Reading Aloud on Voxopop

Chinswing has now become Voxopop!  “Perspective,” a Japanese user who has started several different conversations, has now begun several threads for reading aloud which are wonderful for improving your listening, speaking, and reading skills!  The first one I found is devoted to short stories by O. HenryO. Henry, whose real name was William Sidney Porter, lived at the turn of the 20th century and wrote many wonderful stories about people in New York City.  The first story in the thread is one of my favorites, “The Last Leaf.”  It is about two young artists, Sue and Johnsy, who live together in New York.  Johnsy is dying of pneumonia, and she has decided that when the last ivy leaf on the wall outside her window falls, she will die.  The story of how Johnsy survives will bring tears to your eyes.

At the beginning of each short story in the thread, there is a link to the story on the web.  Each participant in the thread reads a few paragraphs of the story.  You can read along as you listen to English learners from many different countries read aloud.  O. Henry’s vocabulary is challenging, so this thread is best for advanced learners, who will find plenty of challenging new words in the stories.

Perspective has another thread dedicated to the short stories of Oscar Wilde, Angl0-Irish author and playwright of the Victorian age. Wilde’s language is easier than O. Henry’s, so intermediate learners may prefer this thread.

The most recent read-aloud thread begun by Perspective is English Fairy Tales by Joseph Jacobs.  These stories also feature easier language than the O. Henry stories, but many of the words are archaic (old and no longer used in modern English), and there is non-standard grammar in the speech of the characters.

Reading and listening to literature is a great way to expand your vocabulary and hone your listening skills.  You can also contribute to the threads by reading a part of a story.  If you are an English learner, I’d recommend that you look up any unfamiliar vocabulary first to get the correct pronunciation.  Then practice reading the passage you have chosen a few times before you record it.  Speak clearly and with feeling!  Reading aloud is wonderful speaking practice.

Real English

This site was created by Mike Marzio, who has an English school in France. Twenty years ago, Mike was frustrated because his students had limited opportunities to listen to native speakers speaking English informally, so he and his friends began recording short interviews with native speakers of English in various countries. Now you can access videos of the interviews, which have been categorized into five levels (beginning, intermediate I, intermediate II, intermediate III, and advanced). Each level has about fifteen interviews. Some of the videos are also available with captions here. You can also sign up for a free introductory subscription to Real English Online, which has lessons with exercises to accompany some of the videos. (In order to access lessons for all the videos, you need a paid subscription.). Mike adds new material all the time. This is a great opportunity to listen to native speakers speaking naturally in different English dialects.

Note: You will need Real Player to listen and watch most of the interviews, although some of them are viewable with Windows Media Player and Quicktime. Links to free downloads are available on the site.

Open Yale Courses

Yale University, one of America’s premier universities, has just uploaded seven entire introductory undergraduate courses to the web! The seven courses are in English (modern poetry), philosophy (death), astronomy (issues in astrophysics), political science (introduction to political philosophy), physics (fundamentals of physics), religious studies (the Old Testament), and psychology (introduction to psychology). Each course includes a syllabus, reading assignments, zip files of course pages and video and audio downloads of lectures together with complete lecture transcripts. It is this feature that is exciting for students who wish to practice academic listening and/or note-taking. Unlike the “canned” lectures in typical ESL listening/note-taking textbooks, which are scripted and read and do not include natural lecture language with its frequent pausing, repetition and rephrasing, these are authentic, full-length college lectures, and each lecture is part of an authentic, full-length college course. (If you complete the whole course, you will not receive any college credit–but you will definitely learn a lot!) Click here to explore the Open Yale Courses site or to get started.

Watching Captioned Movies

Do you like movies?  You can watch movies for pleasure and improve your listening skill at the same time.  Buy or rent an English-language movie that has subtitles or captions.  Watch the movie several times–at first with the captions, and finally, without.  When you feel comfortable listening to the movie without subtitles, move on to your next movie.  Be sure to choose movies you will enjoy watching more than once!

Some of my favorite movies are The Twelve Chairs, The Gods Must Be Crazy, Stand and Deliver, The Four Seasons, and the Harry Potter movies.  But you should choose the kind of movies you enjoy watching.

You can do the same with TV shows.  Collections of episodes are available on DVD.

Reading for Pleasure

Reading is the best way to improve many things: reading comprehension and speed, certainly, but also grammar and vocabulary. If you read modern novels with a lot of dialog, it also helps you improve your speaking. If you “read” audio books, you can even improve your listening by reading! (If you live in the U.S., it is best to borrow audio books from the public library; the ones that you can buy in a bookstore are usually abridged, or shortened, versions of the paper books, so if you are reading as you listen, you may get confused when the audio book skips something.)

You can read anything that interests you: newspapers, magazines, novels, short stories, graphic novels, children’s and young adult books, biographies, history and other nonfiction, and websites are all good! If you start something but find it too difficult or boring, stop and choose something else. Remember, this is reading for pleasure. If it isn’t pleasant, don’t do it.

Your reading material should not have so much new vocabulary that you need a dictionary to understand every sentence or paragraph or page. If you have to look up too many words, reading will not be a pleasure, and you will not want to continue doing it. Choose materials that are easy enough for you to understand the main ideas without your dictionary, but which have some words that you don’t know. You will begin to learn these new words naturally, even if you don’t look them up in the dictionary, as you encounter them in different contexts. It’s okay to use your dictionary occasionally, but it’s not necessary. You are not going to take a test on what you read, so if you don’t understand every detail, it doesn’t matter. Remember: this is reading for pleasure.

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