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.

TED

TED: Ideas Worth Spreading” is a fabulous site that features talks by a variety of people on many different subjects. You can search the site by theme, by title, or by speaker. I just listened to an amazing talk by Jill Bolte Taylor called “My Stroke of Insight”. Dr. Taylor is a brain scientist who suffered a stroke. She describes her experience in detail in the talk. It’s absolutely fascinating! The talks are not long–this one was about 18 minutes–and transcripts are available at a click of the mouse.

Joining the TED community is easy and simple. After you provide your name, country, and email address, you can listen to the many talks available, “join the conversation” by posting comments, and, if you want, create a public profile page where you can save your favorite talks and express your own thoughts. However, just the opportunity to listen to the many talks is a huge benefit for English language learners the world over!

Update, June 2009:  TED talks are now captioned in English and (for some talks) in other languages as well, and the interactive transcript button allows you to click on any word in the transcript and start the video from that point!

Grammar Girl

Grammar Girl: Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing is a great site for advanced students who are curious about grammar.  The site owner, Mignon Fogarty, has created podcasts about a variety of grammar topics and accompanied them with the full text on site, so you can read along as you listen.  A lot of topics concern punctuation, such as comma splices and hyphens, or tricky word pairs, such as effect and affect.  Advanced students can improve their listening and hone their grammar/writing skills at the same time!

Double Entry Reading Journal

Keeping a double-entry reading journal is a great way to improve your reading skills while increasing fluency and accuracy in your writing. When I have my students keep these journals, I collect and respond to their entries, correcting their grammar and spelling and answering their questions; but even if you don’t have anyone respond to your entries, this is a great way to improve your English.

Here’s what to do:

    • As you read, mark any passages (of any length) which interest you, puzzle you, please you, or displease you in some way. Copy them out word for word. This forces you to slow down and notice the details you normally don’t pay attention to when you are reading, such as punctuation, capitalization, grammatical structure, and spelling.
    • Beneath the copied passage, write your comments, questions, interpretations, thoughts, or ideas about the passage. What you write can be either longer or shorter than the passage you copied. This develops your writing fluency and forces you to express your thoughts about what you read.
    • You can either hand-write your journal or type it on a computer, but don’t photocopy or scan the text you select. The act of copying, while tedious, will actually help improve your writing, while scanning or photocopying will have no effect on your writing.

      That’s all there is to it!

      Tip: Remember that different kinds of writing (academic papers or articles, newspaper articles, fiction, poetry…) have different rules. In particular, modern fiction (both novels and short stories) tolerates a lot of rule-breaking, such as sentence fragments. Dialog is written to reflect the way characters actually speak, which may be ungrammatical, and writers sometimes misspell words to represent regional pronunciations. If you need to write for academic or professional purposes, it is probably wiser to choose passages without much dialog!

      Absolutely Intercultural!

      “Absolutely Intercultural!” is a wonderful ESL podcast created by Anne Fox and Laurent Borgmann.  Winner of Edublogs’ 2006 Award for Best Audio and/or Video Blog, “Absolutely Intercultural!” has been on the web since March 2006.   Topics include things like how holidays are celebrated in various countries, how music can connect people of different cultures,  cultural aspects of blogs, and much, much more.  Everyone is sure to find something that will interest him or her.  Each podcast is accompanied by a text post summarizing the topics discussed on the show, but there are no transcripts, so understanding the shows will be challenging for those with less than intermediate proficiency in listening.

      You can subscribe to the show through iTunes or RSS feed (you’ll need an account with an aggregator such as Bloglines, Google, My Yahoo (In Yahoo Services, choose Feed Alerts), or Live Bookmarks, but these are free) or simply check it out at your leisure on the web.  New shows are posted every other Friday.

      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.