Be Strategic to Read Academically

Campus Week


This week it’s Campus Week at Get Great English. I know the term hasn’t started yet but think of it as a little time to prepare before packing bags, unpacking, moving into halls of residence or a flat.

Reading for pleasure is usually different to reading for university. Reading for pleasure has no time limit, though if you have a great book it can seem like you have to read it quickly in case the world ends. You have to be strategic to read academically. Here are some academic reading strategies aimed at university students.

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Podcast: Use chunks to read aloud more fluently


Today’s episode is about a way to help you read aloud more fluently. You’ll need this PDF file: podcast_chunks.pdf


The podcast is also available in the iTunes Store by searching for Get Great English or clicking here.

Also, you can stream it on Stitcher here or in the sidebar.

Links: Letters


Here are two of my favourite sites about letter writing, which is a fantastic way to practise your English. However, you can’t really reply to these letters, but you do get to read them.

The first, Letters of Note, is a high-quality collection of letters by famous people. Some of the world’s greatest writers and notable public figures have letters reprinted on this site.

The second is less notable, but a lot funnier – usually in the peculiar meaning of funny rather than the humorous meaning. Passive-Aggressive Notes is an excellent way to find out how crazy people can be.

Avoid Overusing Your Dictionary

Stop Sign

Stop sign –

So many of my students, mainly college students, keep reaching for dictionaries. Every time they see a word they don’t understand or get into a situation where they don’t know the perfect word in English like they do in their first language out comes their smartphone for the dictionary or their Casio Ex-Words.

Every language learner needs a good monolingual dictionary. I usually recommend the Longman English Learner’s Dictionary. However, it’s a reference book, not a best friend.

You need to guess words sometimes

If you check the dictionary every time you see a new word you lose the chance to learn how to guess the meaning from context. Checking it in a monolingual dictionary is one thing; bilingual dictionaries are for beginners. They are your last resort.

You are going to cause a communication breakdown

If you are in the middle of a conversation and someone says a word you don’t understand, are you really going to reach for your dictionary? I hope not. You ask questions or ask, “Did you mean ~?” You are a non-native so don’t be afraid of this question because even natives need to ask it sometimes.

You need to be comfortable with being ‘basically right’ rather than ‘exactly right’

If you develop your language by guessing and using your feelings as a guide while you read and listen, you’ll find your vocabulary choices get so much better. Rather than learning a list of words from the dictionary, learning words by context is much more rewarding. You also learn the different ways a word can be used as you develop your language and need to use words in different situations.

If you use a bilingual dictionary you reject other correct meanings

What usually happens when students use bilingual dictionaries is that they learn an English word with only a single word in their first language. However, not all languages translate easily from and from English, especially Japanese. Why not use pictures to learn meaning, or actual sentences? Use Google Images and Pinterest to find and keep pictures or search Twitter for short sentences with new words. You can even do this with word cards.

I hope this helps you get the confidence to put your dictionary away for a day or two. Let me know how you go in the comments.

Real Academic Documents to Improve TOEFL / IELTS Reading


Students studying academic reading, especially for standardised tests like TOEFL and IELTS frequently ask “How can I improve my academic reading?”

The answer is, “Do more academic reading.”

You need to look at real academic documents and analyse them for meaning. Try to insert your own subheadings and summarise the documents within 200-300 words. Underline key words and add new vocabulary to your word cards.

Where can you find academic documents? In your local college library, sometimes in your city library and on the internet.

If you are a college or university student, your institution’s library may give you access to JSTOR or other online document libraries.

If you are not a higher education student Google Scholar should be your first choice to search academic documents.

The World Bank also has an enormous amount of documents and data that you can access for free.

Get Real Resources Online for TOEIC Practice


In section VI or VII of the TOEIC test there is often a reading passage which is an advertisement or a piece of business communication to the public. One problem that students in non-English speaking countries have is not being able to find these resources easily. Today, Get Great English comes to the rescue with examples from the internet.

Supermarket Flyers

These are the advertisements you get through your door telling you about special offers at your local supermarket. You can download Canadian ones from this website: Red Flag Deals

Company Reports

Company financial reports are an excellent resource for graphs and tables of data. You will need a PDF reader installed like Adobe Acrobat Reader. You can download the reports from this website:

Press Releases

You can read press releases (news written by a company and sent to media companies/news agencies) for a lot of companies online, too. Here are the Heineken Company’s.

Remember that with these resources you need to practice reading at test speed to answer questions that you make up yourself, such as ‘How much did profits change by in 2011?‘.

I really hope this is a useful post for you. If so, leave a comment because they make me smile!

Links – Webcomics


Everyone knows that comics are great for your English because if you can’t understand words you have pictures to help you guess what they mean. Unfortunately, importing comic books can be quite expensive and reading comics on e-readers can be frustrating, too.

However, webcomics are a great compromise and most are short enough to be read comfortably on a smartphone, too.

Here are two of my recommendations.

Gronk, about a girl who lives with a monster who is not scary and Moonbeard, because I have a strange sense of humour.