Read, read, read! (Suggestion No. 5)

So far I’ve posted suggestions for writing (and remembering), talking and listening. All four aspects of language use are important – reading, writing, talking and listening – but reading is perhaps the most useful in terms of getting through day-to-day life, especially over the longer term – that is, over the years of our lives.

We use reading to obtain information. Of course we can get information by listening, too, but reading tends to be more readily available.

Signposts – both literal signposts and metaphorical ones – usually have words to be read. Sometimes they have symbols or diagrams too, such as the running person on an Emergency Exit sign; but much of the effectiveness of signs requires us to be able to read words, and quickly too. As the mild joke in the German-for-English-speaking-Tourists booklet asks, “Can you tell the difference between Ziehen and Drὒcken in time to avoid a nasty accident?” (Ziehen means “PULL” and Drὒcken means “PUSH” and you will find these – of course – on doors which only open in one direction.)

When (if) you become a car driver, you will find it useful to be able to read not only road-signs with place-names on them, but those with information about road closures, diversion routes, parking places and parking limitations. On some roadsigns, place-names have to be shortened because of lack of space; if you are familiar with the spelling of the name of the place you’re heading for, you’ll find it easier to tell that “P’th” means – in this case – “Perth”. (I must admit I was briefly puzzled by this one, in real life, recently; we don’t make it easy for drivers in Scotland, at times!) “But I use a sat nav,” you might be thinking. Fair enough – and good for listening practice – but they don’t always get you to where you want to go!

Anyway – today’s suggestion is that you make yourself read EVERYTHING that you come across in your day-to-day life, until you take in written information almost without realising you’ve done so.

Some people find it easier to read aloud; that’s fine. Some like to hear the words in their heads even when they’re not speaking them aloud. It’s a good idea to know how to pronounce words – or even just how YOU want to pronounce them – because then they’ll be easier to remember, and to recognise next time; you will have both a picture (of the word) and a sound to jog your memory.

So – what’s the name of the maker of the washing machine in your house? What’s the make of the oven? What’s the name on your fridge? If you have these, what about the maker or brand-name of the dish-washer, coffee-machine, kettle, clock, toaster? What make is your mobile or smartphone, if you have one?

When you’re next out (and I know that that’s limited at the moment), read every sign and notice you come across, and check that you understand what they’re trying to tell you. If you’re not sure, ask someone. Notices are there to be read and understood, after all – and if they’re not easily understandable, they’re not doing their job very well.

Read the back of the cereal packet while you’re having breakfast; it’s wise to know what goes into the food you’re eating. (The ingredient at the top of the list is the one of which there is the most, in the food or product itself.)

Read what your shampoo consists of when you next use it. You might be surprised by how much of this sort of product is “Aqua” – that is, water!

Read the TV listings to find out what you might want to watch while you’re at home: there’s a lot of extra material being broadcast and streamed at the moment, because of the Covid19 restrictions on movement outside the home.

Read any notes someone has stuck to the fridge or a noticeboard in your kitchen. Read some recipes if you’re interesting in doing some cooking while you’re at home. Read the labels of what you’ve got in the cupboard or fridge.

There are different ways of reading, for use in different circumstances and depending on what you want to achieve through your reading at any given time – but we’ll look at those another day. For now, just focus on making yourself familiar with as many words as possible: read, read, read!

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