No matter your native tongue, anyone will tell you that the best way to improve your general communication skills is by reading. If there is a particular area you wish to focus on improving, for instance if you feel the need to expand your vocabulary or work on your writing skills then the first step is to pick up a book and get reading.

person typing on laptop
In order to become a better writer, you need to become a better reader - Unsplash

Reading fluency not only builds language skills but has numerous other benefits too. You will find that your thinking skills are honed through frequent reading and your general knowledge and world view is automatically expanded by choosing a broad variety of reading material.

Early Reading

Children learn to read from the moment they enter school because having reading skills is the foundation of all education.

At first, children are coached to read with comprehension as they spend time reading aloud and discussing stories. At this early stage kids are also introduced to the concept of phonics which enables us to decipher words independently.

little girl reading book
It's so empowering for a child when they learn to read independently - Unsplash

Early literacy begins with spoken words as children learn to associate words with objects and feelings. Language is a tool for expression and as children develop from spoken language to the written word, the art of reading is the cornerstone that bridges this gap.

Reading and writing are inseparable.

A child’s introduction to reading is often in the form of nursery rhymes and fairy tales that are read aloud before bedtime. Children are drawn to fantasy because of their unbridled imaginations and many of the rhymes and traditional stories serve as a wonderful platform to teach kids about basic life principles and help your child to deal with their own emotions.

Are You a Skilled Reader?

By adulthood most people would claim to be fluent readers. However, there is a huge contrast between having basic or passive reading skills and being a skilled reader. Active reading goes beyond merely reading the written word, it’s about synthesising the text and exploring the meaning on a higher level.

Those who read actively enjoy a rewarding reading experience.

Skilled reading means connecting to the text intellectually and imaginatively, drawing conclusions and noting the nuances and hidden meanings behind individual words. It’s a far more gratifying and enriching experience.

No matter if you are an avid reading hoping to hone your reading skills or if you have reading difficulties and are striving for academic success there are plenty of reading strategies for every type of reader.

You could improve your reading by participating in a reading workshop or by seeking out an English tutor who would be able to focus on your specific needs and at the same time point you towards interesting inspirational texts suited to your reading level.

Reading Strategies for New Readers

The British Council RSA branch suggests a particular sequence of steps be taken when instructing beginner readers. The various phases are created in a manner that helps the student explore a variety of strategies for building their reading skills.

For starters, educators are urged to get learners motivated for reading and writing by explaining the benefits of being a skilled and proficient reader. When a tutor or educator can openly share their own enthusiasm for reading, they teach students without having to use explicit instruction, but rather through being an example.

Preparation is key and students excel when they are mentally prepared prior to any reading activities. An educator needs to equip learners with various reading techniques and strategies that can be used during reading practise. In order to improve reading, a reading teacher needs to improve their student’s outlook on reading.

Reading and writing are usually taught simultaneously as both skills go hand in hand. Helping learners to tackle written assignments with confidence has a big influence on how they feel about their overall literacy. It helps to prepare students by establishing good writing habits, for instance always writing a rough draft and learning about mind mapping. All these skills combined improve overall comprehension skills.

Exposing learners to a broad variety of reading genres and writing systems will widen their thinking and assist them to comprehend unfamiliar texts more easily. By doing this, students learn to appreciate particular styles needed for specific writing tasks and will become more successful writers themselves. An informational text such as instructions in a manual is very different to that of a murder mystery.

Reading Techniques to Increase Speed

Often people who read slowly tend to get distracted very easily; this struggle with focusing automatically slows them down. The trick is to nip the daydreaming in the bud and figure out what kind of environment helps you to focus best. For some this could mean being tucked away in the quietest corner of a library and for the next person it could mean sitting in a noisy coffee shop.

Before attempting to break your reading speed record first establish what kind of environment you need in order to be most productive and focused.

man reading outdoors
Choose a place where you feel at ease and go there to practise your speed reading - Unsplash

A higher reading speed is very beneficial but not if it compromises reading comprehension. It’s no good being fast if you can’t even remember what you read. That’s why active reading comes with practise.

How to Calculate Your Speed

To start off, get an idea of what the accepted reading speed is for the purpose of your reading. Someone who works as a researcher, which is all about reading, will be expected to read a lot faster than a person who reads for fun in their spare time.

When you have found out what reading speed you should be achieving, you can spend a moment timing your reading one minute at a time. This should be done more than once in order to get an accurate average. Remember that when you are performing your timing sessions that you must also assess whether you are reading with comprehension. When you are confident that you’ve established a consistent and satisfactory words per minute (wpm) rate you can also proceed to put this on your CV in preparation for any future work prospects.

How to Speed up Your Reading

Increasing your reading speed takes time, practise and patience. Remember how long it took just to learn how to read the alphabet?

pile of books and letter blocks
Speed reading isn't as easy as learning your A, B, C's so be patient with yourself - Unsplash

In order to master the art of speed reading you need to begin practising on less challenging reading material because your first objective is speed and complicated writing will hinder this. According to studies, the speed of reading can be increased simply by doing brain exercises and reflex training. This helps to sharpen the mind and keep the brain focused, which is essential for successful speed reading.

