Belmont International English

Books

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In my opinion, the very best way to improve your English is to talk.  The second best way is to read. 
 
Reading modern writers allows you to strengthen your vocabulary. Many words have several meanings, and by reading the words in context, you can get a "feel" for the subtleties of the meaning.  Even somewhat familiar words get more deeply imbedded in your brain with repetition.  In addition, you get used to certain word patterns.  As students we will often make up sentences which are grammatically correct, but don't "sound right."  Familiarity with how Americans actually talk and write helps students learn and use these patterns.  Of course, reading books by American writers allows you to understand American culture better.  I use books in several ways.

Books in Class

In all my classes, we read books.  In the intermediate levels, I like to use books for young people.  These have good, classic stories that have been shortened, and have had the language simplified.  I like the Bullseye Step Into Classics, published by Random House.  I have used a lot of their classics, including Tarzan, Treasure Island, Oliver Twist, The Last of the Mohicans, and others.  I also like the Dover publications' Thrift Classics and Children's Thrift Classics http://www.doverpublications.com . Most of their titles are no longer protected by copyright, and they are pretty cheap.  They also have some unabridged books for more advanced students.  My favorites for reading in class are The Pearl, by John Steinbeck, The Old Man and the Sea, by Ernest Hemingway, I Heard the Owl Call my Name, by Margaret Craven, and Call of the Wild, by Jack London.
 
Some of my students, even quite advanced students, take one look at the book, and are frightened.  I explain that this exercise is quite different from the exercises they are used to.  So many of them come from classes in their countries, where grammar is paramount, and mistakes are a sign of failure.  I encourage them to read it fast, using a dictionary not at all or very occasionally.  This is distressing to many students, because they want to understand every word.  I tell them to make a note if there is a word, or a sentence, or a paragraph, or a whole page that they don't understand, and we'll discuss it in class.  Sometimes we work on guessing at words.  In The Pearl, for instance, it says, "...a covey of little birds chittered and flurried with their wings."  I ask them what "chittered and flurried with their wings" means.  Usually, they are able to guess the meaning.  If not, I say, "Who cares?  It's something birds do in trees.  Move on."  During the discussion, about 30 min.once a week, I answer some questions on  vocabulary and grammar, but I spend the vast majority of the time encouraging discussion about the plot and theme of the book.   Most, but not all, students get into the swing of it and enjoy the discussions, which are an excellent way to get them to try to express abstract ideas.  Some are just too perfectionistic to live with uncertainty, but even these students benefit from the discussions.

Book Club

Every month, we choose a book to read independently, and we meet at my house to discuss the book.  The books for book club are always unabridged, but I try to pick books that are short, are available in the library in sufficient quantities,  and have relatively uncomplicated language. 
Tuesdays with Morrie was a hit, as was Bel Canto.  I thought they'd like a western, but Louis Lamour was a bust.  
 
These meetings are an excellent opportunity to meet in a very relaxed atmosphere.  I encourage students to bring husbands, wives, or friends.  The only requirement is that they have read the book. 
 
Click here to go to Book Club on the Nashville Student page.

Extracurricular reading

I encourage all students to visit the public library, and to get a library card.  We are very fortunate in Nashville that we have a wonderful public library system, with branches alll over the city.  Many students like to try books on tape, which are available through the library.
 
For the intermediate students, I have a moderate sized personal collection of classics for young people, and some unabridged American classics.  I encourage my students to take the books out and to read them in their spare time at home.  Occasionally, someone moves away and forgets to return his borrowed book, but most students go to great lengths to  get the books back to me.

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