Why You Should Read Stories To Improve Your English And How To Do It

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Introduction

I am of the strong opinion that reading is one of the best things you can do to improve your English.

And the best things to read are stories.

 

I have been a keen reader of stories, novels and fiction for as long as I can remember and I will probably read for the rest of my life.

It truly is a great thing to do.

 

In this guide, I would like to introduce to you two main things;

One, why you should read English stories to improve your English.

And two, how to do it. A step-by-step guide.

 

Are you ready to take on this challenge?

Fantastic! So let’s begin…

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Why Reading Stories Improves Your English

First, let’s look at the why.

You need to understand why you should read stories to improve your English, before we move on to how to do it.

 

There are a few reasons I would like to outlineand here they are.

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Reading Stories Can Help You With Cognitive Engagement

What I mean by this is that reading can help you in the way that you think about what you are reading.

 

Your ability to understand the words and sentences on the page, and to critically analyse what the writer is trying to say.

 

Sometimes the story might make some vague inference to something, but by reading regularly you should be able to understand what this means.

Reading Comprehension

Of course, if you read something, you need to understand what the words and sentences mean.

 

I have met many students who can read out loud in front of me. But when I ask them what they just read, they cannot tell me.

 

If you have a regular habit of reading, you should be able to fully understand what you are reading.

 

And if you read stories — stories you like to read — then you should be fully engaged and have more comprehension of what the writer is saying.

Critical Thinking

This is your ability to think about a process and outcomes.

 

So, imagine you are reading a thriller novel. Just by reading this, you are practising critical thinking as you try to evaluate the actions and motivations of the characters.

 

As the plot twists this way and that, you try to imagine what the outcome could be in the next chapter or scene.

 

You can also come to conclusions as the writer introduces themes or certain kinds of messages in the writing.

 

Reading stories is an excellent way to improve your critical thinking skillsand these are a great life skill in their own right!

Make Connections

As an extension of the two ideas above, by reading stories, you should be able to make connections between two characters and how that could play out in the story itself.

 

This is helpful in your day-to-day life too.

Reading Stories Can Help You Practice Grammar In Context

One of the most painful things for English learners to study is English grammar.

 

Sometimes the rules are very logical.

Other times, they make no sense at all!

 

And even if you do understand the rules of some English grammar, it is often difficult to remember and put into practice regularly.

 

This is where reading stories can help you out.

 

Stories are often a combination of different writing styles, but three dominant styles that writers use are descriptive, narrative and expository.

 

In these styles, the writer will use English grammar as we should use it.

 

So now you can read out loud how English grammar should be used — and it is all in context.

 

But, sometimes, when the writer includes some dialogue, you might see English grammar as it should NOT be used.

 

For example, a character in the story might say: He don’t have no money!

Now I am sure that you can see the error here. He should say: He doesn’t have any money!

 

But maybe the writer uses poor grammar as a way of creating the character. It suits who the character is and his background.

This is all very useful to you as you can identify the wrong grammar too.

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Essential English Learning

Another reason reading stories is so useful to you as an English learner is that you can improve your English skills easily.

 

Read stories every day and you can see a great improvement in

  • Vocabulary
  • Sentence structure
  • Idioms, collocations and other expressions

 

You can find a very broad range of vocabulary in most stories. This is a great — and very enjoyable — way to broaden your English vocabulary.

 

And because of the different writing styles that the writer uses in stories, you can also develop sentence structure. You can learn how to write great-looking sentences by yourself.

 

Finally, the writer may use many idioms and other English expressions.

By learning these, your English will sound more fluent and modern.

Cultural Awareness

And you are not just improving your English by reading stories, you can learn about other cultures at the same time.

 

Maybe you are reading Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie.

 

By reading this novel, you are now placing yourself in India just when the country gained full independence from British rule.

 

You can lose yourself in the story while at the same time embedding yourself in Indian culture and a major historical change that took place in the country itself.

Emotional Connection

And finally, one of the best things about reading stories is that you can have a very strong emotional connection to the story itself.

 

You become heavily engaged with the characters and their lives and who they are.

 

They almost appear as real live people that you know.

 

This can really help you to remember any new English words or sentence structures that you find, as you have a much deeper connection to the story.