Like most things in this day and age, there are plenty of apps that have been designed to help to improve reading speed. Spreeder was created in an effort to save time by increasing your reading speed up to three times! It is based on techniques that have been developed by world-renowned speed reading champions and trainers.

Applications such as Spreeder and a myriad of others available on the App Store or Google Play have proven to be very popular amongst the younger generation, especially students who are desperate to study more efficiently.

Why We Should All Be Reading Every Day?

The benefits of habitual reading are boundless. From the therapeutic effect it has on our stress levels to the stimulation it offers our intellect, reading is possibly one of the most sustainable self improvement tactics out there.

stressed out student
Reading can help reduce stress levels - Unsplash

And scientific research is making connections between mental stimulation and the onset of neurological disorders such as Alzheimer’s and dementia, claiming that individuals who remain mentally active (e.g. by reading) are at lower risk of suffering from these diseases.Who knew that simple tasks such as writing in a journal and reading a novel could be so good for you?

An athlete needs to stay active in order to remain fit and the brain is also a muscle that needs daily exercise in order to perform optimally. As you work on your reading comprehension skills you are simultaneously working on your ability to memorise. A good working memory is essential for all kinds of daily tasks we take for granted.

Sometimes we just need a break, and when a holiday isn’t on the horizon then reading a good book is next best thing for escaping the pressures of daily life. There are times when life gets overwhelming and you may be surprised how turning the pages of a great novel can help you to see things in perspective.

Intellectually, reading is a tonic for the brain.

We live in an age of endless distractions where our eyes dart from one screen to the next trying to keep up with the overwhelming volume of information. But all this stimulation can lead to poor productivity levels. As we accustom ourselves to the art of reading our brains are wired to remain focused on one particular thing at a time.

Reading does wonders for your ability to think critically and analytically, making it much easier to draw conclusions from complex text and avoid misunderstandings. As you become a more active reader you will see great improvements in both your written and spoken communication.

Help Kids Learn to Love Reading

Children are copycats by nature, so it’s the job of the parent to set a good example. As technological advances creep into our homes, the sight of someone reading a book is something of a rarity. But if we want our kids to learn how to read proficiently the it’s up to us to put down the phone and pick up a book.

woman taking book off bookshelf
Make an effort to fill your home with an interesting collection of books -Unsplash

Start a collection of beautiful children's books, read the newspaper every Sunday morning, pack a bunch of magazines in your holiday suitcase and always keep one or two novels on your bedside table. Whatever works for you, just ensure that the sight of a book at home or in the hands of a parent is as normal as taking a bath.

Not long ago, kids were constantly exposed to printed reading material around the home, from daily newspapers and catalogues to the telephone directory and recipe books. But these days much of these items are obsolete because it can all be obtained digitally. A lot of children’s literature is only available as eBooks these days.

Of course most children’s books would preferably be printed even in this age of technology but many authors are pushed to publish digitally because there is just so much competition. Ultimately the books that go to print are the ones that have been proven popular on Amazon and other platforms.

Reading Books for Toddlers to Grade R Level

Fortunately it’s still acceptable to buy kiddies books as gifts; in fact, it’s very much on trend as interior designs for kids bedrooms always have some form of bookshelf. Children learn exceptionally well when their senses are stimulated which is why they love to hold and page through a real book, not to mention the wonderful range sensory books that are now  available in almost every bookstore.

The collection of ‘That’s not my ...’ books are readily available for South African parents to purchase online and come highly recommended. The beautiful illustrations and uncomplicated text is highly appealing to little eyes and the wonderful array of colours and textures keep little hands happy and curious.

Pay close attention to what excites your child and use this as a tool to encourage reading. For instance if your little one loves going to the beach then find a book about sea animals. There are books to suit every child and all their interests.

Finding a Way to Get School Going Kids Excited to Read

When choosing a book for a youngster who is still getting to grips with the technicalities of reading it’s very important to not only know what interests them but also what reading level they are at. The last thing you want to do is knock their fragile confidence by giving them a book that is too challenging.

Often for beginner readers a book with illustrations helps to spark the imagination.

Engaging younger kids is the ultimate goal when it comes to teaching children to read with enjoyment. A great way to captivate children’s attention is by using a variety of teaching aids such as reading worksheets containing fun colouring pictures or quizzes all based on the reading content. These are also wonderful comprehension strategies.

Motivating Teens to Read

More often than not, teens associate reading with boredom, and many find it embarrassing to be seen as a ‘bookworm’ by their peers. Despite their lack of enthusiasm it’s vital that you keep gently urging them to read. Not only will it benefit their mental health but it’s a crucial skill necessary for successful education.

teenager with skateboard
Use your teens hobbies as a guide for finding engaging reading material for them - Unsplash

If a big novel seems too off-putting, offer your teen a magazine. There are some great publications that cover all kinds of topics from sport, to fashion, technology and more. Even if they’re just reading passages from a glossy magazine, something is better than nothing!

