Category Archives: reading

Election News

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This year, a lot of people around the world are interested in the US presidential election. Americans are very interested in this election too. The person who is elected can make a big difference, both internationally and in the daily lives of Americans. For example, the United States does not have national health care, even though most other major industrial nations do. Some Americans think we really need to have a national health care system. Others think that would be bad for business. Whether we will start a national health care program probably depends on who is elected. For these reasons and others, many Americans have extremely strong feelings about who should be elected. That’s why it is usually considered a bad idea for Americans to discuss politics at work, parties, etc.–people may get very angry with each other.

Anyway, if you can read advanced to intermediate English, the Voice of America has a good website explaining the election process, with news articles, audio of the articles, videos, and more. Just visit the VOA US Election 2008 website.

(P. S. I’m out of town–I’m sorry I haven’t been posting.)

Three Fun Things to Read This Weekend

Even if you’re at an advanced level, you should keep reading in English. People may tell you things like, “Your grammar is correct, but it just sounds strange for some reason. I can’t explain why.” In this case, your English may sound “unnatural” because you haven’t read enough well-written English. (You’ve probably noticed this problem when native English speakers write in your language.)

Here are three totally different websites with lots and lots to read. Take a break this weekend and improve your English at the same time as you read something interesting!

  1. Quamut is a publisher of how-to and other guides. However, you don’t have to buy the guides. A lot of their information is available online for free. You can learn about baseball, jewelry-making, American business socializing, and more.
  2. Paula’s Choice is by a woman who calls herself “the cosmetics cop.” She writes about makeup and other beauty topics. She’s not afraid to say that an expensive product is no good. Personally, I think women shouldn’t feel forced to wear makeup. But if you like to wear makeup, you might find these articles worth reading. She also writes about skin care, hair care, etc.
  3. Little Brother is a new novel by Cory Doctorow. It’s written for young adults, but it’s getting good reviews from adults too.The book is a thoughtful science fiction story that takes place in the near future. The main character is a young hacker who is wrongly arrested by the American government after a terrorist attack. On the linked site, go to Download: Official Files to download your legal, free copy of the book. You can even download it for your cell phone.

Whether you choose to read a how-to, a makeover article, or a novel, I hope you find something you’re interested in.

Read Comic Books to Improve Your Reading Skills

Comic books are good for you! Really, it’s true. Take a break, read a comic … improve your reading.

image of woman reading, by Gerald_G from openclipart.org

Stephen Krashen, a well-known education researcher, has said that comic books and other “light” reading can be an important part of learning to read at an academic level. His book The Power of Reading summarizes research showing that comic books contain a high number of of unusual and academic vocabulary words, that comic book readers tend to be better overall readers, and that, essentially, all reading is educational reading.

You can get started reading these for free. Daily Bits has posted links and short descriptions for 17 free online English-language graphic novels (comic books). These graphic novels are aimed at a variety of audiences. Some of them, such as Fables, NYC2123, Crossing Midnight, Deadman, Y: The Last Man, The Sandman, DMZ and Fell, are aimed at readers who are 18 years old or older (however, Salamander Dream is for all ages).

Wowio’s Comic Books and Graphic Novels section has quite a few legal, free comic books and graphic novels. You’ll have to register to use Wowio, and they require you to prove your identity using a photo ID, credit card, or “non-anonymous” e-mail address (such as a school e-mail address). I haven’t used this site, so I hope that if you try it, you’ll let me know what you think.

If you are interested in reading more graphic novels and you live in the US or Canada, go to your local library. In the last few years, libraries have been increasing the number of comic books, graphic novels, and manga on the shelves. Most libraries have people on the staff who love to read that kind of thing. They’ll be able to give you recommendations.

You can also check out the Comics in English section of the Readable Blog Bookstore (those, of course, aren’t free). If you have any English-language comic books or graphic novels that you would like to recommend to other English learners, please leave me a comment.

Take a Peek at the San Francisco Bay Area…Present Tense

Do you remember the present tense? (she walks, I read, he tells me, they buy some coffee, etc.) It’s probably one of the first things you learned in English. One place where you will often find the simple present tense is in captions–the explanatory writing that goes with a photo in a newspaper, magazine, etc.

image of newspaper from artvex.com

In journalistic style, the captions are usually written in present and present continuous/progressive tense, as though the event is happening as you look at the picture. Of course, the actions have already occurred, so past tense may seem more logical. However, you can think of the photo’s events as “frozen in time.” If you study academic writing in English, you learn to do the same thing when referring to other writings (Dr. Krashen writes that reading and listening are important, etc.).

Through the Lens is a feature of the San Francisco Chronicle‘s website. Every week, images from around the Bay Area are posted, with captions. The captions show a mix of tenses depending on the situation. For example, in this week’s Through the Lens, we have these captions posted:

If you’re interested in the San Francisco area, you can bookmark Through the Lens and get a regular look at life here.

