How to read and how to listen in order to improve you foreign language skills and knowledge.

Read and/or listen carefully. Many times. Each time, approach it from a different angle.

0) Step for the ambitious: the best, most ambitious and effective way to approach reading is to listen first to what you are going to read. This is especially true of English, where there is usually no clear or easy link between how stuff sounds (is pronounced) and how it is written (spelling). Perhaps, ask a native friend to read it to you out loud and record them.

What to read:

Just select a text that is of interest to you. The more interesting it is for you, the more likely you are to concentrate, learn more and enjoy it more. Also, you will have no problem following the below action plan if it is a subject you like.

Be careful to choose material that is slightly above your current level. Do not select material that is very difficult for you, unless you are prepared to do a whole lot more dictionary work and do more reading/listening of it. This is because your brain will be forced to use up a lot of its energy on many new pieces of information and it will at first be confused by it. You only start absorbing stuff which your brain finds easy and familiar. Otherwise, it is merely reading/listening for the general idea, but it is not absorbing, it is far from acquiring new language. It is scratching the surface.

1) First, of course, read and listen for the general meaning, learn what the text or audio/video is about.

You will not catch many details at this stage, you can’t, your brain can’t cope with everything at the same time. It is selective. It is not a scanner, it can’t just hoover stuff up into your head.

After listening/reading the first time, you will have got the general idea, the gist of it.

Please remember: reading/listening once is just the beginning. You’ve got the main message, yes, but if your objective is to learn or improve in the language, now it is time to get serious and stop lying to yourself. Once is not enough, once is superficial. You are just pretending to yourself that you are learning.

If you learn superficially, you will know superficially. If your effort is superficial, your skill will be superficial, too. YOUR BRAIN NEEDS REPETITION !!

2) Now it is time to read it again.

See how much more you pick up this time. You will notice a lot more details.

This time, try underlining some vocabulary, some words and structures. (if it’s audio, just listen and try to jot down stuff you do not know, or are attracted to, or which makes you think: ‘That sounds cool, that is really useful. I want to use it myself in the future!”).You can use different criteria for this: things that are interesting for you, things that you haven’t seen before or know just a little bit about.

3) Look up some of the underlined items in a dictionary. Then prioritize and decide which ones are important and which onces could be ignored. How? Simple, if it’s common in the language, find some extra examples and write them on the text next to the underlined item. You are probably going to need this item.

If it is sophisticated, just get the meaning and move on, as you will probably not need it much.

Those new words/phrases which you wish to memorize and remember long-term, must be targeted. Zoom in on them.

Get some extra examples in different contexts.

Learn how to pronounce it.

Try to personalize the vocab you are learning.


  • When you have come across the word “entrepreneur’, underline it. Look it up, write the definition: someone who starts their own business, especially if this involves seeing an opportunity, or, someone who sets up businesses and takes risk to make profits

  • Write down an example or two: “he was one of the entrepreneurs of the 80s who made their money in property.”

  • Next step is to listen to the audio version of the item, esp. if it is brand new for you and complicated. Don’t worry, in language, things become easier and easier when you practice. It is not rocket science; just by repeating it, you will get better and better at it.

  • Play the audio/pronunciation and repeat yourself. Do it a few times.

Then personalize, make it relevant for you: think of some entrepreneurs that you know, for example: “Richard Branson or Timothy Ferriss are famous entrepreneurs. Jan Kulczyk was one of the richest entrepreneurs in Poland. The rapper Jay-Z is a successful entrepreneur, he has set up many profitable companies.

4) You are ready to read it again. You can skip this part, if you promise that you will come back to the text again in the next few days [see point 5) below]. Promise?

5) Ideally, next day (or in the next couple of days) come back to it, maybe read the text again; at least review the underlined vocabulary! Pronounce it and try to remember the example sentences.

6) Don’t forget: aim for as many reps of useful language as possible, don't waste your energy on stuff that is rare, as you are not likely to use it later on. Focus on vocabulary that is popular and in common use, used a lot in the target language. It is about being effective and efficient. Sophisticated, rare language is needed but forget it for now, learn the most effective, most used language first. Everyday words and phrases are infinitely more useful than sophisticated ones. Have more bang for your buck.

Also, if you do many reading or listening reps, you begin to develop a feel for the language.

7) Extra step: if you feel up for it, you may also ask yourself: what life lessons have I learnt from the text/audio. What is it about for me? What is my interpretation of it? Maybe, try to summarize it for yourself in your own words. This helps you to be active with the new information.

8) Congrats !! You have read (listened to) it deeply. You are now ready to move on to another, new text.

If you find the above too difficult or a bit boring, at least try to read (listen to) something every day. Listen and/or read every day. Try to read the same newspaper article twice. Then, the next day, move on to another article, and so on and on. Keep it regular.

Thank you,

Maciej Symonowicz

Featured Posts
Posty już wkrótce
Recent Posts