Making good choices


in Beyond the Basics, Tools & Techniques

One of my students – let’s call him Bryan – recently asked me, “How can I be sure that what I’m reading (or listening to) is good for me?” Bryan wants to improve his English as quickly as possible, and he’s worried about wasting time.

A simple guideline

Bryan understands that reading and listening are the keys to better English. He’s been doing a lot of reading, and his English is improving. But he wants to be sure that he always makes good choices.

I gave him a simple guideline, or general rule, for choosing what to read or listen to; you can use it, too:

Read (and listen to) things that are easy enough for you to enjoy without stopping to look up words in a dictionary.

This guideline summarizes several important characteristics of reading or listening material that will help you acquire, or pick up, more English:

  • You have very little trouble understanding what you read or listen to. It’s easy to comprehend, and that’s essential for language development.
  • You read fast enough to pay attention to ideas, not just the words – you don’t stop to think about words, translate them in your mind, or look them up (unless they’re absolutely necessary for understanding).
  • You enjoy what you read or listen to. It’s interesting, you’re relaxed, you get involved with it, and you always want more.

One more question

Bryan had one other question, one that is asked by many students: “What do I do about the words I don’t know?” My answer, in general, is to ignore them. You rarely need to know 100% of the words to understand what you’re reading or listening to. If there are too many unfamiliar words, it’s possible that you’re trying to read something that’s too difficult.

There’s another possibility. Many English learners allow themselves to become so distracted by unfamiliar words – they pay too much attention to them – that they miss the story or the real content of the article they’re reading. When someone does that, we might say that “He couldn’t see the forest because of all the trees.” Concentrate on the story or the content of the article, not the individual words. If you have to know an unfamiliar word to understand what you’re reading, look it up. Otherwise, keep reading!

Remember, every time you see a word, your brain accumulates a little more information about it. After you see it several times in the context of a story or article, you’ll be able to say, “I know it!”

If you follow the simple guideline I gave Bryan, your reading and listening choices will always be good, and everything you read or listen to will contribute to better English. Also, if you follow this guideline, you’ll automatically choose more difficult material as your English gets better, and your English will continue to improve – for the rest of your life!

Warren Ediger

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Steven Ding July 7, 2011

I am an English learner,I’m forty_five years old,I used to look up unfamiliar words when I read an article.I think I benefit much from your guideline,thank you very much,Mr Ediger.

Masae Saka July 7, 2011

Dear sir,
Thank you very much for your very helpful advice and I also were encouraged by your advice.
I could understand that it is important to be enlightened and entertained.


Rodrigo July 8, 2011

Thank you Warren!
I’ve been doing a lot of reading and listening for the past two years, always following your articles. My english might not be perfect but I get along very well. Nowadays, very unlike two years ago, (when I first started), I feel very comfortable reading many kinds of articles and books. I really enjoy english now. I’m able to go to a bookstore and buy books in english and I’m sure that I won’t have problems with them, to read them I mean.
Even when I write, I should say that I’m aware that my writing is not perfect, but when I’m in the process of writing something, the words come up easyly in my mind! It’s fantastic being able to understand english! At last!!

David Monteiro July 11, 2011

Hey dear Warren!

I too would like to thank you for helping me improve my English skills! Man, before I’ve found your website, I used to read and listen to things I didn’t really enjoy, just to impress others. I had no pleasure at all! But thanks God, after a restless research for better results, I found your enlightened ideas and decided to follow them without hesitation. They’ve shown me it is possible to succeed without struggling. And I really treasure that method!

Now, I’m sure that not only my English skills have “reached the top,” but also my self-esteem and confidence, mainly when I’m in a face-to-face conversation with a native English speaker. Words come out of my mouth automatically, and I don’t need to stop to think about which one I should say any more! Thanks to you, Warren the Great, it’s just a gone act.

Finally, I’m extremely proud to say that I’m eternally grateful to you and that your words, ideas, and suggestions make a GIGANTIC difference in all aspects of my life! Thank you very, very much! And I CAN’T wait for the next article!

God bless you!

David Monteiro (Bahia – Brazil)

Warren Ediger July 11, 2011

Steven, Masae, Rodrigo, and David – Thank you very much! It’s very gratifying, and helpful, to get feedback like this. My best to all of you!


Ethan July 16, 2011

The aspect of unconsciousness is what makes acquiring language interesting. Now I can tell that your guidelines work very well even if you cannot ‘feel’ or ‘take notice’ every time you read or listen to something. At first, I couldn’t be sure if I’m doing it right. But one day when I watched a American drama, I could feel that my English has been improved and I could tell you it felt GREAT. Anyway, I just wanna say just stick to Warren’s guide! Your English will be improved in consequence. No doubt.

himma July 17, 2011

thank you very much for your guideline..simple advice but so help to improve my english skills and way to learn english more effectively..I’m 17th years old and one of learner english.. thank you very much…

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