Halloween!

October 31, tomorrow, is my favorite holiday: Halloween! I wanted to write a long post about Halloween, but my life is a little stressful right now. However, I noticed this today: Ten Tales of Terror, by several excellent authors including Neil Gaiman, who is one of my favorite writers. Each story is very short–only a paragraph or two long. In addition, there is a sound file of each story, read aloud by the author.

Some might be a little hard to understand, such as the next to last one (which is about politics). However, I think you’ll be able to understand and enjoy most of them–at least, if you like scary stories!

Several friends from other countries have asked me this week about the origins of Halloween. It’s a little hard to explain because Halloween is so old that it began before Christianity was common in Europe, and before things were regularly written down. As a result, we don’t really know much about the beginnings of the ancient cultural or religious celebration that is now Halloween. Halloween originated in the British Isles (Ireland, England, etc.), but is probably most popular now in North America. You can read about the history and customs of Halloween at Wikipedia in the Simple English article, the main English article, or in several other languages. Just look on the left side of the main article for explanations in other languages.

In the USA, Halloween is popular with most ages and ethnic groups, although some groups of conservative Christians don’t like it. Every year, they protest Halloween celebrations. However, for most people, it is a fun day to celebrate the imagination. Many adults and families have Halloween parties, where the guests often come in costume. After sunset, children dress up and are taken trick-or-treating in their neighborhood or at a shopping center. Adults may also go to themed events such as Halloween dances at nightclubs, costume contests with big cash prizes, and concerts. You can see a lot of Halloween party photos and other Halloween photos at Flickr (or you can also view more artistic Halloween 2007 photos).

Usually several horror movies are released near Halloween. This year, “30 Days of Night” has been popular. It’s about a group of vampires who go to Alaska. The movie I want to see is the 3-D version of “Nightmare Before Christmas.”

Because I live in the San Francisco Bay Area, the Halloween season is extended from October 31 through November 2. November 1 and 2 are the Dias de los Muertos, or Day(s) of the Dead. This holiday from Mexico and Latin America has many themes in common with Halloween. In the Bay Area, there are various events such as concerts and neighborhood street festivals. At Mexican bakeries, you can buy special bread and sugar skulls. I recommend going to a Dias de los Muertos event if there is one near you!

If I can find my camera, I’ll post photos from our party tomorrow.

English practice for food-lovers and movie-lovers

Has it really been two weeks since I posted? I’m sorry! I’ve had car trouble and lots of other things going on. Here are two interesting sites that combine culture, images, sound, and reading:

  • Mercury News Photo: Bite is a collection of audio “slideshows” from the San Jose Mercury News. Each entry has a series of photos, with audio. The person speaking is a restaurant-owner or chef, who will tell you about the restaurant and show you images of their delicious food. Near the bottom right, there is a CAPTIONS button you can click. It won’t show you what the speaker is saying, but it will tell you a little more about the image. You might want to watch the slide show twice: First, watch it with the sound off and just read the captions. Second, turn off the captions and watch the slideshow while listening to the audio. Mmm, looks delicious!
  • English Trailers is a site specifically for English language learners, using movie trailers (sometimes called “previews”). There are several different ways to use this website. Go to the menu under Site Menu and choose “Trailer List.” Pick a movie that you want to use and click on its name. Do the warm-up activities, then watch the trailer. After that, you can click on Activities (a menu between the two moving red arrows) to find more activities to do. This can help you make sure you understood the trailer.

P. S. The new version of my blogging program, WordPress, includes “tags.” I’ll be using tags to list more details about the posts, such as movies, pets, books, etc. I’ll continue to use the broad categories (culture, listening, reading, etc.) as well. It might take me a while to figure out the best way to do it, so please be patient with me. Thanks!

Don’t forget, you can always contact me to suggest what you would like me to write about, too.

Games and movies for study? Why not?

As you know, I believe in using enjoyable things to study. Movies and computer games are two great sources of English that can also be fun. Lots of English learners use movies to practice listening to English dialogue. The most popular way to do this is to watch a DVD with English dialogue and English subtitles. However, another technique that you can use is combining watching the movie and reading the script. The Internet Movie Script Database has hundreds of scripts to movies, and you can read them online without registering or downloading anything.

Play This Thing posts links to free games. Some of the games are just downloadable “demo” games, which don’t include the entire game. Others are full games, or cames that can be played entirely online. Most of the games are for computers, but there are a few others, including at least one “tabletop RPG” (role-playing game). The explanations use complicated English, and some of the games do too. But if you are a serious computer game-player, maybe you’ll find something you like. Playing games can be very motivating. Actually, many Americans my age practice their Japanese by playing videogames like Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy in Japanese.

In a future post, I’ll write about working on your English by playing role-playing games (Wikipedia link; look on the bottom left for explanations in other languages).

