Want to Improve Your English?

Read something. We’ll help.


Whenever we ask young people (high school students) whether they enjoy reading, the resounding response we receive is that they don’t. Many give patronizing smirks, shake their heads in dismissive disbelief, or offer the blankest of stares. Spewing out excuses that run the gamut of human experiences, they insist that they are simply too busy to read.

All too predictably, their time isn’t consumed by performing the kinds of altruistic, productive, or commendable activities that would look impressive on a résumé or a list of extracurriculars on the Common Application. (Think more along the lines of burning countless hours and brain cells on Netflix, Xbox, and Facebook.)

Such students exhibit terrible grammar, pedestrian writing, subpar knowledge of vocabulary words, and atrocious reading-comprehension “skills.” They can’t infer anything from a passage or identify a dangling modifier, let alone detect sarcasm or irony. In other words, they haven’t got a chance in hell of getting a good score on the SAT or ACT. And displaying English competency in college? Fuhgeddaboudit.

The inconvenient truth that they don’t read is just a coincidence, right? (Cue sarcastic laugh.)

“So What Can Be Done?”

Start reading. Now. And by “reading,” we’re not talking about browsing Facebook wall posts, scrolling through text messages, and examining YouTube comments dat luuk lyk d1s. If you wouldn’t call the person who wrote the thing you’re reading an “author,” then it doesn’t count. (Sorry, bff or bae.)

This is probably where you’ll raise your hand and ask, “Then what should I read?”

The answer: Whatever interests you. Reading classic literature or esoteric magazines is commendable, but it doesn’t have to be that formal. Start off with a fun short story or an entertaining article about your favorite band, then work your way up. Your ultimate goal is to get better at comprehending what you read, anticipating what will come next in the text, and drawing connections between what you’re reading and relevant topics in the real world. Moreover, you want to encounter — and assimilate — vocabulary words that are used properly in context.

Speaking of which, can you guess from which of the following work we found these SAT-level vocabulary words?

gawky, tumultuous, concur, manifesting, séance, stymied, protocol, catastrophic, discrete, affirmative, notorious, agnostic, infamous, depository, mortality, chronometer, paradoxically, augmented, impulsive, rendezvous, profusely, malignancy, status quo, eradicate, disaffected, displacement, replica, barbiturates, vortex, emanating, subordinate, retribution, atrophy, jettison, mausoleum, translocation, modicum, decimation, inception, calamity, ubiquitous

If you guessed D, you’d be right. Those words appear in Gerard Way’s The Umbrella Academy comics (volumes 1 and 2).

That’s our copy of Volume 2.

Non-native speakers enjoy an extra benefit of reading comic books: they are an excellent source of popular idioms, colloquial expressions, and examples of conversational English. By their very nature, comic books are replete with dialogue, making it easy to see how certain phrases are used — and in what contexts.

“Are You Telling Me to Read Comic Books?”

Not necessarily. If you hate comic books and manga, then don’t read them. By all means, read something else.

Need some recommendations? Here’s an eclectic list of books to get you started. Reading works from the likes of Orwell, Steinbeck, Faulkner, Vonnegut, Kafka, and Woolf will certainly be a boon to both your literacy and sophistication. You have undoubtedly been assigned several of those writings in your English classes. (But if you’re the type of student who hates reading, you had probably used Cliffs Notes, Spark Notes, watched the movie rendition, or relied on some other ersatz version.) If you still haven’t read them, give them a try.

As for comic books, don’t dismiss them as trifles. Besides providing all of the aforementioned benefits, Art Spiegelman (the award-winning writer of Maus) said the following axiom about comics:

Our Proposal

Unless you were born with a photographic memory for vocabulary words, an innate ability to comprehend everything you read, and an eloquence that allows you to write and speak in perfect, formal English, you should read as many books, magazines, and newspapers as you can.

If you are averse to checking out books from the library or aren’t in the position to make a financial commitment to buying books, we are more than willing to share (i.e., give) you some of ours.

If the idea of receiving free, albeit used books interests you, send us an email. You can reach us at whatsup@TheYUNiversity.net. In the subject line, write “Books” (without the quotation marks).

One month from now, we will pick 10 of you from random and send you a set of books. We will even pay for the shipping. Seriously.


Let’s do this.

Let’s make 2015 the year of reading.

The Frogman is such a boss.