Posted By P & L Blog

What books would you recomment to an adult friend learning English as a second (or third) language?

Source: The Wall Street Journal

Young-adult novels are a good choice for adult students because they tend to be clear and compact, but a steady diet of adolescent main characters might start to grate. There's an extensive annotated list of novels for intermediate language students at (the library of the City College of San Francisco). Almost all of them are young-adult novels like "The Giver," the story of a boy in a dystopian society where everyone is happy.

You might also piggyback some American culture and history on the curriculum by introducing young-adult books from earlier decades: "The Yearling" by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings; "Old Yeller" by Fred Gipson; "Johnny Tremain" by Esther Forbes; "Shane" by Jack Schaefer; or one of my personal favorites, "My Side of the Mountain" by Jean Craighead George. I'd add the Anne of Green Gables books by L.M. Montgomery (set in Canada), because over the nine-book series, Anne Shirley becomes an adult.

Remembering "Shane" reminded me of westerns—might some of Louis L'Amour's books be manageable for intermediate or advanced students? Another genre to explore is the memoir—simple inspiring stories of Helen Keller ("The Story of My Life"); Russell Baker ("Growing Up"); or James McBride ("The Color of Water").

Short stories have the virtue of shortness, appreciated by bone-tired students. Daphne du Maurier wrote thrilling short stories (two of which were made into the movies "The Birds" and "Don't Look Now"—read the story, see the movie). Alice Munro writes clear, spare prose to great effect, as do Jean Thompson and Amy Bloom. James Thurber, a master of the short story, wrote "The Wonderful O," in which a wrathful pirate banishes the letter "o" from the English language. Wnderful wrd play.


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Translations Of Camilo Jose Cela
Today is the birthday of three Spanish intellectuals: Salvador Dalí, Camilo José Cela, and Francisco Umbral. While everyone is familiar with Dalí's work, Cela and Umbral are not as well known in English-speaking circles.

Cela won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1989, and several of his books were made into films.  His novel, "The Family of Pascual Duarte" (La Familia de Pascual Duarte) is said to be the most widely read book in Spain after "Don Quixote".   The book was banned in Spain for several years, even though Cela had briefly worked for the government as a censor. His writings are widely available in English and other languages.

Umbral was one of the most prolific Spanish writers in the second part of the 20th century, writing 80 books along with a regular newspaper column. He was a critic of the left, an unpopular position to take in post-Franco intellectual circles.  Like Dalí, he enjoyed the high profile he achieved from his work and he was ubiquitous at social events in Madrid.  My guess is that he will remain unknown in the US; Amazon lists many of his works, but no English translations. For literature to persist in our memories, it has to be accessible first.


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The Great Gatsby

In ""7 Tips for Leaders Working Overseas", Margarita Gokun Silver suggests that people moving abroad read fiction which takes place in and is written by an author native to the country where they are relocating.  The idea is that the reader will begin to understand the country's value system and the people who live there.  I think it's a great suggestion, and it got me thinking about what book(s) I would recommend to someone moving to the US.

I know a lot of people think "Huckleberry Finn" is the quintessential American novel, but I don't think it would be the best choice to understand 21st century, multicultural America.  I'm more tempted by "The Great Gatsby", which depicts the promise of rags-to-riches success as well as the perils of excess. 

I'm not sure it's the best book. Is "Gatsby" too dated? Is there a more recent work of fiction that would help someone "get" the US? What book would you recommend?



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Are you about to relocate?  You can experience culture shock even if you just move to another state, not to mention another country.  The "Culture Shock Tool Kit" can help you manage the transition.  The book has activities that teach you how to adjust to your new home and is available in English, Spanish, and Russian.

Have you ever experienced culture shock? What advice would you give to someone who's about to move?



Image by karramorro under Creative Commons license.








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