How to Improve Your English Reading Skills - 4 Steps to Improve Now


Hi, I’m Stephanie.

Welcome to Oxford Online English!

In this lesson, you can learn how to improve your reading skills in English.

Well show you the number one mistake English learners make when they try to practice their

reading in English, and how to avoid it.

Youll see a step-by-step plan that you can use to improve your English reading skills,

and well give you several suggestions to improve your English reading level more quickly

and efficiently.

You heard just now that there’s one big mistake that many English learners make when

trying to practice reading.

So, what is it, and how can you avoid it?

Here’s a situation.

Think about whether youve been here before.

You start reading something in English.

You can’t understand a lot of it, and there are many unknown words.

You start looking up every word you don’t know in a dictionary.

Thirty minutes later, youre either asleep, or youve read about two paragraphs.

Of course, this makes you feel bad, and you start feeling that you can’t read in English,

that it’s too difficult, and so on.

But, this isn’t true!

You can read in English and you can improve, whatever your English level now.

What’s the key?

You need to select materials at the right level.

Often, people try to read the same things they would read in their native language.

But, if your English level is intermediate, like many of the learners we meet, then you

need to accept that you can’t read all the same things in English that you would read

in your own language.

If you try, youll probably feel frustrated, and maybe give up.

So, it’s essential to select reading materials that are the right level for your English

abilities now.

But, how can you do that?

Here are some tests you can use:

One: can you understand the general meaning of the text without using a dictionary?

Two: can you understand the general meaning of most sentences without using a dictionary?

Three: can you read the text at a reasonable speed?

This is subjective, but it shouldn’t take an hour to read a few paragraphs.

If you can’t answeryesto these questions, then the text is probably too hard.

Of course, you don’t want it to be too easy, either!

If you can understand everything first time, it’s probably too easy.

There should be some words and ideas which aren’t easy to understand.

Youre probably thinking: so where can I find suitable reading materials?

That’s a hard question to answer, because this depends on your level, your study goals,

and your personal tastes.

Here’s one suggestion: look for Graded readers.

Graded readers are books adapted specially for English learners.

They take famous stories, or even things like Shakespeare plays, and adapt them for different


Naturally, there are many other sources of English reading materials: news websites,

magazines, blogs, forums, books, journals, and so on.

However, whatever you read, it should pass these tests.

You should be able to read and understand most of the general ideas without using a

dictionary or spending hours reading a short text.

If you can get this right, then youve done the most important work.

Remember that you don’t have to finish reading everything you start.

For this lesson, were talking about reading in order to improve your English level.

To do this, you need to find the right materials at the right level.

Don’t waste your time trying to read things which are much too difficult.

So, what’s the next step?

Let’s get one thing clear: improving your reading skills in English is going to take

a lot of time.

It’s not something you can do in days or weeks.

There aren’t any tricks which can help you to improve faster.

So, the best thing you can do is very simple: read as much as possible.

Spend as much time reading in English as you can.

Also, variety is important in your reading practice.

If you read the same kind of texts again and again, youll get good at reading that kind

of text.

For example, if you only ever read news articles about economics, youll get very good at

reading news articles about economics, but you might find it difficult to read other

styles of text on other topics.

If youve seen our video about how to improve your listening, then you might recognise these


That’s because improving your reading and improving your listening need a similar approach.

Let’s make an example reading study plan together, but first, we want you to think

about something: how many different things could you read in English?

Pause the video, and try to think of five different things you could read.

Make them as different as possible.


Let’s make a reading study plan together.

There are two rules:


Do something every day.

If youre very busy, try to do five minutes a day.

Five minutes is better than nothing.

If you can do ten minutes a day, do ten minutes.

If you can do more, do more.

But, do something, even if it’s just a little bit!


Do something different every day.

If you read part of a novel one day, read something different the next day.

Also, try to find things youre interested in, and that you really want to read.

That way, it won’t feel so much like studying, which will make it easier to do regularly.

Anyway, here’s a possible plan for one week:

Monday: read 1-2 pages of a short story Tuesday: read a blog post

Wednesday: read a BBC news article Thursday: do a reading exercise from an English

textbook Friday: read a film review online

Saturday: read the comments on an online news article

Sunday: read the lyrics to a song

Of course, you should make your own plan to suit your own interests and level.

