Does “Reading” Mean You Have to Say the Words Out Loud?

Several people have emailed me recently to ask about the advice I give in my special report on how to improve your English (and if you haven’t seen it, sign up to get it below).

In the report, I recommend that you read as much English as possible.

But what do I mean by “read”?

By “read,” I mean to look at something that’s written and to understand it—silently, to yourself.

I do not mean to “read aloud,” which is speaking the words from a text.

It’s true that in English people sometimes use “read” to mean “read aloud.” For example, if you’re with a group of people and you laugh out loud while reading a funny email, your friends might say, “read it” when they really mean “read it aloud” or “read it to us.”

But you do not need to read aloud to improve your English!

Does reading aloud help? No, it doesn’t. There is no evidence that shows reading aloud is better than reading silently.

In fact, reading aloud is worse than silent reading. The reason is because you can usually read silently faster than you can read aloud. It’s more efficient (better use of time) to read silently.

If you haven’t received my Special Report AND emails with tips and suggestions to improve your English, you can sign up for them below.

~Jeff

P.S. It’s okay for you to listen to audio-books, however, especially in situations where you can’t read silently. I would not recommend, for example, you try to read a book and drive at the same time!

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What Should I Listen To?

Here’s a question I am often asked:

Dear Jeff,

I always study English everyday, but I feel my listening ability is not good.

Could you help me improve my listening ability?

Tim

Good question, Tim!

The way to improve your listening ability is to listen to the right things, the right materials.

What are the right things?

1. Something you can mostly (90% or more) understand. If it’s too hard, it’s a waste of time.

2. Something that you are interested in.

How much should you listen?

As much as possible! I would say a minimum of 30 minutes per day.

Start with something easy, perhaps something you understand 100%. As you get more confidence in your listening, increase the difficulty of the materials.

I would suggest you start by downloading and listening to some of the ESLPod.com podcasts or get our sample lesson here.

Need more ideas? Be sure to download my special report on how to improve your English by filling in the form below.

Thanks for the question!

~Jeff

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What’s for Dinner, Jeff?

I love to cook on my barbecue (also be spelled “barbeque” or abbreviated “BBQ”) grill in the back of my house.

Here’s a photo of me getting ready go cook some hamburgers (and don’t worry, I cook them before I eat them!).

Since summertime is the part of the year when many Americans cook their food on a BBQ grill, I thought I’d share a short excerpt (small section of a book or written text) from our Daily English #829 lesson related to a few common terms used to talk about barbecues. (This lesson, plus 1,800+ more, is included in our Unlimited English membership.)

In this section, I’m talking about a conversation between two people (named George and Sophia) at a BBQ.

Enjoy!


George says, “The meat won’t taste very good if I don’t baste it with my special sauce each time I flip it.”

“To baste” means to use a small tool that looks often like a brush to put the sauce on.

Sauce is a heavy or thick liquid, over the food so that it doesn’t become too dry.

George needs to “baste” the meat with his special sauce each time he “flips it.”

“To flip” here means to turn something over. So, if you’re cooking a hamburger, you cook one side, and then you flip it over, you turn it over, and cook the other side.

Sometimes, jokingly, we talk about people who work in hamburger restaurants like McDonald’s as “flipping burgers.” The term is also used to describe a job that doesn’t pay very well and is probably not very interesting.

Sophia says, “Okay, how about if I get the corn on the cob ready for grilling?”

Corn on the cob” is corn, the vegetable, that comes still attached to the hard inedible – what you don’t eat – part of the plant. You take the outside of the corn off – what we call the “husk” – and you’re left with the “corn on the cob.”

The “cob” is the middle part of the plant, the hard part that you don’t eat.

Grilling,” you probably know, means to cook something on top of this metal device called a “grill,” and is usually done outside.


Okay, now I have to go finish my cooking!

~Jeff

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How Americans Use Their Middle Names (Or Not!)

How do Americans use their middle names? It seems like an easy question, but it can get a little confusing.

I explained some of the rules in our Unlimited English lesson, Cultural English #457. (All of our Cultural English lessons include questions and answers about important expressions, idioms, and phrasal verbs in English.)

You can read the transcript below and listen to the audio file here:

“Our second question comes from Gary in China. Gary is confused about English names.

Well, many people are confused about English names, Gary, so don’t feel bad! He gives the example of a famous English author, Beatrix Potter. Her full name is Helen Beatrix Potter.

He wants to know if we should be calling her Helen Potter, or Beatrix Potter, or maybe her real name is  . . . Harry Potter? (No. I don’t think so!)

Well, the question has to do more generally with middle names and when they are used as first names.

Many Americans – maybe most Americans, I’m not sure – have a middle name, and that middle name goes on their official legal documents. My middle name is Lawrence; my full name is Jeffrey Lawrence McQuillan.

Now, some people don’t like their first name, and they may decide to use their middle name as their first name. Now, legally their name doesn’t change, typically, but in terms of how they like to be known at school or at their work can really depend on the name that the person decides to use.

Here in the land of Hollywood, a lot of actors and actresses change their names, and sometimes they decide to use their middle name as their first name.

You may have heard of someone called Brad Pitt. Well Brad Pitt’s real name is William Bradley Pitt. Brad is a short form of the name Bradley. He uses his middle name.

