Language

Although Jane Eyre and Pride and Prejudice are among my favorite books, I have read them each several times.

Every time I read one of them, I gain something new. But such classics, with their sometimes difficult syntax and demanding vocabulary, are hardly recommended as reading material for beginners. These nineteenth-century British novels even pose native speakers of English with such problems.

For students with an English level of around just Grades 4 through 6, popular English-language novels published after 1980 will have a more manageable level of linguistic difficulty. 

In addition to language considerations, you will find that choosing an English novel to read also depends on the story-line and the intellectual content of the novel. 

If you read for plot, for example, the author’s handling of such issues as secrets and dilemmas, will give you the motivation to persist in reading the entire work, and you will find the whole reading process is enjoyable and rewarding. 

Learning English can both expand your knowledge of English and yet be fun!

How to choose a novel at an appropriate reading level

  1. Consider whether the language difficulty is appropriate to your skills as a reader.
  2. Consider the content of the novel: the plot, setting, dialogue, and characters.
  3. Try to find an accompanying audiobook (American or British pronunciation, according to your personal preferences)
  4. Try to confine your choices to novels that are about three hundred pages in length.

General Reading

The purpose of general reading is to find interesting material. If you plan to read the whole novel intensively, you will derive less enjoyment from your reading; such frustration is not conducive to your long-term persistence as a reader

Also, reading in general can improve your reading speed and your ability to acquire the main information in a text quickly; such skills are also helpful for test-taking. 

You need to make a feasible plan to read widely, either one book a month or one book every two months. 

Do not be greedy when making a reading plan – do not try to read as many books as you can in a very short period of time. If you do manage to do so, of course it is good but if the reading task is too big (with a Moby Dick-sized book, for example), the whole process will make you exhausted and eventually lead to your giving up altogether. 

I recommend that you read one book written in English every two months, about forty pages per week, or about six pages per day (if the whole book is three-hundred pages, for example). 

In fact, think about your reading plan carefully., If every two months you read an English novel, a year from now you will have read six such novels!

Intensive Reading

The purpose of intensive reading is to improve listening, speaking, reading and writing skills in a more focused way.

  1. If you read forty pages per week, choose four to seven pages from among those forty to read intensively.
  2. Vocabulary of intensive reading – the words in the intensive reading section should be processed and understood thoroughly so that you as a reader accumulate a large vocabulary little by little. When I was an undergraduate, I used Kingsoft’s Vocabulary book. After checking the vocabulary on a page, I put the words in the vocabulary book, and then regularly poured over the vocabulary book; I would print out my new words every week, and I would review the words several times after that. Because I had seen these words when I was reading, I knew the context in which they were used; consequently, I found memorizing these new words was easier than simply trying to memorize words off a standard vocabulary list.
  3. Listening to material during intensive reading: listen to the content of with audio books to improve listening.
  4. Oral pronunciation of intensive reading – practice pronouncing these new words by reading along with the audiobooks; after reading along several times, you can read aloud and record yourself, then listen to the recording and correct yourself. You can also give about 30 seconds of the recording to your teacher to help you find the blind spots in your pronunciation, so that you can practice more specifically in future studies.
  5. The logical and fluent oral expression of intensive reading: summarize and orally repeat what you have read, and try recording yourself. The length of the recording should be about 45-60 seconds, and never more than two minutes. The reason why I suggest 45-60 seconds is that, according to my experience with Americans, English language learners need to be able to articulate something clearly within one minute, whether in a classroom or in a social setting. And remember: the answer time for the TOEFL speaking test is only 45-60 seconds.
  6. Intensive reading of writing: write summaries to practice your written expression skills, which should be similar to the way in which you practice speaking. Accumulate all kinds of sentence structures to improve sentence variety in writing: avoid simple sentences, and practice using participial phrases, and subordinate clauses. Accumulate a knowledge of all kinds of short stories, since you may be able to use the sentence patterns and narrative strategies from such stories as examples in your own writing.

Suppose that you still don’t understand the sentences after reading them several times.

What should you do if you can’t understand a sentence after reading it more than three times in the process of general reading or intensive reading? 

If you still have questions after reading the Chinese translation, you don’t have to waste too much time trying; you can choose to discuss the material with your classmates, or ask your teacher for advice. 

And, of course, you are welcome to write to me privately or leave me a message: I will be happy to communicate with you.

Of course, reading Chinese and English together is a good thing for translation-lovers and English language learners.

Reading Tools

Paperback or electronic version? This choice really depends on your personal preference, as each has its own advantages. You can find almost all older English novels in electronic versions on “Weiban” or Project Gutenberg; you can go to “Himalaya” for audio books; and you can usually find both Chinese and English audio books.

I am going to recommend that you try reading a few of the novels that I have read in the past two years since they have interesting content and moderate levels of language difficulty: The Alchemist, The Little Prince, To Kill a Mockingbird, and The Kite Runner.


While you may face frustration and difficulty at times, reading books as a way to improve your English skills is very possible.

By reading age appropriate content and setting up a few basic reading goals, as well as using certain language tools, you will see improvements in your reading and writing skills, and your enjoyment of reading in general.

What did you find most helpful in improving your English reading and writing skills? Share your comments below.

Please share this article if you think it could be useful to someone else. Thank you.


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