How to learn English through reading books and novels

Updated: Oct 20, 2019

Reading books in English can be a fun and interesting way to improve your English skills. It can be challenging at first because they're written for native English speakers which means they contain a lot of vocabulary and language that you probably aren't familiar with. Once you're able to read through a novel and understand it, however, it can be a rewarding experience that will boost your confidence.

By reading novels you can improve the following:

Reading skills





Reading books and novels and English can be intimidating, though. Most English learners tend to jump in without a plan and read with a dictionary on hand, trying to learn every new word they come across. This will quickly burn you out. In this post I will give you a simple method for improving your English through reading.

Graded vs. Authentic Material

Language learning material is can be divided into two types:

Graded and Authentic

Graded material is the kind of material you find in textbooks and other study resources. They are usually pieces of text, recordings and videos that were made specifically for the level you're studying. For example, if you're an A1/Elementary level student then the texts you will read will look like this:

Conversation 1:

John: Hello! My name is John. What's your name?

Anna: Hi! I'm Anna. Nice to mee you.

John: Nice to meet you, too.

As you can see, this is a short and simple piece of text designed to teach a beginner level English learner. This is an example of graded material.

Authentic material, on the other hand, is anything you find out in the wild. From novels to movies, anything created in English can be considered as authentic material. However, watching movies and TV shows with subtitles in your native language can't be considered as watching authentic material.

When's the best time to start with authentic material?

My general rule of thumb is that learners should start with authentic material when they feel ready. Don't feel pressured to start watching the BBC just because you're intermediate as this may scare you from progressing.

My recommended beginning level would be somewhere between B1/Intermediate to B2/Upper-Intermediate. If you're anywhere below that, you might lack the language foundation to understand even the simplest of authentic materials. If you still want to engage with authentic material at a low level, then I recommend starting with children's books, movies and shows.

Top-to-bottom approach

My method for learning through reading books follows a series of steps that will help you build your comprehension skills and expand your language knowledge. It can help you feel confident that you're progressing without giving you a lot to work with.

Step 1: Understanding the main idea(s)

Step 2: Understanding important details

Step 3: Learning new language

Step 1: Understanding the main idea(s)

In this step your goal is simple: to understand the main points of the book or story you're reading. Almost every book can be broken down into three parts:




Before starting to read, especially if you're in Intermediate levels, I recommend looking for a quick plot summary of the book you're reading. Google is your friend here. Here's a plot summary of the first Harry Potter book:

Harry Potter is a boy who learns on his eleventh birthday that he is the orphaned son of two powerful wizards and possesses unique magical powers of his own. He is summoned from his life as an unwanted child to become a student at Hogwarts, an English boarding school for wizards. There, he meets several friends who become his closest allies and help him discover the truth about his parents' mysterious deaths.

This will help give you an idea of what to expect from the text you read.

After reading a plot summary, you need to start off with three questions; one for each part of the book. Here are the questions, which can be used with most books without changing them:

What was the problem that was introduced in the beginning of the story?

Every good story begins with a problem. Once your read through the first few chapters you should have an idea of what the problem is.

What did the character(s) do to fix the problem?

This is where the action takes place. The characters in the story try to fix the problem and this usually happens in the middle.

How was the problem fixed or resolved in the end?

Basically, what happened in the end. How did the problem go away?

This first step can't be completed quickly because it requires that you read the whole book. What you should do is read at your own pace and without trying to understand all the words you see. Focus on answering the questions for now.

This is the end of Part 1 of this article. I'll be back with Part 2 at a later time detailing the rest of my method for learning through reading.

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