You may also know Jose Antonio Dominguez Banderas, but he really goes by the name Antonio Banderas.

And there is another actor, not my favorite, by the name of Ashton Kutcher. His real name is Christopher Ashton Kutcher, but he decided to drop the first name and just use his middle name as his first name!

There’s really no logic to this. It just depends on the person and whether he or she likes his or her first name. Some people use their first name, but just the initial.

So, instead of calling me Jeffrey Lawrence McQuillan, you could call me J. Lawrence McQuillan, or J-Law.”

Want more of these cool explanations? Become an Unlimited English Member here. We have more than 500 Cultural English lessons, each about 30 minutes each.

That’s more than 250 hours of English explanations! Plus you get more than 400 hours of Daily English lessons, too.

Give it a try here.

~Jeff

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60 Second English: Using “A Bit” and “As Well”

Two of the most common expressions in spoken English are “a bit” and “as well.” Learn how to use both in this 60 second video.

~Jeff

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Re-Reading Books When You’re Older

The following comes from a recent essay in the British magazine Literary Review.

It says that as we get older, books that meant one thing to us when we were young may mean something very different when we get older.

When we re-read (read again) a book later in our lives, we see different things and perhaps find different meanings:

While some books we love present (give us) worlds frozen in time (unchanging, no matter when we read them), others grow (change) with  you . . .

There are ways of seeing the world not yet revealed (shown) and sympathies yet to be apprehended (not understood).

Those sucker-punch (something that has a strong impact or effect on you) sentences are already there.

Patiently, they await my arrival (wait until I get there, until I read them in the future).

I’ve re-read certain books that I first read in college or in high school (J.D. Sallinger’s Cather in the Rye, for one). These books mean something different to me now, because I have more “life experience” – I am more mature, and, I hope, a little wiser (smarter; knowledgeable).

Do you ever re-read a book? What did you learn or appreciate from the book upon reading it again, later in your life?

~Jeff

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What Do I Say When Someone Has Died?

None of us will live forever. Death (end of life) is the eventual (someday) destination (where you are going) of all of us.

If you have a friend, co-worker, or someone you know who has lost (had someone die) a loved one (someone they loved), what should you say to him or her in English?

Here are some common expressions you can use:

> “My condolences.” [pronounced: con-DOH-len-sus]

This two-word phrase is probably the easiest to remember and use. If you want to remember just one phrase, this is it.

This simple phrase works in any situation where you want to express your sympathy (being sorry, support) to someone when a loved one dies.

If someone tells you, “My grandmother died last week,” you can respond by saying, “Oh, my condolences” or “My condolences to you and your family” (notice the preposition “to” here).

People also sometimes add the word “sincere,” as in “My sincere condolences.” To be sincere means you really do or honestly feel this way.

> “I’m very sorry to hear that.

You can also say that you are sorry to hear about the person’s loss, either with or without the expression “My condolences.”

You can say, for example, “I’m very sorry to hear that. My condolences.”

> “I’m sorry for your loss.

This is basically the same as the previous example – you are saying you are sad to hear about the person’s death. The “loss” is of course the person who has died.

> “Our thoughts and prayers are with you.

This is a little more impersonal and formal, something you might see someone say in the newspaper or on social media.

You are saying that you are thinking about that person (“thoughts”) and, if you’re religious, praying for that person and his or her family.

It is also possible to say simply “Our thoughts are with you” and “Our prayers are with you.”

~Jeff

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How Do You Use the Verb “Stand By”?

There are a couple of different ways to use the phrasal verb to stand by, and it can get very confusing.

Here’s a quick guide to this common English verb.

One meaning of stand by is “wait.” For example, if a television channel (station) has problems with its equipment, you might see a sign on the screen that says “Please Stand By.” This means “Please wait until we fix this!”

To stand by a person means to support that person even when he or she is having difficulties. There was a famous song (and later movie) called “Stand By Me,” which means “Help me even if I am in trouble or have done something wrong.”

Another example: In the song, “Stand By Your Man,” a husband cheats on his wife (sleeps with another woman), but the wife decides to “stand by” her “man” (husband), even though he has hurt her by his actions. She continues to support him and be with him.

Finally, to stand by can mean to actually walk over to a certain place and, well, stand there! In this case, it means to stand next to something (“by” often means “near” or “next to”).

Just to make things more difficult for you, there’s also a noun “standby” that is related to the first verb meaning I discussed, “to wait.”

To fly standby means that you are waiting for a seat on an airplane. Usually this happens when you change your plans so as to take a different flight (airline trip), and the airline has to find you a seat. (And sometimes they don’t find you a seat and you have to wait for another flight!)

How do you know which meaning is being used? As with most things in language, the context (the other words in the sentence) will usually help you.

Here are some more examples, with the meaning in parentheses:

  • “Stand by, everyone! The president is about to make an important announcement.” (wait)
  • “Parents usually stand by their children even when they make a mistake.” (support)
  • “Go stand by the door – I’ll be there in a few minutes.” (be next to)
  • “I had to fly standby because my first flight got canceled.” (wait for a seat on an airplane)

~Jeff

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60-Second Video: How to Ask Someone to Repeat Something in English

If you’re confused about how exactly to ask someone to repeat what they said to you in English, watch this quick 60-second video:

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English With Your Coffee: Technology Edition

Learn some vocabulary about technology in this short video.

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