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Will reading books help you get fluent?

Reading books in English is a great way to learn words and sentence structures. As you read more and more, you become more familiar with those words and structures and understand how to use them in a sentence. But understanding how to use a word or a structure does not mean you’ll know how to use them spontaneously and fluently! And that is because reading does not involve communication with another person.

Books are great, but they don’t require you to use English actively. They create this illusion of learning, so you end up growing your passive knowledge of English, but you aren’t able to use what you’ve learned while reading.

However, all of this doesn’t mean that you should give up on reading books! Here are 3 things you could do to make your reading an effective part of your fluency practice:

  1. Read out loud
  2. Use audio books and read along or shadow the speaker
  3. Explain to yourself out loud in your own words what you just read

Watch the video to get more tips and let me know in the comments below how you use books in your English practice in a way that helps you improve your fluency!


Podcast intro:

Welcome to the InFluency Podcast, I’m Hadar. And this is episode number 260. And today we’re gonna talk about the relationship between reading books and being fluent.
Hey, hey everyone. Thank you so much for tuning in for another episode of the InFluency podcast. We are here today to talk about books and about fluency, and about the question of whether or not books can help you get fluent.

Now, if you’ve been listening to me for a while, you know that I always say, If you wanna get fluent, you gotta speak, you gotta speak more. You gotta speak more than you think to be able to get fluent. But there are other strategies to help you achieve your goal of feeling effortless and free in a language. And the question is, is reading books one of those strategies?
So, this is what I’m going to talk about today in the episode. So let’s not wait any longer and listen to episode 260.

Video transcript:

Can reading books help you improve your fluency? The question of all questions. On one hand, books – a world of imagination and knowledge and insight and pleasure. On the other hand, your English, that has its own demands and requirements. Can books really help you achieve your goals in English?

A lot of my students, when I ask them what they do to improve their English, they tell me: we listen to podcasts, we read books, we read books, and we read a lot of books. And that really helps us with understanding English better and with our vocabulary. And all of that is great and delightful. But the question is, can books really help you improve your fluency? So we are going to talk about that today.

If you’re new to my channel, then hello and welcome. I’m happy that you’re here. My name is Hadar, I’m a non-native speaker of English. And I’m here to help you speak English with confidence, clarity, and freedom. And I also teach you a lot of great strategies to improve your English and your fluency, which this video is just going to be about that. If you wanna find out more about how I can help you, there’s a lot of free content on my website, then go to hadarshemesh.com. Or you can follow me on your favorite content platform.

Books. So on one hand, when you’re reading books in English, it gives you this feeling like you are immersing yourself in English. You’re learning new words, you are learning new grammar forms and structures, and you feel like you are really expanding your reach and you’re expanding your ability to understand English. All of that is fantastic.

But my question to you is, Are you able to take the word that you have just read and use them spontaneously and quickly and confidently in a conversation? When you see a beautifully structured sentence that is a perfect example of conditional number three, are you able to see it and use it immediately? And that is my problem with improving your fluency through reading books. Because there is a big gap between your ability to understand English while reading it and even while writing it, and your ability to actually use it.

Reading books is also very convenient. It doesn’t involve anyone, it’s just you and the book. Or maybe you listen to audiobooks. It’s great, you’re in your own world. You learn new things, you dive into interesting narratives. And you feel better about yourself because you’re also doing something for your personal growth – reading books. But there’s the rub: because it doesn’t involve anyone else, it does not give you the real experience of using English.

So, apart from being exposed to English passively and not being able to use it actively, you’re also very, very comfortable. And you’re not challenging yourself, and you’re not allowing yourself to be vulnerable using the language. And that is the hardest part about speaking a language. It’s really not just knowing the words and knowing the grammar structure. It’s having the confidence and the courage to speak and to use new forms and new words when you speak.

Now, as you can see, I’m not leaning into using books and reading books as a strategy to improve your English, and definitely not your fluency. But I do have a lot of tips on how you can leverage your book reading into a real practice, into a real learning experience. And I’m going to share that at the end, so make sure you stay till the end.

Now, if you haven’t heard me talk about it before, the thing about reading books is that it creates the illusion of learning. It makes you feel like you’re improving, but you’re actually not seeing results. Why? Because you’re only expanding your passive knowledge. So for example, you’re reading the book and then you come across a new word. And maybe you go to check it in the dictionary and you’re like, “Oh, it’s a new word. It’s a good word, I need it”. And you even maybe mark it to yourself and maybe you even look for the definition and see how it’s being used. All of that is fantastic, but it remains on the paper.

If it remains here in your brain, you are less likely to use it. And why? Because words. Our habits. Think about it. What is a habit? A habit is something that you do automatically without thinking about it. So, I consider words and sounds of English, and even grammar forms, as a speaking habit. You do it in your native language. You don’t have to look for words, it’s automatic. And in English, when you learn a new word and you haven’t used it just yet, you haven’t built that habit, that speaking habit. So repetition is an important part, it’s an essential part of being able to use a word freely. And when you keep seeing it on the paper and you keep thinking about it in your head, you haven’t created the speaking habit, and therefore you are less likely to use this word.

