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Reader StoryKate Sidorova

January 1, 2017

kate-sidorovaMy name is Kate Sidorova, I’m from Russia. I’m a biologist. After graduating from Moscow State University, I worked as a teacher at Faculty of Biology for 10 years, and 3 years as a researcher at one of Moscow’s medical research institutes. My husband, daughter, and I moved to the USA in 2013 because my husband got a job in Seattle. I remember the day when our plane landed at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. It was September 26th, my husband’s 36th birthday. I felt my new life was about to start. I had so many doubts and expectations. The English language was the thing that made me especially anxious. Only my husband spoke English fluently. My 7-year old daughter and I couldn’t speak English at all.

I understood I needed English like air for breathing because it was impossible to be inclusive in the society without the language. At first, it was hard for me even to go shopping, to see a doctor, or to help my daughter with her homework. People around me were speaking a weird language that sounded like white noise, a mixture of sounds for me. I couldn’t distinguish words. I was scared about possible communication with Americans.

My long journey of learning English started with ESL classes at Bellevue College because it was close to my house. Although my listening skills were very poor, my reading and writing were enough for Level 5 in the ESL program. All my ESL teachers were great. My English improved, but I felt I needed more. I was thinking about how to better reinforce my language skills and accelerate progress.

I decided to focus on reading for several reasons. While reading, you become accustomed to thinking in a language, learning new words, and getting information. Reading in English allows you to be aware of what is happening around you, in your neighborhood, in your country, and in the world. You also get a great opportunity to learn more about the US history, culture and traditions.

I wanted to read real books written for English-speakers, so I checked out some books from our local library. I was disappointed because the English in the books was too hard for me to understand. There were many new words, long sentences and confusing grammar. I didn’t want to give up, so I started with books for kids. It might look ridiculous to read such books, but I was very proud of myself when I finished my first book.

After that, on my teacher’s recommendation I attended the Reading Lab at Bellevue College. I worked independently and set my own schedule. I worked on reading programs on the computer. With the help of friendly reading lab instructors, I improved quickly.

After finishing three quarters in the Reading Lab, I can read, and, more importantly, understand books. I learned how to get information from context, and I expanded my vocabulary. My writing and even speaking improved. Now I can read newspapers, books, medical and household bills, and emails. I can communicate with doctors, dentists, and with my daughter’s teacher. I can talk to other moms at school. I don’t need to ask my husband to take a day-off to help me any more. I can at last make an appointment by phone.  I have many friends from different countries.

In conclusion, I would like to give some recommendations to students who are interested in learning English deeper through reading.

  1. Don’t be shy to read books for kids. These books are perfect for English learners because they have words that are used frequently and are written with simple sentences and grammar.
  2. Read romance novels. Seriously, these books have many dialogs and not very deep English, but you can take some phrases from them for everyday life.
  3. When you read a book, you should use an English-English dictionary. (I use on-line dictionary for English-learners Merriam-Webster, or my paperback copy of The Dictionary of American English, Longman).
  4. Never use your own language dictionary (I never use Russian-English dictionary) because it can slow your progress down.
  5. Don’t translate every sentence and word; try to get the information from context.
  6. You can also ask your kids what they are reading now. If you read the same books as your kids, you will have a topic to discuss together. You can do it in English, and it would be good speaking practice.
  7. Our kids can be our teachers. If your kids are in the elementary or middle school, check their grammar or spelling homework. Ask them to explain you the topic and what they are doing in their homework. Your kids will do their homework faster, and you will get a grammar lesson for free.

My recommendations for reading:

For beginners:

  • Charlotte’s web by E.B. White
  • Stuart Little by E.B. White
  • A Bear called Paddington by Michael Bond
  • Northwest News

For more experienced:

  • The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway.
  • The Boys in the boat by Daniel Brown. This book is about the University of Washington rowing team that won Olympics in 1936 in Berlin. You can find many interesting historical facts about Seattle and state Washington.
  • 1984 by George Orwell.
  • Under a Flaming Sky. The great Hinckley Firestorm of 1984 by Danial Brown.
  • The Seattle Times.

Published January 2017

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