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Published on January 28, 2020

How To Use Comprehension Strategies To Improve Learning

How To Use Comprehension Strategies To Improve Learning

From a young age, we learned the essential skills of reading. This is a skill that we often don’t think much of, especially around the subject of comprehension strategies for adults.

You’d think it’s rather weird at first. Adults all across the world are fully capable of reading anything. We’ve been doing that for decades.

But there is a massive difference between reading comprehension amongst children and adults you see. It’s something that hasn’t been explored much in science. You can tell by the number of studies out there discussing kid’s reading abilities rather than adults.

This lack in studies though, is a good enough reason to look into what kind of strategies exist for adults. As I said, an adult’s need for reading comprehension is different. It’s not so much as learning how to read but how to use the information we have, process it effectively, and leverage it.

What Are Comprehension Strategies?

Because adults are focused on processing information and leveraging it, our comprehension strategies tend to be more focused on the surrounding areas rather than internal. That being said, there are some strategies that focus on how we are reading too.

I’ll get to those further down this article, but here are some external comprehension strategies to try out:

Place Yourself In A Distraction-Free Environment

There is a lot of noise going on around us these days. From TVs, our phone, music, and other distractions. The key with this strategy is to create a reading and learning environment that’s suitable for you.

For most people, that’s one without distractions.

But what if you can’t remove all the distractions?

Simple. Some alternatives are going somewhere else. Consider going to the library, a study room, or even the bathroom. You can also listen to classical or ambient music. This muffles sounds and music without lyrics can help you with concentrating more.

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Having Someone Smarter Read With You

Let’s face it, we’re not all-knowing. There are people who are smarter than us. Maybe not in the area of reading, but the person may have read the book or is further along in life with experience and understanding.

This is what I mean by reading comprehension with adults. It’s not so much that we don’t know how to read, but rather, it may be tougher for us to take concepts from articles or books and apply them.

If you’ve got someone like a mentor, teacher, friend or parent, who has experience in this field, don’t hesitate to rely on them.

How we comprehend information varies from person to person. No matter what though, keep the following in mind should you use this strategy:

  • If you are there to support in any way, be sure to give them questions. If you’re the one asking, you can always ask them to do this too. Comprehension isn’t just reading, but using the information.
  • If you’re supporting, it pays to be able to explain things briefly. If you can summarize chapters or the whole book into key lessons that’s good.

Reading Out Loud

Reading out loud slows you down while reading. We focus more on pronouncing our words. We also process what we are reading more so when doing this.

Reading out loud also activates the parts of our brain that learns visually and through audio. It does this because we are seeing the words plus hearing them spoken aloud.

If you find yourself benefiting from this, I’d suggest looking into audiobooks. While there is no visual side to them, the audio could help. You can also look into narrated books that have audio and visual learning aspects.

Re-Reading

Sometimes, we don’t always process everything in one sitting. Or maybe there was something that’s brought up later that you don’t understand and need to go back to previous lines to grasp it.

In some other cases, we read through a page or a paragraph and can’t even grasp what was said.

Regardless, don’t be afraid to go back through and re-read it. Perhaps read it out loud. That or slow down your reading. Keep re-reading until you understand what’s going on.

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As you can tell, reading comprehension is simple at its core, but not everyone can leverage them right off the bat.

How Can I Leverage Comprehension Strategies?

Knowing those strategies is one thing, but leveraging is something else. Regardless, because reading comprehension is still a skill, we can improve it through various methods.

1. Dedicate Yourself To Reading

It’s a given that you want to be spending some time to reading. It’s recommended for starters to devote two to three hours to reading per week.

Not only that, but you want those hours to be part of a good reading session. Wat this means is that your reading is guided and relaxed.

Guided in the sense that there is structure and focused attention. You want to be expanding your vocabulary and quizzing yourself on what you’re reading.

Relaxed is being in a position where you can enjoy what you’re reading. Think back to the calming environment I mentioned above.

2. Understand and Re-evaluate How You Read Right Now

If it’s been a long time since you’ve picked up a book, this might be tougher to do. Then again, you do have to start somewhere.

What this strategy focuses on is encouraging you to read from different texts. Specifically, texts that you’re not familiar with.

Information is presented in many different formats. What you read in the newspaper is going to be written differently on a stand-alone website or on a blog. The same applies to textbooks as well.

This isn’t to say that certain mediums have superior written content, but rather, they demand different levels of comprehension.

