This English is very different in context and style from the English we use in day-to-day situations. There are courses available which focus on the skills needed to help understand and use EAP. In this article we focus on reading skills in academic contexts.
Reading academic texts can be very challenging, even for native speakers of English. We might read them for research purposes for an assignment, to find an author’s opinion, or to collect data. These texts are often on topics about which we have little previous knowledge and it may be necessary to read several pages of a book or journal to find one piece of information. In your own language you read texts in different ways without realising it, but when given a text to read in English many people think it is necessary to read every word in the text. It isn’t!
Skim Read First
Before spending a long time reading every word of an article and checking the meanings of words, it is worthwhile spending 5-10 minutes skimming the text to get an idea of the general topic or context and to see its usefulness. Skim reading is when we read the text quickly, picking out key words and subtitles, but not reading every word, to get the gist (general idea) of the text.
Scan the Text
Once you have decided that the text is useful for you, you can then go back and look for more specific information. However, this still does not mean you have to read every word. You can scan the text for information relevant to your research. Scanning is another type of fast reading where you look for specific words or numbers e.g. dates or names. Once you have found the information, you can stop and read that particular paragraph/page in more detail. This method saves a lot of time and frustration of reading irrelevant sections of text.
There will most likely be words in an academic text of which you won’t know the meaning. Before spending time looking up the words in the dictionary, ask yourself if can you understand the rest of the sentence/paragraph without knowing the meaning. You can actually quite often guess the meaning. When it is necessary to use a dictionary, opt for a printed one, rather than a translation app to find the definition. Dictionaries show definitions in different contexts or commonly associated words, which online translation apps don’t do.
Reading as often as possible in English can really improve your reading skills. You can become a faster and more proficient reader and may find reading academic texts becomes easier. Choose books in English written by a familiar author or on topics which interest you and remember; whatever you choose to read, it should be fun!
The British Council Malaysia offers Academic English courses year round which focus on EAP skills, including academic reading skills, by using authentic academic texts and focusing vocabulary skills in academic contexts. They are particularly relevant for those intending to study at university in Malaysia or abroad.