It's the journey of a lifetime.
Ready to go?
This is the moment where you pack your bags, where we make sure you have everything you need for your journey.
Everything is new, so don't plan too far ahead.
Focus first on the next few months--the next 1-3 books. After that, you may not see things the same way anymore.
You may find you're a different sort of traveler.
And here are a few more travel tips before you go!
One: Stick with the authentic.
Grab a real book--by that, I mean, a book that a native speaker would read and enjoy.
A book that I myself would carry around in my purse (yes, my purse is big enough to carry at least one book!) A book one native speaker would recommend to her friend, or would send to her friend by mail.
A book that someone, somewhere in some coffee shop in San Francisco or Perth or London or Edinburgh is reading right now.
Or that someone is reading in bed, or in a bathtub or on a subway. Because they can't quite put it down.
That's the book you want!
"But," you say, "I'm just starting out!"
You might be wondering if you need a leveled reader--to ease into things.
The goal is not to read at a specific level. The goal is to read in authentic English--the way it's spoken in all it's beautiful variations.
Your English will rise to the occasion.
Can I share a secret with you?
I am in love with reading books in French. I started a long time ago (and I definitely wasn't always as good at it as I am now!)
But I have never read a leveled reader or an easy reader in French.
Do they even exist? I don't know!
My point is this. YOU can start with real books, stories, essays and articles.
- If you can read this, you can start reading authentic books.
- If I can do it in French, you can do it in English.
Just remember, you have to start your journey like any journey: one step at a time--Maybe in smaller steps at the beginning.
Will you take the guided tour or venture off into the side streets?
Look, your book adventure can take you on one path--through the leveled readers. And that would be like taking the bus tour of a city you're visiting.
You'll get the highlights, you'll see the sites, have a good time. You probably also won't break a sweat or get any blisters.
Or you could get off the bus and get lost on a side street.
Follow a local just because she looks like she knows where she's going. Get into a conversation where you understand maybe 70% of what is being said. Eat food that you've never tried before--in fact, let's be honest. You're not 100% sure what it is.
That would be an adventure! That's what it's like reading authentic books in English.
Take your journey in bits and pieces
How can you start reading real books? By starting with short stories, excerpts.
When I started reading in French, I read bits and pieces--beautiful bits and pieces. Small treasures.
It would be too kind to say that I had an intermediate level when I began.
It was messy. I'm not going to lie. But it was worth it!
To get started, try this (also try this later when you want to move on to reading even more difficult books!)
- Find a collection of short stories or essays. (remember, short is not easier--it's just more manageable!)
- Read one short story at a time, but read it 3 times at least.
- Look up words. Struggle with sentences that seem unclear.
- Take a victory lap at the end of the story and enjoy understanding the idea (if not the entirety) of what you read.
- Move onto the next story!
Remember, even if you don't understand it all, you're still taking an amazing adventure down the side street of real contemporary fiction.
And you're improving.
As long as you read a little bit every day--even if it's the same story several times, or slowly, you're improving.
Two: Don't travel alone.
Ok, look, maybe you are the solitary traveler--I am too. I will (and have) taken off on many a journey alone. In books and in life.
But when you're starting out reading in English, having someone to talk to can be a lifesaver. Did you understand that correctly? Is anyone else confused? Is anyone else surprised?
What's the difference between feeling confidence and enjoyment on an adventure and feeling frustration and confusion?
Sometimes it's a simple discussion with others.
For more chances to chat about books--come on over to the Vagabond English Book Club.
Keep a journal of your travels.
Make your journey unforgettable. Make it a part of you. Write it down.
- You remember more of the expressions, vocabulary and ways of speaking that native speakers use.
- You will also begin to make that language yours. You will start playing with ways to use what you've seen and read.
- You will have a chance to practice finding your thoughts before you need to express them. That extra practice, that moment of silence before you speak will make your words more elegant in English.
Whatever you do, don't skip this step.
Your Books, Your Traveling Companions
This blog post would be incomplete without a few book suggestions for you as you start out.
Remember, these are books I have read, enjoyed, carried in my purse in case I could sneak a peak at them. These are books I can and do recommend to my friends!
I've handpicked these books because I loved the writing, the stories, the characters.
And because they are also a good place to start when you're ready to start your reading adventure in English.
They are listed from the easiest to the most difficult.
So start here, but don't stop here.
Short Story (and Essay) Collections
I Feel Bad About my Neck by Nora Ephron (a great place to start!)
The Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri (elegant, simple, real-life situations)
The Secrets of a Fire King by Kim Edwards (more challenging, beautiful language!)
- What is Not Yours is Not Yours by Helen Oyoyemi (a real challenge, but worth it!)
Novels for Your Reading Adventure
The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith (Many of the chapters of this book read like short stories--a nice place to start and lots of fun.)
A Walk to Remember by Nicholas Sparks (elegant, conversational language...a love story)
Another Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson (simple, yet poetic writing, and one of my favorites this year!)
Trains and Lovers by Alexander McCall Smith (slightly more complex with it's stories within a story, but a beautiful experience.)
- The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime by Mark Haddon (A view of life from the mind of an autistic youth--a chance to solve some mysteries.)
What adventure will you choose?
Are you ready to start reading authentic books in English?
Are there 3-4 books you can imagine reading?
Where will you start?
Next time we'll talk about setting up a different sort of reading challenge--one that's just for you!
Leave your comments below or join the conversation at the Vagabond English Book Club.