Free games from Cambridge

Recently I started using a new textbook with someone I’m tutoring. When I looked up the book’s website, I found out that the publisher (Cambridge) has put lots of free games online. You can practice with these games even if you don’t have the book, or to decide if you’d like to buy the book (naturally, the books are not free!). Although Cambridge is a British publisher, they publish both British English and North American English books. They’ve created a huge database of real North American English language in use, and many of their newer books are based on this source. The language in these books is more authentic and more useful because it’s based on the way people actually talk and write.

  • This is the Level 1 book in the series I’m using with my student now:
    Interchange Student's Book 1 with Audio CD (Interchange Third Edition)

    To play the games, go to the Interchange Arcade. Choose your level from the left. Then click on Unit or Sort by Activity, and choose what you want to practice. The games are simple, but have good graphics and sound. You can practice grammar, listening comprehension, and more.

  • Touchstone is another series from Cambridge:
    Touchstone: Student's Book with Audio CD/CD-ROM, Level 1

    You can try out the Touchstone Arcade. Again, pick your level of difficulty (1-4), and then try the activities. They even have some good listening/pronunciation activities, such as choosing which vowel in a word is silent. There’s a “Report” button that lets you see your progress.

  • I haven’t used the Connect series with any students, because it’s for kids. But if you know a younger learner of English, maybe he or she would enjoy the Connect Arcade.
  • Another book I use is Business Vocabulary in Use. It includes both American and British English, and is meant for self-study (so you can use it on your own). If you use English in your career, I really recommend these books. There are three levels. There’s no game site, which is too bad, because I think businesspeople like to play games, too! Oh, well. The activities in the books are creative and interesting, so give the series a try. Right now, I’m using the Intermediate book:
    Business Vocabulary in Use

If you have a recent English textbook or dictionary from a major publisher, try looking up the title on the publisher’s website. You might find free downloadable worksheets, games, etc. These games are a nice change of pace from using a book all the time!

Book review: Ella Enchanted

Ella Enchanted (Trophy Newbery)

Ella Enchanted, by Gail Carson Levine, is a great book for anyone who likes fantasy novels. Many of my international friends have read fantasy novels like Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings in their native languages, but they found the original English versions very hard to read. If you would like to try something a little easier instead, try Ella Enchanted. It’s a very creative and enjoyable story that is loosely based on the “Cinderella” fairy tale.

The main character is a teenage girl, Ella, who was cursed by a crazy fairy. Ella has to be obedient to everyone–she has to do anything she is told to do. This isn’t just annoying–it’s dangerous! How can she survive the curse? Even more, how can she overcome the curse?

Ella is smart and good with languages. I liked her right away (although I’m jealous of her language skills!). She is not a Disney-type princess, but more like a real person. Her relationships with other characters in the novel are realistic, too. I don’t want to say much about the romance in the book, because I don’t want to ruin it for you. I’ll just say that the love story is both sweet and realistic. How unusual! Somehow, the story feels like real life, even though it includes fairies, ogres, curses, and other imaginary things.

Gail Carson Levine is a good writer, because she held my interest even though the book was written for older children (probably around 12 years old). The vocabulary level is not too high, so if you can read this blog, you can probably read the book. Words such as “centaur” and “ogre” might be new to you, but you’ll get the idea quickly. Don’t panic if you see nonsense words in the book: Ella sometimes speaks the languages of other creatures in the book. These words look strange, like “aaTHaiUghkl” and so on. You won’t have any problems realizing that these are not real English phrases.

In an upcoming post, I’ll write about different genres (categories) of fiction (novels and other made-up stories). Fantasy is one of my favorite genres. If you also like fairy tales or fantasy novels, I hope you will give this book a try. Feel free to comment and tell me what you think after you read the book.

(If you live in the USA, your library or local bookstore should have it. This book is also linked to in the Readable Blog Bookstore.)

Postcrossing: Trade postcards across the world


Postcards Exchange

Postcrossing is a free system for helping strangers exchange postcards. 1. You register with the site. 2. Then you request an address to send a postcard to. 3. The site gives you someone’s address and a postcard ID number. 4. You write and mail the postcard, with the ID number on it. 5. The person who receives the card enters your ID on the website, which is proof that you sent a card. 6. Then your address is given to the next person who requests an address, so you should receive a postcard soon. (Many people privately send a postcard back to the person who sent them one, but the official Postcrossing system keeps things fair.) By trading postcards in English with people from all over the world, you get practice reading and writing. You might even make some friends.

It sounds confusing, but it’s very easy when you register. Just follow the instructions.

Some people have scanned and uploaded the images from the postcards they’ve received on Flickr.

According to the website, there are

  • 214,889 users in 204 countries
  • 29,874 males, 125,506 females; 58,43 prefer not to say
  • 6,214,658 postcards received
  • 210,346 postcards traveling at this moment

It’s free to register, but of course you’ll have to pay for postage. I’ll have to see if I have any international postcard stamps!

Edited to be easier to read, and statistics updated, on January 26, 2010.