You need to be yourself in English--to feel at home in the language, to make it yours. And you know that reading books in English is an essential part of that ongoing journey.
You want your reading to help you, not just to understand more, but to actually find your voice in English. And you want that voice to be your own, to be truly you.
That’s a pretty serious transformation.
- But how exactly can you use your reading habit find your voice in English?
- What does it look like when you start making English your own?
- What actual steps do you need to take to get there?
For the next month, I’ll be addressing these very questions.
And I wanted to kick off that discussion with some advice from some inspiring teachers and coaches.
Read Books and Transform Your English: 5 Innovative Points of View
For today’s post, I reached out to a handful of people I know and respect. People that continue to surprise and inspire me with their innovative teaching and their insights.
I asked them:
“How can you transform your English by reading books?”
Some of them had a story to tell--a personal experience, what it actually looks like for someone to read until they make English their own.
And some of them had some very specific advice you can follow today to start making English yours.
I hope you enjoy their responses as much as I did.
Read Books and Find Your Voice: Two inspiring stories
What does it actually look like to transform your English through your passion for reading?
I naturally turned to Elena Mutonono and Veronika Pavlovska. Both inspire others to find their voices in English in speech or writing.
And both love books.
When I asked them my question, each had a story to tell.
Elena Mutonono and the student who changed his English with a book.
Elena Mutonono, is an Accent and Fluency Stylist who helps expats and interpreters regain confidence and find their style when they speak English in front of an audience of native speakers. Download her free e-book Sound Like a Native here.
"I had worked with one particular student for a couple of years before we decided to choose the book by Nicholas Sparks, A Walk to Remember. He’d read a chapter, then he’d work on the vocabulary, and write a short summary every week.
A few weeks into reading, the student’s vocabulary began to expand, but it wasn’t the textbook English you hear. He came up with phrases like, “right off the bat,” “not the brightest bulb on a Christmas tree,” “give someone the willies,” and others, and his language sounded much brighter, more memorable and playful.
It sounded like real English.
But it didn’t stop there. The writing assignments helped him improve his accuracy and he began speaking without glaring grammar mistakes that at that point seemed almost a part of his English.
I hadn’t thought he would be able to get rid of them, but the reading a novel and writing summaries using words and phrases made a tremendous difference.
Reading a novel isn’t just fun pastime. It introduces you to a language that is contemporary and understandable. It makes your fluency stick, and your presentations flow with confidence and ease."
Veronika Palovska: Reading English on her own terms
Veronika Palovska is a business writing coach and brand strategist. She helps female entrepreneurs from around the globe turn their expertise and creativity into words that connect and sell. If you’re interested in business blogging, check out her blog Do You Speak Freedom and sign up for her free creative writing challenge.
"I cannot agree more. If there’s anything more enjoyable than reading, then it’s reading in a foreign language.
Well, I don’t regard English a foreign language anymore. Not because I’ve mastered it perfectly - I haven’t - but because it feels so intimate. The word “foreign” just doesn’t fit.
It’s not a foreign language, but it’s not a native language either. And I’m glad it isn’t - especially when I read. Let me explain.
Unlike my native language, English still surprises me and makes me curious, and it betrays me and makes me mad.
When I read in English, I’m mindful. I don’t want to miss a thing. I reread difficult passages to make sure I understood. I read some words aloud just to hear how they sound. I rewrite quotes into my journal. Not just “quotable” quotes like the one above, but also seemingly unremarkable sentences and expressions no native speaker would ever notice.
I believe that for us, non-native speakers, jokes are funnier, metaphors are more beautiful, and stories are more memorable because we don’t take the language for granted and also because everything is crowned with a sense of accomplishment: I understood.
Even after years of reading fiction in English, I still feel this sense of accomplishment each time I finish a book.
Now, if I should give you one tip on reading (and writing) in English, it would be this:
Embrace being a non-native English speaker. Think of it as your strength rather than something undesirable. Your respect for the language can make you a better reader, and your insecurity can make you a better and more creative writer."
Read books, hear the words in your head: advice from two experts.
I consider myself lucky to know Karen Fowler (a speech therapist and pronunciation coach) and Cara Leopold (a listening specialist). I follow their blogs weekly and learn something from them every time.
