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University Language Centre

Reading in a foreign language

Follow this advice and train yourself to read articles and improve your language level.

Hint:If you stop and look up every word which you don't recognise, you will get frustrated and miss the point of the text. Use the dictionary sparingly and follow the stages below, you may need to use it less than you are expecting.

1. Choose the article well

Whether you are researching a particular topic or just reading out of general interest, scan the index of the magazine, the headlines of the paper, or the chapter titles of the book carefully. If you are looking for passages online, think carefully about the key words you want to use as you search. From the available clues, choose an article or passage to read.

2. Predict the content

Before you start reading, on the basis of the clues you already have, make a list of the topics or subject areas you expect to be covered, e.g.: you know from the magazine index that the subject is Environment and the title is "No clean air for our children". Your list might include traffic, fuel emissions, industry, health issues, ozone layer, energy resources, etc. Make sure you know all these terms in the relevant language - use a dictionary if necessary.

3. Skim through the article

Read the article through quickly, skimming over the lines looking for the words/phrases you have on your list. Tick them off and underline them in the article (if available as a printout). Read more carefully the sentences and/or paragraphs in which your words/phrases appear to check to what extent you were right about the article's subject matter.

4. Scan the article in more depth

Different pieces of material serve different purposes. Decide what kind of information is being presented, and then select the appropriate worksheet from those shown below.

Read through the article, scanning just for the information you require to complete your grid. Remember to summarise the points made in the article.

  • Use your own words
  • Do not copy
  • Include information only in the article, not your own views.

5. Work on the language

You should not have used the dictionary much by this stage. This is, however, a good moment to make a list of topic specific words and phrases which will come in useful when you are speaking or writing about a related topic. Write translations if you feel you need them. Note also the ways in which the writer:

  • persuades
  • argues for
  • argues against
  • balances views
  • links points
  • cites evidence
  • asks questions
  • narrates

You might be noting actual phrases or tenses used. These are particularly useful to you when you need to write in that language.

6. Write a letter to the editor

This could be a real letter - to send to the relevant magazine- or written to include in your independent learning file. It should pick up on the article you have read and show your own reactions to it. Refer to the content (see your activity 4 grid), your expectations from activity 2, and your own personal views on the subject matter.

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