Beautiful English: More Than “Where’s the Bathroom?”

(photo by JLN)

(photo by JLN, 10/15)

Do you ever think English is boring?

Do you think English is only grammar, vocabulary, and repetition? Is it too useful? Too pragmatic? Do other languages seem more beautiful?

People speak English in 68 countries in the world. 54 countries have English as their official language.  We use English every day in the United States, but most of our interaction is not very poetic.

When you first start to learn English, you learn a few set phrases:

  • Hello! How are you?
  • Where’s the bathroom?
  • Help! Police! Fire! Call 9-1-1! Emergency!
  • I’m sorry, I don’t speak English.

Literature

As you continue to learn English, you learn different verb tenses. You learn more vocabulary. You learn different ways to express yourself. You learn how to get around in U.S. society. But you don’t see a lot of beautiful English. We don’t teach William Shakespeare, John Keats, Mark Twain, or Walt Whitman in ESL class. (This is normal. Most Americans don’t read these “classic writers” either!)

But, we don’t teach Stephen King (popular horror novelist), Stephanie Meyer (“Twilight”), or Jodi Picoult (mystery, romance) either.

When you learn a new language, you learn how to use it pragmatically (everyday, useful English) and figuratively (imagination). One good way to learn both is by reading. Of course, it’s not necessary to read “Great Expectations” by Charles Dickens–it’s too big for a first start! But it’s important to know that the English language has a lot of good literature in it, too.

Practice

Remember, when you read in a different language, you should understand about 85% of it. It’s not necessary to understand every single word. Sometimes it’s OK just to understand the idea.

Here are some poems you might like. Click on the title for a link to the poem.

Here are some short stories you might enjoy.

  • Button, Button (a story about a couple who receives a mysterious box on their front porch)
  • The Selfish Giant (a story about a Giant who didn’t allow children to play in his garden)
  • All Summer in a Day (a story about life on a planet where it only rains once every 7 years)
  • Sunday in the Park (a story about a conflict with two families in a park)

Please enjoy!

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