Here is their advice on how to transform your English through reading--and audio books.
Karen Fowler: A Speech therapist’s guide to using audio books to start speaking like a native.
Karen Fowler of Pronounced Success is a speech therapist and English pronunciation specialist who helps people speak clear, confident English so listeners focus on the their great ideas, not on how they speak.
"Never trust spelling to guide you on English pronunciation. This is the advice I give to all my pronunciation students. For what other reason are national spelling bees front-page news?
If you learned English primarily from reading, you may not have had enough opportunity to pair written words with how they are spoken.
Reading books in English is a fantastic way to increase your vocabulary and improve your grammar. However, spoken English is not as precise and neat as written English. We drop sounds, link words together, and change vowel sounds entirely, among other things.
That’s why audio books can be a great addition to your reading routine. By connecting spelling with speaking your English pronunciation skills will skyrocket. Here’s an effective way to go about it:
Find an audio book with a narrator that sounds the way you want to sound (British?, American? Relaxed? Energetic?) AND also get the print version of the book
Target one pronunciation issue you want to improve (past-tense endings, contractions. etc.)
Select one passage in the book and underline all instances of what you targeted in the previous step
Follow along in your book as you listen to the narrator read that passage. Listen as many times as you need to and repeat after the narrator
Record yourself reading the passage. Compare your target sound to the narrator.
By mindfully pairing written and spoken words together, you develop an accurate internal dialogue of spoken English. Soon, you will be speaking and reading more like a native."
Cara Leopold: A reading tip from a book lover and listening teacher
Cara Leopold is the online English listening teacher at Leo Listening. She helps bookworms and vocab nerds who prefer reading to listening get conversation-ready by teaching them how to understand fast, informal spoken English without translating in their heads.
Try out these tips with the free sample chapters of Cara’s audiobooks: https://www.leo-listening.com/audiobooks/
"My students are keen readers and that’s what gives them such fantastic vocabularies in English.
But when you read in English, you don’t get a chance to hear how the words sound. The biggest problem I see among my students and subscribers is that they know how words look on a page, but not how they sound.
So what can literature lovers do to combine their love of reading with listening?
The answer is simple: listen to an audiobook.
You can find plenty of audiobook resources online and for free. If you’ve got the book, you can listen and read along with the text at the same time. That way, you’ll start to notice how the words on the page really sound.
You can also:
do shadow readings to improve your pronunciation, speaking and listening
do dictations to discover why you’re struggling to understand: was it a new word? was it a word you already know in writing but didn’t recognise in speech? was it several words joined together that sound like a single word? was it something else?
listen with and without the text to check how much you understood and also to build your confidence in the beginning stages
Ready to hunt down your next book?
If reading books and transforming your English is starting to seem like a priority, then you’ve got one more question to answer:
What should I read next?
Jennifer Scupi: where to find great books
Jennifer Scupi teaches interview skills to non-native English speakers through her company Interview Genie (interviewgenie.com).
"I read a lot, so I’m always looking for my next book. There are so many books published these days it’s impossible to keep up with them all, so I read blogs that review them for me. For instance, I like fantasy and science fiction, and one good review blog is All Things Urban Fantasy. They have a “Hot off the press” feature, which is a list of new urban fantasy books that are being published that month. Here’s the one for May books.
If I find a book there that looks interesting I go to Goodreads and read some reviews of it. Amazon also has reviews, but I think the ones on Goodreads are better.
I know not all of you like urban fantasy, but there is a book review blog for every genre. Find one for your favorite genre and let them do the work for you. When you still can’t find anything you like, try the New York Times bestseller lists - they break the books down by genre."
How do you want to transform your English?
You read books in English because you love it. You read because you know it will help you with your English.
But what do you want to do exactly? Where do you see yourself after you finish your next five books--the next dozen?
For the next month, I’ll be talking about how you can use your reading to find your voice in English. Whether in speaking or in writing--I want you to find a voice that reflects who you truly are.
If you’re interested in a guide for getting started with your reading habit, sign up here. You’ll be notified of all my new blog posts and writing tips as well.
Or join us at the Vagabond Book Club, for a chat about what you’re reading now.