 

Once your heart and mind are truly involved in the story, learning English just becomes a secondary part of the process.

 

You are improving your English without even trying!

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How To Read Stories To Improve Your English

So that was the WHY. Now onto the HOW.

 

Below, you will find the essential steps you need to take to improve your English by reading stories.

 

Let’s dive in.

Choose Stories You Love!

I mean, this should go without saying…

 

It would be a waste of time reading the works of Leo Tolstoy if you have no interest in it.

 

But maybe you just love the more contemporary novels of Gillian Flynn. If so, then you should read that.

 

Only read stories that you truly love to read.

 

Then you are totally engaged and reading the stories in English becomes less of a chore and more of an interesting thing to do.

 

You can read my article here that goes into this idea in more detail:

Read Books You Want To Read

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Read Actively

Many years ago, I studied French at school.

 

I asked my teacher how I could practice more at home by myself and he suggested that I read a French novel.

 

I found a book — all in French — and it was Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea.

 

When I got home, I opened it, and to my dismay, I found that I needed to check my French dictionary (no smartphones back then!) for every other sentence.

 

But as I continued to read the story, day after day, I found that I was learning the vocabulary — and the grammar — and I no longer needed to use the French dictionary as much.

 

You will need an English dictionary when reading English stories of your choice.

 

While reading, you are going to come across vocabulary and grammar terms that you may be unfamiliar with.

 

This is why you will also need a notebook and pen with you at all times.

 

Whenever you come across a new word, you need to do the following steps.

  • Write the word in your notebook
  • Look the word up in your dictionary
  • Write the meaning of the word — in your own words — in your notebook

 

If you do this, I absolutely guarantee that your range of vocabulary will explode in a very short period of time.

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Use Reading Comprehension Questions

It is not enough to just read and make notes.

 

You need to critically analyse the stories you are reading.

 

You need to think of questions that you can ask yourself about the story — the plot, the characters and the themes.

 

Now it is all very well me saying think of some questions, so this is where you need to do some research.

 

For example, maybe you are reading The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. It is very easy to find questions about this book online.

 

Let me show you what I have found online myself;

SparkNotes

Inkish Kingdoms

Grade Saver

Study.com

 

It would be even better if you were a member of a book club, as they would be able to provide a list of discussion questions for you.

(More on this later)

Tell The Story In Your Own Words

Another great exercise you can try is to tell the story in your own words.

You can do this in two ways.

 

1. Make A Presentation

If you are a student in a class and you are reading a story together, you can make a presentation in front of your classmates and teacher.

Give a short summary of what the story is about and what happens. Describe the main characters.

 

2. Write A Summary

Or you can do the same as above but in writing.

Just write a summary of the story in your notebook.

 

Doing this helps you to really understand the story you read.

Plus, you may have to use certain kinds of vocabulary and terms from the story itself.

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Using Other Resources

I have mentioned before the need for an English dictionary and a notebook for when you are doing your story reading.

 

I want to go into more detail about other resources you can use to help you improve all your English skills by reading stories.

 

Let’s take a look now.

Dictionary and Thesaurus

I cannot stress how important it is to use a good dictionaryand a thesaurus too, if you can get one.

 

You absolutely will need a dictionary to check on new vocabulary as you start reading stories regularly.

 

A good quality dictionary will help you learn the meanings of unfamiliar words as well providing good examples of the new vocabulary in sentence form. You will also learn synonyms and antonyms of the new vocabulary, and this will be of great use to you in your life.

 

Do not feel worried about using a dictionary!

 

I use one all the time. They are invaluable.

 

Good dictionaries include:

Oxford English Dictionary

Merriam-Webster Dictionary

Collins English Dictionary

Audiobooks

Many great novels, modern and old, have audio versions too.

 

These are perfect for you to practice your listening skills.

 

You can listen to the audiobook while reading the book at the same time.

 

This can help you with your pronunciation and intonation too.

 

It is easy to find audio versions of books. Try the following places;

Audible

Audiobooks.com

Librivox

YouTube

YouTube has hundreds of channels devoted to story reading and books.

 

This is a great way to hear what other people think of the book and to practice listening.

