Dipping into English classics
We can’t all afford to live in an English-speaking country, but as English Trackers CEO Bridget Rooth points out, there are plenty of ways you can immerse yourself in the English language back home. Reading English novels is one of them. Not only is it a way to expand your mind and enjoy yourself; it will also expose you to new vocabulary, help you internalise grammar rules and allow you to see the language as used by the masters.
Of course, you will probably come across words that you don’t understand, but the key is to carry on reading regardless. Try to infer the meaning from the context. This is an essential skill to master in becoming a fluent English speaker.
Your chances of understanding are greatly improved by picking your reading material carefully. Books on a subject you love will be more enjoyable to read and easier to finish; short novels that you can get through quickly will give you a motivational boost; and it’s always worth choosing books with clear, simple prose.
Five recommended classics
While many learners wouldn’t begin their reading lives with the classics of English literature, the truth is that many of our best writers were champions of clear, concise writing (think George Orwell or Ernest Hemmingway). The following books are all worth a try for intermediate students or above.
Animal Farm, George Orwell – In this short and well-written fable, Orwell imagines the Russian communist state as a farmyard and tells the story in his famously straightforward style.
Of Mice and Men, John Steinbeck – Steinbeck’s classic novel follows two migrant workers looking for work in Great Depression-era America. It provides a fascinating glimpse of life and social relations at the time, although the dialogue can be a bit tricky!
A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens – A Christmas Carol helped usher in Christmas as we celebrate it today and is less than a tenth of the length of Dickens’ other novels David Copperfield or Nicholas Nickleby.
The Old Man and the Sea, Ernest Hemingway – Hemingway’s books are very popular with learners of English and are often read in schools. This story following a Cuban fisherman trying to catch a giant marlin is the best introduction to his work.
The Hound of the Baskervilles, Arthur Conan Doyle – The best known of Conan Doyle’s four Sherlock Holmes novels, The Hound of the Baskervilles was originally serialised for a magazine, so the writing is easy to understand. And it certainly helps that we’re already familiar with the Sherlock character from CBS’s Elementary or the BBC’s Sherlock.
The length of popular novels today
For every short novel we read, there is always a brick-sized tome that refuses to fit in our bags. According to research from publishing platform FlipSnack, the average length of popular novels has increased from 320 pages in 1999 to 407 pages in 2014.
No one knows for sure why this is happening, but there are several possible reasons. It could be because ereaders have made longer books seem less intimidating to read and easier to carry around. It could be because readers have started to equate number of pages with value for money. It could be that longer novels offer an escape from the snippets of information on the internet. I would be interested to know your thoughts in the comments!
Photo credit: Marwa Morgan via photopin cc
About the Author: In addition to our regular posts, written by members of our team at English Trackers, we also encourage those who have something to say about language and are interested in penning a guest post for our blog to get in touch with us.
This post is by Matt Lindley a blogger and content creator based in London. In no particular oder, he loves language, music and art.
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