(Effective) reading to increase your English vocabulary

Reading in English is a great way for learners to improve their vocabulary. By reading we can:

  • learn new words
  • immediately see these new words in their correct context
  • consolidate vocabulary that we have learned in the past.

Many learners, though, approach reading in English in the wrong way. If your method is bad, reading in a foreign language can be hard and boring. And if a subject doesn’t interest you, you will learn very little.

Here are six simple tips to help make your reading both enjoyable and effective.

1. Choose interesting material / be hungry

Always read something that interests you. ”How do we know something is interesting?” you may ask. Easy. This is the rule:

Read material that you would also read in your native language.
If you don’t normally read it in your own language, don’t read it in English.

Following this rule will ensure that you have an interest in the material. Being interested in what you are reading will make you hungry to read more and hungry to understand the new words that you meet.

2. Read material that is the right level for you

The material you choose to read should not be too easy for you. Neither should it be too hard.

If the text is too easy you will meet very few new words and so will not learn much new vocabulary. If the text is too difficult there will be too many unknown words. This means that you will not understand enough to be able to guess the meaning of new words from the context in which you have read them. You may also fall into the trap of spending more time looking in your dictionary than reading your book. The result is that you will be demotivated.

One way of ensuring that you have a suitable level is to choose ‘easy reader’ books, which are available in different levels. These are often classic novels adapted and shortened for learners of English.

3. Be realistic – keep it short

If you decide to read a book, choose a thin one. If you read an article on the internet or in a magazine, make sure it is not too long. Be realistic about the lengths of texts you read: it will keep you motivated and give you a sense of achievement when you have finished.

So, now you have interesting material and the correct reading level. What next?

4. Pay attention to every word

Pay attention to every word in a sentence, especially the words which are new to you. You won’t learn a word if you skip it.

When you see a word you don’t know, it is a good idea to take a pencil and underline it – we will see why in the next point.

5. Guess meaning first

If you see a new word in a text that you are reading, don’t go immediately to your dictionary.

  • First try to guess the meaning by re-reading that section of the text.
  • Now use your dictionary to see if you guessed correctly.
  • Underline the word. This is useful for later on – after you have finished reading your text, you may want to copy all new words into your vocab book for revising another day.

6. Use a good dictionary

Another thing to remember is that your dictionary should be good. A quality English-English (advanced learner’s) dictionary is essential for people at intermediate level or above. I have seen too many students using poor quality dictionaries. They are just making their learning more difficult than it should be.

Those are my six tips. If you follow them when you read, you will learn more vocabulary, more easily. And you will enjoy learning.

Happy reading!

Stuart is an English teacher and runs the Speakspeak website. He currently lives in Prague and has been teaching for over 20 years. Follow Stuart and contact him by subscribing to his monthly newsletter.


  1. ewa jablkowska - January 29, 2012, 5:53 am Reply

    i would you like to learn more vocabulary

  2. arya - January 29, 2012, 7:37 pm Reply

    As you advise English learners I’m looking for an English-English dictionary. Which one would you recommend to me ?

  3. Mike - October 17, 2012, 5:58 am Reply

    Learners can improve their English vocabulary in the following ways:

    a) when doing English grammar exercises;
    b) when practising speaking on various topics;
    c) when reading various materials in English on a multitude of topics;
    d) when listening to audio and video recordings with diverse content.

    Thematic general English dictionaries combined with some English synonym dictionaries are a valuable tool for mastering English vocabulary logically, comprehensively and intensively for real life needs of learners. Some English synonym dictionaries provide usage explanations and usage examples for words with similar meaning.

    Thematic English reading materials can be combined with English phrase books, conversation books, thematic English dictionaries, English synonym dictionaries and vocabulary practice books (with lexical exercises) for comprehensive, logical and intensive learning of English vocabulary.

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