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The key to this strategy is to go into unfamiliar territory and read that way. Challenge your existing notions and preferences for reading and mix things up. But only do so for a short period of time.

Start off with reading 20 minutes from that and push to increase the time little by little. Maybe next time devote 22 minutes of your few hours to reading from it.

3. Expand Your Vocabulary

While the previous strategy can help with this, you don’t need to be using different reading mediums to expand your vocabulary. At the end of the day, reading comprehension stems from context, the interaction of words, and vocabulary. It’s through these three things we understand what we are reading.

Expanding your vocabulary is pretty easy. You can purposely pick a word from the dictionary and learn it and apply it every day. Or if what you are reading has a word you don’t understand, write it down.

The goal is to have a running list of words you don’t immediately recognize. From there, you can make flashcards to help you memorize them.

4. Read for the Joy of It

While many of us read for work or for growth, there is merit to reading for pleasure. This is a good strategy because sometimes, we get so wrapped up in reading for growth that we can start to see reading as a chore.

Remember, reading should always be for the fun of it.

With this in mind, some things you can do for this are:

  • Reading a book that is below your grade level. Sure you won’t be learning much, but the key here is to relax and enjoy the book.
  • Pick out fiction books. Authors in these genres focus on entertaining written content as opposed to content where you are learning.

5. Stay Curious

The last strategy I’ll mention is to have curiosity. Learning stems from us wanting to know something that we do not know. Whenever we google something or read an article, it’s because we don’t know that information.

Although people are quick to do that, I would suggest stretching your curiosity further. Not only focusing on new words but new pieces of information.

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Being curious is more like a mindset than anything else, but it does lead to us seeking answers and thus reading and learning.

Here’s How to Create a Habit of Continuous Learning for a Better You.

Bonus: Speed Reading for Better Comprehension

One other strategy that I want to be touching on is speed reading. This is one of the comprehension strategies that some may have heard over the years. It’s the strategy behind how some people can read a book a day or read 50 plus books in the span of a year.

While this may not be your goal to read that much, being aware of the technique and using it can help you in extracting and learning faster than before.

Open Colleges explains this strategy in detail in an article,[1] ere is a simple version:

  • Don’t subvocalize. We were taught in school to read each word one by one. Instead, focus on letting your eyes glide through the words. How you can do this is through humming or counting in your head.
  • Read words in clusters. The next step is getting your eyes to focus on three or four words at a time. The idea is grouping everything important. What it boils down to is getting rid of filler words like and, a, an, the, etc.
  • Don’t backtrack. I said above that re-reading helps. It does, but it helps for those who want to read slowly. For speed readers, this is more time lost.
  • Focus on skimming. With so much content out there, we’ve become masters of skimming. Some of us may not realize it is all. Either way, make sure you are skimming, which is focusing on parts that are important to you.
  • Read plenty. This is a given but worth bringing up.

You can check out this article to learn how to read faster: How to Read Faster: 10 Ways to Increase Your Reading Speed

Final Thoughts

Reading may not be at the forefront of everyone’s mind, but the key to growth is through the information that’s put out there today. The better and faster we can take information, extract, learn, and apply it, the more we will grow.

As such, taking these comprehension strategies and leveraging them can help us tremendously. Even considering taking up speed reading can help you out too.

Pick up a book now and start reading!

More Tips on Learning Fast

Featured photo credit: Thought Catalog via unsplash.com

Reference

More by this author

Leon Ho

Founder & CEO of Lifehack

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Last Updated on October 22, 2020

7 Hardest Languages to Learn For English Speakers

7 Hardest Languages to Learn For English Speakers

What are the hardest languages to learn? It depends on what your native language is. If it’s English, you’re in the right place.

When you peel the onion back to the beginnings of language formation, such as by studying the language families tree below, you will be able to see where different languages branched off. Now, you may be able to notice why Spanish has similarities with languages like German, Italian, French, etc.

That’s why the hardest languages to learn for native Korean speakers will be different from those that are hardest for native English speakers like us. Today, we’re going to focus solely on the hardest languages to learn for English speakers (hint: they’re located in different branches on the language tree).[1]

Language tree

    If you’re looking for official statistics, the Defense Language Institute (where they teach members of the CIA foreign languages) has organized languages into four categories, the 1st Category being the easiest, and the 4th Category being the hardest languages to learn for English speakers.

    • Category 1: Spanish, Italian, French, Portuguese
    • Category 2: German, Indonesian
    • Category 3: Hebrew, Hindi, Persian Farsi, Russian, Serbian, Tagalog, Thai, Urdu, Turkish, etc.
    • Category 4: Mandarin, Korean, Japanese, Modern Standard Arabic, etc.