So great, you’ve learned a word, and maybe you’ll understand it when you watch television. But the real struggle of using English is speaking. Even if you don’t have to speak on a regular basis, and you’re okay with just reading and writing and listening, if you know English at a certain level, wouldn’t it be great to be able to speak it at the same level? Wouldn’t it be great not to have that big gap between the English that you know and the English that you speak? And the more you read books and listen to podcasts, or listen to audiobooks, or practice things on the paper, you are farther and farther away from being able to speak fluently.

Now, I’m not saying books are not good. I think it’s a remarkable way of expanding your knowledge and expanding your vocabulary. And this is where I wanna talk about how to read books in a way that actually improves your spoken English. So here are a few tips that I wanna share with you today.

First, read out loud. You want to feel the words coming out of your mouth, even though they’re not your words. It’s going to help you with pronunciation because then you’ll understand if you know how to pronounce this new word or not. And if not, you might want to practice it a little bit. It will help you get comfortable with your voice in English, and it will give you this illusion as if you’re speaking. And that builds up confidence and also creates the speaking habits. So make sure that 5 or 10 minutes out of the time that you’re reading a day, you are also reading out loud. And when you do, pay attention to pronunciation, intonation, rhythm, make sure to pause. And make sure that you’re clear about how to pronounce certain things or certain structures.

And if you get stuck, just say it again and again and again, and research it if you need to until you feel confident. So remember, if you want to confidently use something that you’re learning, first of all, you have to be confident in how you’re saying it. And second, you want to build the muscle memory. I call it pronunciation confidence, that you’ll be able to do it again and again and again, and then it sticks, you remember it better.

Another way to leverage your reading into an English practice is to use audiobooks. Now, you can either just listen to the audiobook cuz that also helps you improve your listening skills cuz you need to be more attentive. So if books, then maybe audiobooks is better. But audiobooks are not for everyone. So if you prefer to read, then maybe you can play the audiobook as you’re reading, so you can also pay attention to the melody, the pronunciation. And every now and then you can pause and repeat, imitate, or even shadow what it is that you’re hearing. It’s going to be fun, exciting, you can do it as you’re walking around in the room. And it will build your confidence and your pronunciation confidence.

Another way to turn your English reading into an English practice is after, you know, one page or five minutes of reading, close the book and explain what you’ve just read. It’s going to help you with your comprehension and with taking an idea and turning it into words – something that a lot of people struggle with. “How do I talk about what I wanna say? How do I organize my thoughts?” This is a great way to do it, and also will help you enhance your experience reading the book. Because you’re gonna go deeper and you’re gonna be like, “Oh, actually I don’t really know what I just read”. So reading a part, or reading even a full chapter, and then explaining it in your own words. And if you wanna get fancy, you can even record it and listen to it, and record it again, improving the small parts that you felt were not right.

One more thing you can do if, let’s say, you want to improve your vocabulary, is to collect words that you struggle with. So let’s say, you’re reading and then you come across a word that you know you know, but you never use, or you’re not sure how to pronounce it, this is why you avoid using it. So at that moment, you just write down the word on a piece of paper or your notes app or in your notebook, and then after reading the book, this is the list of words that you’re gonna work with.

Now, I have a video that teaches you how to build your vocabulary using my pronunciation confidence method, and I’m going to link to it here. But the idea is to not memorize words, but to take words and to use them actively. Use repetition and use intentional practice to integrate those words into your vocabulary. Just marking them or just thinking about them while reading, or even just making a list is simply not enough.

Lastly, what you can do – and that is the best thing – you can start a book club. So let’s say you’re reading a book and you want more people to read with you, so you are held accountable and you can create a healthy discussion around that book. So you can do that, and then you leverage your reading experience into a community and speaking experience. And there is nothing better than sharing your knowledge with others, helping others improve their English by joining your book club, or simply by using English on a regular basis. Because books are amazing and podcasts are amazing, and audiobooks are amazing, and YouTube videos, just like this one, are amazing, but it’s not enough.

You have to speak. You really have to speak and put all that beautiful world of knowledge that you’re learning into practice. There is nothing like practice. If you wanna get better at reading books, read more books. If you wanna get better at speaking, you know what I’m gonna say – you gotta speak. So, it’s not black and white. There is a lot of middle. And like I said, if you’re reading books and you wanna improve your fluency, use the tips that I shared with you today to turn it into a real practice that is actually going to help.

All right. Now I have a question for you. What other tips do you have for people learning English who want to learn through books? What is something useful that you’ve discovered about reading books or listening to audiobooks that you might wanna share with the community? Please don’t be shy. Share your comment below this video, and let’s start a conversation.

Have a beautiful, beautiful rest of the day. And also tell me what books you’re reading right now, put it in the comments. And I’ll see you next week in the next video. Bye.

The InFluency Podcast
260. Will reading books help you get fluent?

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4 Responses

  1. Oh it was so useful for myself and I didn’t think 🤔 so that reading 📖 be useful and it improve our English for this reason I didn’t read alot, but I watch a lot of video, I must read too after this time

  2. I read a lot of books. Last two years, I read 52 books every year, but it is not help my English speaking at all. Thank you Hadar for this video! I will try. Currently I am reading “Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow” by Gabrielle Zevin.

    1. Impressive!! How do you manage your time to do such incredible achievement? I barely have time to read my textbooks and maybe some magazines articles, and I’m struggling with a book, that even I love, I do not have the time to read it carefully.

      Greetings from Canada!

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