However some teens are avid readers and it’s just as important to nurture this natural passion by directing them towards good quality fiction and non-fiction books.

An idea for the reluctant readers is to search for books written by young adults, sometimes knowing that the writer is not much older than themselves already breaks the ice and may even motivate some youngsters to try their hand at writing too.

Using the Classics for English Reading Practise

For those of us who studied English as a home language at school, we will have had our fair share of exposure to some of the true classics, however reading a great book in an academic environment can often dampen enthusiasm so it’s worth reading some of these great literary works with fresh eyes.

When it comes to English classics we can rely on the list compiled by the Oxford Royale Academy to keep us in fine literary form:

  • 'Wuthering Heights' by Emily Bronte
  • 'Middlemarch' by George Elliott
  • 'Nineteen Eighty-Four' by George Orwell
  • 'The Lord of the Rings' by J. R. R. Tolkein
  • 'His Dark Materials' trilogy by Philip Pullman
  • 'Jane Eyre' by Charlotte Bronte
  • 'Great Expectations' by Charles Dickens
  • 'Far from the Madding Crowd' by Thomas Hardy
  • All of Jane Austen’s novels

In our opinion, a few more remarkable literary works could easily be added to supplement your list of classic reads ...

The prospect of reading his entire collection of plays may seem a little overwhelming if you aren’t an avid scholar, but it’s worth at least attempting one of Shakespeare’s masterpieces.

Heralded as one of the greats, Shakespeare’s fascinating characterisation and themes are an inspiration and a fulfilling reading challenge. Not to mention the fact that many of the expressions we use today were coined Shakespeare himself.

The Great Gatsby warrants a place on the list of classic books; a timeless tale full of vibrant scenes and complex characters and is one of the most important great American novels to read.

Written in 1925 by the late F. Scott Fitzgerald, The great Gatsby remains an insightful read even today. The novel addresses aspects of society in the twenties however it captures the hearts of today’s readers because of the universal nature of its themes.

The tragic irony is that Fitzgerald died believing he had failed as a writer. The Great Gatsby (which wasn’t his first novel) only gained its fame after his death. This classic tale has warranted not one but two movie productions. The most recent adaptation by acclaimed filmmaker Baz Luhrmann illustrates the characters, plot and theme of this evocative story encapsulating the spirit of the roaring twenties that fascinates us to this day.

‘Classic’ seems to be associated with ‘old’ and for this reason most people would offer up ancient titles if asked to recommend classic reading material. It’s fair to say that a book must have remained popular for a long period of time in order to be deemed a classic, but if a classic has fallen out of popularity does it still deserve to be classified as a classic?

Poetic Inspiration

For the poetry skeptics out there, there is more to this wonderful literary genre than dusty old high school anthologies. Before you write poetry off completely maybe give it one more try ...

It’s not uncommon for people to think that reading poetry aloud is only something that is done within an artistic community where poets and creatives come together to recite one another’s lyrical poems. But this is not at all true, as there are so many different poetic forms, many of which don’t rhyme at all. And there are plenty of motivational poems that can be enjoyed in solitude.

For learners completing their FET phase in high school, there will be a lot of emphasis on famous poems by both English poets and American poets such as William Butler Yeats, Wystan H. Auden, William Wordsworth and Christina Rossetti. And while these are unmistakably great poets, they can seem intimidating at first.

Despite these writers having produced some of the best poetry, it can still be a challenge for youngsters to relate to this collection of poems and can induce a fear of failure. However with the aid of a heartfelt educator who can provide insightful interpretation to these inspirational poems, the study of poetry can be a rewarding task.

Poetry can be interpreted (and misinterpreted!) in a wide variety of ways all depending on the individual reading the verses and whether they are equipped with sufficient background knowledge and the ability to read analytically.

A group of college students were asked to interpret the following poem:

He clasps the crag with crooked hands;
Close to the sun in lonely lands,
Ring’d with the azure world, he stands.

The wrinkled sea beneath him crawls;
He watches from his mountain walls,
And like a thunderbolt he falls.

The obvious conclusions would be that this text is addressing issues such as suicidal thoughts, mental health issues or desperation. However, the clever professor omitted a very important component of the poem, its title.

eagle in flight
The Eagle, by Alfred Lord Tennyson - Unsplash

This is a famous poem written by Alfred Lord Tennyson and is entitled ‘The Eagle’. Upon seeing this title the students immediately realised the poem was nothing close to what they had imagined it to be about. This proved to be a valuable lesson of the power of words.

This is the beauty of poetry, the most powerful message can be delivered in merely a few lines and even so, it will be interpreted differently by most readers.

It just goes to show once again how important it is to learn to read actively and with comprehension in order to glean the most from everything we read.

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Born from a family of creatives, Kyla has a passion for the arts and interior design.