When youve made your plan, write it down and stick it on a wall, or on your bathroom

mirror, or somewhere where youll see it every day.

When you finish each thing, cross it off your plan.

That way, you can track what youve done, and feel good about finishing your plan.

On the one hand, it’s good to challenge yourself, so give yourself one or two harder

days, where youre reading more, or reading something more difficult.

On the other hand, be realistic and don’t try to do too much.

It’s more important to make reading in English a long-term habit, so make a plan which you

can stick to regularly!

Next, keep doing this, every day, every week, every month.

You might not feel that youre getting better, but over time, you will improve.

Now, youve seen the most important ideas you need to improve your English reading.

There are a couple more points to think about.

Let’s look.

Here’s a situation: youre taking an English exam, maybe an IELTS exam.

You have a reading text which is difficult for you.

There are many words you haven’t seen before, and many sentences which you don’t understand


The clock is ticking.

What can you do?

Are there any tricks to make it easier to understand the text in this situation?

Surely there must be some special techniques which make it easier, right?

Not really.

If youre reading a text and you don’t know many of the words, that’s a bad situation.

If your grammar knowledge isn’t enough to understand complex sentence structures, then

that’s a bad situation.

At that moment, when youre in your exam and youre faced with this difficult text,

there’s really no good solution.

There are many videos and lessons giving youreading tips and tricks’, including some

of our own!

However, these are only necessary if your reading level isn’t high enough for a specific

task, like an IELTS reading exam.

These tips and tricks are ways to deal with having a lower reading level than you need.

Like everything in this lesson, there’s no quick fix here.

To improve your English reading level, you also need to improve your vocabulary and grammar

knowledge, and that’s a long, slow process.

But, it’s necessary.

Remember in part one, we said that you should choose reading materials which you could understand

most of without a dictionary?

Now, we need to look at this from the other side.

Often in life, you can’t choose the things you need to read.

If youre at work, or taking an English exam, youll be given a text.

You can’t choose to read something easier.

In that situation, you need to know most of the words in the text already.

If you don’t, it will take you a long time and a lot of work to read and understand the

text, and there’s a high chance that youll misunderstand parts of it.

So, what should you do?

Firstly, your reading practice needs to be supported by regular grammar and vocabulary


We won’t go into details about this here, because it’s too big as a topic, but if

you need advice, there are many free materials and videos on our channel and our website

to help you learn vocabulary and grammar effectively.

Secondly, when you read something in English, don’t just read it once.

Read it two, three, four or more times, especially if it’s difficult to understand the first


Vocabulary learning depends on repetition, so by reading a text many times, you give

yourself more chances to see new words and phrases in context, which makes it easier

to remember them.

Thirdly, as you practice and as your reading level improves, increase the difficulty of

your reading materials.

This way, youll continuously see new words, new phrases, new sentence structures, and

so on.

Okay, let’s look at one more useful point you can use to practice your English reading.

Okay, youre probably bored of hearing that improving your English

reading is a long, slow, pro

Okay, okay, you get it.

Weve told you many times.

The problem with long, slow processes is that theyre often boring.

And, when something’s boring, it can be hard to motivate yourself to do it.

So, how can you deal with this?

The most important point is something youve already heard: read things youre interested


However, there are a few other things you can do.

One idea is to set yourself challenges.

For example, use a timer when reading something and set yourself a time limit.

Try to read the whole text within that time.

Or, get a speed reading app.

There are many available in the Apple Store or Play Store, including many free apps.

These apps display text at a specific speed, so you have to read at the same speed.

As you get better, you can challenge yourself by increasing the speed.

Another good challenge is to read texts without a dictionary or any help.

You shouldn’t do this all the time, because it’s useful to learn new vocabulary when

you read, and you need a dictionary for this.

However, sometimes it’s good to practice without any help.

It’s also useful because this is often closer to real-life situations, where you might be

under pressure and unable to look up every word you don’t know.

Follow these tips and your English reading level will improve.

Remember that you need to be patient!

Do you have any good tips to help others improve their English reading level?

Please share your ideas in the comments!

Thanks for watching!

See you next time!