    Before we take a closer look and see which of the above are the most difficult languages to learn, you can check out this TED Talk with John McWhorter to help you get inspired to learn a new language:

    1. Mandarin

    Number of native speakers: 1.2 billion

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    Country with the greatest number of speakers: China

    It may be the most widely spoken language in the world, but it is particularly challenging for English speakers. It is often spoken of as being the hardest language in the world to learn (and certainly the most difficult language on this list!).

    First, since Mandarin is a tonal language, you can have a completely different meaning of a word just by changing your tone. Just take a look at this visual of the four tones, and you can begin to imagine the difficulties this could cause English speakers[2].

    Mandarin tones in one of the hardest languages to learn

      Add to that thousands of characters, complex systems, Chinese dialects, and the language’s richness in homophones,[3] and you’ve got one of the hardest languages to learn in the world.

      2. Icelandic

      Number of native speakers: 330,000

      Country with the greatest number of speakers: Iceland

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      While the Icelandic language has not changed much since the island was settled in the ninth and tenth centuries[4], it continues to add new meaning to old words. It also doesn’t help that there are fewer than 400,000 native speakers who you can learn and practice with.

      3. Japanese

      Number of native speakers: 122 million

      Country with the greatest number of speakers: Japan

      Japanese has three independent writing systems[5]: hiragana, katakana, and kanji. Before they can start writing, Japanese learners need to learn thousands of different characters in these writing systems. It is, however, significantly easier to learn than Mandarin!

      4. Hungarian

      Number of native speakers: 13 million

      Country with the greatest number of speakers: Hungary

      Most languages spoken in Europe come from the Indo-European language family shown in the tree above, but not Hungarian. It is, instead, a Finno-Ugric language[6] in which words are formed in an isolated manner.

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      In other words, it’s one of the hardest languages to learn because the word order is nothing like how English speakers normally structure words or sentences. For example, “with my [female] friend” is combined into just “barátnőmmel.” If you’re confused, don’t worry. So are we.

      5. Korean

      Number of native speakers: 66.3 million

      Country with the greatest number of speakers: South Korea

      Korean is a language isolate, which means it isn’t linked to any other language family root. It also has seven different speech levels that native speakers flip back and forth to depending on the formality. The image below just begins to scratch the surface of the complications caused by the speech levels and the use of honorifics[7]:

      korean speech levels: how to address other people

        6. Arabic

        Number of native speakers: 221 million

        Country with the greatest number of speakers: Egypt

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        Despite having 221 million native speakers you can potentially learn from, Arabic is still one of the hardest languages to learn. First, vowels are not included when writing. And, to complicate things further, most Arabic letters are written in four different forms, depending on the placement of the word.

        7. Finnish

        Number of native speakers: 5.4 million

        Country with the greatest number of speakers: Finland

        If you’ve ever watched The Lord of the Rings, you’ll know about the strange language the elves speak. The Finnish language is what the author J.R.R. Tolkien based the Elvish language on[8]. Finnish, like Hungarian, is a Finno-Ugric language in which grammar complications are taken to the extreme, which makes it difficult for English speakers.

        Furthermore, just when you’ve got the hang of translating Finnish to English, you’ll quickly find that modern Finnish speakers have their own way of expressing emotions that’s different from the traditional translation!

        The Bottom Line

        The hardest languages for English speakers to learn depends on a number of different factors, not just one. The number of speakers, the language’s origins, its similarity to English, and other factors contribute to determining how much difficulty you’ll have learning it.

        However, what’s important is not which is the hardest language to learn. As with learning any language, it comes down to how passionate you are about learning, how you’ll deal with psychological fears, and who you will go to for help.

        Every language will come with its own challenges, but it’ll also come with its own rewards, experiences, and fulfillment. Remember, whichever language you decide to learn, your time will be well worth the investment.

        More Language Learning Tips

        Featured photo credit: ORIENTO via unsplash.com

        Reference

        [1] Soho Press: THE PROTO-INDO-EUROPEAN FAMILY
        [2] MIT: Mandarin Tones
        [3] Wikipedia: Homophonic puns in Mandarin Chinese
        [4] Iceland: Language
        [5] Dartmouth: Japanese Writing Systems
        [6] Britannica: Finno-Ugric languages
        [7] LingoDeer: Korean Speech Levels
        [8] Omniglot: Quenya

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