You Don't Know What you Don't Know: Reading and Assigning Meaning

Many upper-intermediate and advanced-level students feel stuck with their progress because they keep doing the same thing, and they are convinced that whatever they are doing is working for them.

Example :

What they do:
  • they read in English the way that they always read.
  • they read the things that they usually read (work emails, blog posts, news on the internet)
  • they read silently, i.e. to themselves, i.e. they never hear feedback on their reading skills 

What they believe:
  • they are convinced that they don't need feedback on their reading because they understand what they read
  • they are convinced that if they understand what they read, everybody else will understand the same text if they simply read it out loud to them, regardless of how well they read it
  • they are convinced that reading and speaking skills exist separately, i.e. it's not necessary to work on your reading skills if your focus is better speaking fluency  
  • they don't see the connection between "I can understand them" and "They can understand me", i.e. they are convinced that there is no correlation between "How well I read out loud" and "How well people understand me"

All these convictions block people's progress. 

The truth is that you speak English exactly the same way as you read in English. Try reading a paragraph out loud and ask someone to listen to you. Then ask them if they understood what you have just read. Then ask yourself if you understood what you have just read.

Try it right now. 
Exercise 1. Read these quotes out loud (easy)
Exercise 2: Read this story out loud (intermediate) 
Exercise 3. Read this story out loud (advanced) 

Read the text of your choice out loud, record yourself and give feedback to yourself. If it's difficult for you to evaluate your reading, ask other people to listen to you. You can post your reading in the Community and ask for feedback. 

Many students don't pay attention to correct pronunciation. For them, it's enough if they understand what they see (they don't bother if others can't understand what they will say to them).

Many students don't assign meaning to words. They fly over words that they think they understand. This is how they usually read books: they skip all the words that they don't know because they think they get the main idea. Maybe they do. The problem is that they never pay attention to how the main idea is articulated and what vocabulary they would need to communicate the same message. They also don't pay attention to the fact that oftentimes they don't have the vocabulary to communicate their ideas. They think they do when they read a text or watch a video. They think so because they understand what they read and watch. 
And they are convinced that if they understand it now, they can easily say it in English at any given of time, i.e. in every next spontaneous situation. And this exact conviction is wrong because people are stuck every time they need to be spontaneous in English. They feel like they know so many good words.... but none of them come when they need them the most. 

Developing fluency will be a very slow and tedious process without the deliberate practice of reading out loud.

Listen to this clip where Dr. Judith Boettcher talks about developing metacognition and helping students become aware of their own thinking processes. She talks about reading and assigning meaning to words. It's exactly what I see so many students do: they think they know the words even when they don't. They are so convinced that what they know is enough that they never bother checking their assumptions. They repeat the same learning behavior and the consequences are that they keep getting the same results, meaning they get stuck and don't see a way forward to achieve better speaking skills and better fluency.

My own journey toward better fluency started with the understanding that my convictions are wrong and that I need to double-check everything that I think I know. 

Here are the programs that I have developed for people who need the same kind of help. They all come with personalized feedback. If you need guidance, clarity, and a set of concrete exercises to get to a new level, consider enrolling in:

  • The Listening course - "Learn to Hear Every Single Word in English". You will start with learning to read out loud. 
  • The SPRINT! "Thought Chunking and Pausing." It can help you learn the basics of the English Rhythm and build your first practice routine to improve your reading and speaking skills
  • Reading Practice Sessions. To seriously improve your listening, reading, and presentation skills in English, join our Reading Sessions where we practice reading out loud  (in Moscow and online). Check out our schedule and easily add events to your calendar.