Some Good Websites for Reading Practice

There are several related websites that offer short stories and articles for extensive reading practice:

For each short reading passage, there are some simple exercises (such as cloze–fill in the blank–and scrambled sentences).  After you try the exercise, click on CHECK to see if your answers are correct or not. If you don’t know the answer, click on HINT.

English Online has longer factual articles which intermediate students can practice reading. At the end of each article, there is a list of words which learners might not know, with simple definitions. You can choose from many different topics, such as Travel, People, Government and Politics, or Environment, or read articles about current events (News Articles). You are bound to find something to interest you here!

American Stories for English Learners features the written text and an accompanying audio recording of 57 short stories by famous American writers such as O. Henry, Mark Twain, and Jack London. The stories are simplified for English language learners, but you will probably need at least a low intermediate proficiency to enjoy them. The audio recordings feature slow, careful speech.

Advertisements

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.

Online Dictation Practice

Listen and Write is a site which offers spoken texts at various levels, many of them from VOA Special English, so they are very clear and don’t use much difficult vocabulary.  You select a text and listen to it.  At any time, you can start typing what you hear in the box.  The program checks each word individually, and it won’t let you proceed if the word is not correct.  There is a “Hint” button, but when I tried it out, it didn’t just give me a hint; it provided the whole word.  Therefore, before you hit the “Hint” button, give it your best shot–what have you got to lose?

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!

Chinswing

Chinswing is a global voiceboard–a site where registered members can post comments to threaded discussions and a variety of topics.  You can listen to the discussions without registering, but if you want to contribute to a discussion, you must register.  (Registration is free and is very easy to do.)  Most discussions are in English, but there are some in other languages, like Japanese and Spanish.  The discussions are sorted into categories (“channels”) such as “Health and Wellbeing” and “Society and Culture.”  Within each category you will find sub-categories.  For example, under “Society and Culture,” you can choose “Current Events and News,” “Education,” “Global Issues,” “Language,” etc.  The main page tells you how many threads exist for a given category; for instance, there are 24 threads under “Books and Literature” but only two under “Theater” (category: “Entertainment & Arts”).

I started a couple of threads for my beginning Listening Speaking class at the Maryland English Institute, and I was pleased to find that English language learners from several countries found my threads and posted contributions.  One of them is “What’s your favorite…?” and the other is “I have a cell phone.”   For more advanced students, there are plenty of interesting-looking threads to choose from.  Many of these have been inactive for months, but as soon as someone posts on them, they will appear on the start page under “Listen to the Latest,” and those who contributed to them earlier will get an email informing them that there is a new post (unless they have disabled this).

What is nice about Chinswing is that you can think about your post for as long as you want before you record it.  You can even write it out and read it, if you want to.  You can preview it before approving it, so if you made a mistake and want to correct it, you can re-record it.  When you are satisfied, you can approve it and it will be posted immediately on the thread.

You can also upload a small photo of yourself from your computer to your Chinswing profile so that when people listen to your contribution, they can see what you look like.  This is optional.  You can also use your real name or a pseudonym.

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!

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.