 

If you are reading a particular story and you want to hear comments about it from other people in the world, you can go to YouTube and find your answers.

 

For example, if you are reading The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka, then you can do a search for this on YouTube using these keywords:

The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka review comments

 

Then you can find many videos to watch and learn from.

 

I found many book reviews, analysis and commentary on YouTube about this story. Lots for you to look at!

 

I also have a YouTube channel — I publish videos of my own Fantastic Tales short stories.

You can check it out at the link below.

Fantastic Tales

Engage In Discussion And Debate

I know this may be a challenge if you live in a small town.

 

Or if you cannot find other people to read stories with.

 

But if you can join others and discuss the stories you read together, it will be a tremendous help to you.

 

Book Clubs

 

The best place to do this is in a book club.

Take a look at the social media pages of your town or city and see if there is a book club you can join.

They often have a great selection of stories to read.

And then you are expected to read the story and discuss it when all the members meet up.

 

Online Discussion Groups

 

If you can’t find a book club where you live, then why not join an online discussion group?

There are plenty of online groups where you can discuss books and stories.

 

Goodreads

 

Goodreads is a good place to start. This is a social media platform for book lovers.

And where there are books, there are stories.

You can join groups, discussions, ask questions…

I am a member of Goodreads, and I absolutely love it. It is a great place to find new stories and books to read too.

 

Social Media Apps

 

Of course, you could always go on the social media app of your choice and find groups where people discuss and talk about stories.

 

However you join a book club or discussion group via the internet, this is a great way for you to practice talking about stories. It can help you communicate your ideas about the stories, plus the characters and themes of the stories.

I highly recommend doing this. You will gain a lot from it.

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Keep A Story Journal

I have already mentioned keeping a notebook where you can store all the new vocabulary you learn as you read stories of your choice.

 

But another great thing you can do is to keep a story journal.

 

This is a journal where you write down your thoughts and personal feelings about the stories that you read.

 

You should try to do this in English of course as this is fantastic practice for you to use the right vocabulary and sentence structure to express your thoughts.

 

You can write your journal in a real notebook with a pen. Or you can choose an online journal platform.

 

I personally use Penzu, but there are others.

 

Check out my journal writing article below. It goes into much more detail about how to write a journal to help you with your English.

How Journaling Can Improve Your English Writing

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Set Goals

Preferably, you should set goals for yourself.

 

Make a plan for your story reading practice.

 

For example, you might make a plan to read The Birds by Daphne Du Maurier (a brilliant short story, by the way…)

 

Take a look at the word count on Goodreads. Then try to figure out how long it will take you to read the story.

 

So it has 64,000 words. If you read 200 words a minute, that means it could take you 320 minutes to complete.

 

Approximately, five hours and 20 minutes.

 

Assuming you only want to read for 10 minutes a day, then it could take you 32 days to finish the whole story.

 

Then, maybe you watch some YouTube videos that discuss the story. Maybe another two days to do this.

 

Next step, you organise all your vocabulary in your notebook and get it in order.

 

After that, you discuss the story or make some points online via Goodreads.

 

And finally, you write about the story in your journal.

 

Make a clear and defined plan for your story reading process and the final goal.

 

Without a clear goal, you cannot make any progress.

 

Check my article below on how to make a plan for English studying.

How to Build the PERFECT ENGLISH STUDY PLAN

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Regular Practice

And finally, you have to maintain regular practice with your story reading.

 

I am not suggesting that you have to do this for one or two hours every day. That would be too tiring. You would not be able to maintain this kind of practice for too long.

 

But if you can do just TEN MINUTES a day, you will definitely see some improvement over time. Just ten minutes every day can make big changes.

 

Over time, you may progress so that you can be doing your story reading practice for as long as 30 minutes a day.

 

This is easily enough time to see a great development in all of your English skills.

Conclusion

I hope this is all clear for you to understand.

 

If you follow all the steps above, I guarantee you will see great progress.

 

Story reading in English is a great thing for you to do. It will help you boost your English vocabulary and help you with English grammar without you even knowing it.

 

And the benefits of reading are many…

 

Reading can set you free into other worlds.

 

Keep practising and don’t give up!

 

 

Please leave a comment below and tell me what you think. I would love to hear from you!

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