These days, the difference between printed books and online references is starting to disappear (online texts are available through Google Books, Project Gutenberg, etc, and a lot of academic journals are available via Google Scholar. For more information about reading online click here.


These days, the difference between printed books and online references is starting to disappear. Online texts are available through Google Books, Project Gutenberg, Internet Archive, etc, and a lot of academic journals are available via Google Scholar. For more information about reading online click here.

1. Reading for Pleasure

As well as being an important study skill, reading is (or can be) a pleasure. If you enjoy reading you will always have a friend; all you have to do is open a book!

The first step, obviously, is to pick something you think you are going to enjoy. If you think you are more likely to enjoy Winnie the Pooh than Oliver Twist or King Lear, go ahead - choose Pooh! If you start at a level you feel confident with, there is hope that you may build up your confidence, until one day you feel you are ready for Dickens or Shakespeare.
Whatever you read, don't get lost in the details; look at the bigger picture. Don't stop each time there's a word you don't understand; mark it with a pencil, if you like, but keep on reading, at least until the end of the chapter. Then you can take a dictionary and go back over the words you marked. You'll probably decide that you've already guessed the meaning of some of them, others aren't really important to understanding the story, and there are just a few you really need to look up in the dictionary.

Don't worry about the things you don't understand. Think about it positively; when you reach the end of a chapter, or some other natural break in the text, stop reading and think for a little bit about what you have understood. Unless you have chosen a book which is too hard for you, you will at least be able to follow the main plot. If the plot has a lot of characters and you get confused, it may be helpful to make a list of the main characters, with a short explanation of who they are.

2. Reading and Listening

One of the best ways to improve your reading ability is to use audiobooks. Make sure you buy the complete, unabridged, text, so you can read the book and listen to the recording at the same time.

There are many places to go to get audio recordings of books. The best free site is Librivox, and for a small price youu can get many recordings at commercial sites such as

3. Studying Literature

Sometimes you may not have a choice about what you read. You may be asked to write an essay on a particular novel, or some other work, and you have to read it. In this case, you can make things easier by reading the text in Japanese translation, or by reading a simplified version of the text, but this should always be as well as studying the original English text, not instead of. Even if the text is too long for you to be able to read it all in English (it would take some students several months to read a book like Wuthering Heights, for example), you should at least pick out certain parts of the text and study them in English.

If the text is long and complicated, it may help you to write a summary of the text. You do not usually need to include a summary in your final essay (see Writing Literature Essays), but it may help you to find your way around the text.

As well as summarising the story, you can write short descriptions of the characters. This is very useful when a character reappears later on and you cannot remember who that person is.

Of course, there are plenty of study guides and online resources, such as SparkNotes and BookRags, that will provide you with a summary of most texts, and give you descriptions of the characters. There is nothing wrong with using these, as long as you use them to help you to understand the text. They only become a problem when students use them instead of reading the text or - even worse - when they quote them as 'research' sources!

4. Reading for Research

If you are researching a topic, the best way to get help from many books is by looking at the index. If there is no index, the table of contents may help. If you don't immediately find the topic you are looking for, take a closer look and see if there are related topics. For example, you may be interested in cosmic irony (ummei no itazura) in Thomas Hardy. If the book you are checking has no reference to cosmic irony, check and see if there is an entry under 'fate', 'destiny', or even 'futility'.

It is very important when you do this to keep a record of the books you used (and even the pages; see Notes, References and List of Works Cited).

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