I am a high school sophomore, and I am strongly interested in history and religions, so I have the urge to read long and technical nonfiction books regarding them. (For example large textbooks about Roman history and such) But what always happens is that my eyes scan through the words without absorbing the meaning. I am able to comprehend in the beginning, yet I start to lose retention later on.

My fluency in English is perhaps one reason. Please allow me to introduce my background first. I am an American of Chinese descent. Supposedly, English is my mother tongue, yet I went to China to study for eight or nine years and I came back. During this time period English was a skill that I neglected, so later I put in great effort to recover this. Recently I returned to the states and started high school. Currently, I am very skilled in writing, listening and speaking, yet reading seems to be the only problem.

Here is my question. Is the reason for my poor reading comprehension a matter of fluency in language, or it is simply because the books that I read are too deep for a sophomore? If it is because of fluency, how can I solve this problem? This problem is really frustrating me since I do have a hunger for knowledge. The inability to read is truly vexing me.

Thank you very much!

closed as primarily opinion-based by Laurel, Skooba, Nigel J, curiousdannii, jimm101 Nov 10 '17 at 23:35

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

  • 3
    This is not a question normally dealt with on this site, and is more one for educational/reading psychology. My guess is that the problem arises from having been away from English for many years, and sounds to me the sort of thing that will disappear over time, as you become more accustomed to using English. But I'm no expert. Have you discussed it with your parents/ teachers? – WS2 Nov 9 '17 at 5:50
  • This is not something we could possibly answer for you. Sorry, but it is way beyond the scope of this site. – KumaAra Nov 9 '17 at 7:10
  • It may be that the kinds of books you're trying to read don't hold your attention. Do longer books of different genres hold your interest? – Xanne Nov 9 '17 at 8:23
  • 1
    This happens to me when I try to read Aristotle, Thomas Aquinas, G.W.F. Hegel, etc. I think of it as my brain's rebellion against forced interest in books that are ostensibly good for me but in reality intolerable (for me) to read. On the other hand, if it happens to you no matter what you read, the cause may be something more serious and obstructive to your education. Hence, Xanne's question above is highly pertinent. – Sven Yargs Nov 9 '17 at 22:16
  • @Xanne thank you for your response. Other long books (such as interesting fiction) do hold my attention significantly better, however I still cannot comprehend completely. Are there any advice that you would give? – Vincent Han Nov 9 '17 at 22:40

This is not the best site for your question. It may be better suited on Language Learning. Nevertheless, I will answer it here before it probably gets closed.

Reading is the process by which the reader interacts with a text. Comprehension of what is read depends therefore on the interplay between reader factors and text factors:

  • Reader factors include fluency in the language of the text, background knowledge of the topic, vocabulary size, reasons for reading, degree of alertness when reading, absence or presence of distractions in the reading environment, and others.

  • Text factors include vocabulary level, syntactic complexity, conceptual difficulty, reading medium (paper or screen), print size, page layout, etc.

Your own comprehension problems will no doubt be caused by the interplay of two or more of these factors. Do you understand most of the words on the page? Research* has shown that comprehension is endangered if more than 2% of the words on any given page are not known.

I suggest that you ask your school librarian to recommend books that do not have the textual factors that are likely to cause most difficulty. You can then work your way up to a level that allows you to read with comprehension what you are currently having problems with.

You might also want to make sure that you know the terms that writers typically use to organize their thoughts and arguments, and give their texts coherence. These are terms such as whereas, conversely, despite, consequently, likewise, nevertheless. Here is a useful list: http://home.ku.edu.tr/~doregan/Writing/Cohesion.html

Do not be discouraged if you don't always understand what you read. This often happens to me, a native English speaker, when researching various topics on Wikipedia. Good luck!

*How Large a Vocabulary Is Needed For Reading and Listening?

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.