To Be, or just Being There: reading public domain vs. contemporary literature

To Be, or just Being There:
reading public domain vs. contemporary literature

One of the advantages of technology, especially for English language learners, is online literature. Reading is an important English skill. Online literature makes it easier to practice. Sources such as the BBC website have news items and special ESL/EFL sections. However, as interesting as they are, these sites are more like a one-sided lecture than a language exchange. They may have questions and tasks for you, but interacting with them is limited.

A better way to learn about Western culture is by reading fiction stories and novels (poetry is also good but more difficult to understand). There are websites with public domain literature you can download. A popular example is “Gutenberg.com”. Gutenberg is an umbrella organization. This means it organizes many different websites into one group. All of its websites store, catalogue and provide access to public domain literature. You can read novels by Charles Dickens, Mark Twain, Samuel Hawthorne, DH Lawrence, Joseph Conrad and many others (if you don’t know these names, head to Gutenberg now, they’re that important).

However, public domain literature is more than 70 years old (sometimes much older). The grammar and language is much different from how we speak today. Idioms have become cliches. Sentences sound like something a grandparent might say. Reading these is more work than pleasure. Even native English speakers find public domain literature confusing; and Shakespeare? The average person can’t understand Shakespeare at all. Even authors like Jack London can be difficult to understand.

By comparison, contemporary authors (who are alive and writing today) use language that is relevant now. These books and stories demonstrate how people talk to each other day to day, and include native English speakers mistakes (and, yes, we do make them). Some authors use more difficult language (for example, xxx) while others use simpler language (writers like James Michener) so everyone can enjoy their books. The trick is to find an author whose writing you enjoy and focus on reading their work.

Reading contemporary authors can be expensive but you can sometimes find paper copies of their books in libraries, used book stores, garage sales and flea markets. Some novels even show up as audio books you can listen to. Don’t ignore public domain literature completely; it’s a good way to learn about Western culture. But if you want to learn to use the language, today’s writers are the obvious choice.
April 8, 2020
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John Kenmuir

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Hi, I'm John! I've been an ESL/EFL teacher since 1995 (more than 26 years) and I've taught students in Canada (my home country), China, South Korea and Saudi Arabia. I hold the CELTA teaching certificate from Cambridge University and I'm a former IELTS speaking examiner (I like challenges). If you'd like to check out the book I wrote about the IELTS exam, head over to Amazon.com and search for the title "Surviving IELTS Speaking" (I plan to write more educational books in the future). Most of my Verbling students want to practice their conversation skills with varying degrees of feedback; I love chatting with people around the world and I'm very curious. If you want to discuss music, I can introduce you to artists like Bob Dylan, who won the Nobel Peace Prize for literature and is considered an American legend, or to Fleetwood Mac, whose 1975 album "Rumours" described not just their own personal problems but those of an American nation still haunted by Watergate, the end of the Vie...
Flag
English
globe
Canada
time
79
Speaks:
English
Native
,
Spanish
A2
Hi, I'm John! I've been an ESL/EFL teacher since 1995 (more than 26 years) and I've taught students in Canada (my home country), China, South Korea and Saudi Arabia. I hold the CELTA teaching certificate from Cambridge University and I'm a former IELTS speaking examiner (I like challenges). If you'd like to check out the book I wrote about the IELTS exam, head over to Amazon.com and search for the title "Surviving IELTS Speaking" (I plan to write more educational books in the future). Most of my Verbling students want to practice their conversation skills with varying degrees of feedback; I love chatting with people around the world and I'm very curious. If you want to discuss music, I can introduce you to artists like Bob Dylan, who won the Nobel Peace Prize for literature and is considered an American legend, or to Fleetwood Mac, whose 1975 album "Rumours" described not just their own personal problems but those of an American nation still haunted by Watergate, the end of the Vie...
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