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Summer Reading

The summer is here! What a relief. Now we can take a break and stop thinking about learning, teaching, studying, homework and on and on.  When I was in school I did what most students do today, threw those books in the bottom drawer all the way in the back where they could be forgotten forever, well, at least for 2 months anyways.  Never thinking about it for a second, while I enjoyed my summer vacation and spent long warm sunny days outdoors with friends playing sports and chilling. Ahhh what a relief indeed.

Resist the urge to take a break

Of course now that I am a teacher I have a bit of a different perspective on the summer experience and what it entails.  I’ve learned that when it comes to language learning the summer can be the most critical time period for us language learners.  I’m including myself in that category as I’m in the difficult, some say impossible, process of learning Polish.  My goodness, I won’t get into that here but suffice to say that it is the most difficult thing I think I’ve ever had to do.  Upon finishing the semester I raised my hands in celebration and ecstasy that it was over, and time for a celebratory drink!  Not so fast.  A two-month hiatus is exactly the misstep we need to avoid, because in actuality it will negate all the hard work we just put in the past 10 months in getting as far as we did.

Now is the critical time folks.  What we do, in these summer months when we have more time than usual, we control the direction our language learning path will go.  We either embrace the challenge and keep practicing or go off into the sunset and leave the knowledge we gained and the effort we exerted behind, where the tides of the sea will come in to wash away all that vocabulary, all that grammar, all those wonderful idioms and expressions as well as slang we sweated to learn.  Shame! But that’s the reality.  So what to do? I’ll tell you. Read, and when you can, read some more, and after that, continue to read. If your language level is higher than my pitiful Polish than incorporating some authentic listening in there is quite enriching as well.  But we will get to that at the end of the post.

Approach reading as an enjoyable exercise

You don’t need me to provide evidence or proof of the effectiveness of reading because logic and reason should suffice.  Language learning requires constant practice people.  We know deep down that the only way to get over the hump is to keep at it, repetition, repeat, do-over, whatever you want to call it, just give it your all.  Two months? Jeez that’s a long time isn’t it? With that said, there’s something we can do about it.  I’ve put together a list of some books for your summer reading and these are just ideas but there are also plenty of websites that offer great ideas. Let’s start with my recommendations:

1) A Million Little Pieces by James Frey

– An engaging read about the road to recovery from drug abuse. Doesn’t matter if you like the subject because the writing is fantastic.  The human condition (Intermediate students or higher)

2) The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon

-A great story told in the first person from an autistic child’s perspective (Intermediate or higher)

3) Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand

-The true story of an American soldier and his journey of survival during World War II in the pacific (Intermediate or higher)

4) Bringing Down the House by Ben Mezrich

-A true story on how a group of math wizzes at MIT figured out how to win at blackjack. (Upper-Intermediate and higher)

5) Freakonomics by Stephen J. Dubner and Steven D. Levitt

-The science of using economics to explain and maybe even solve some of our everyday social issues/problems (Upper-Intermediate and higher)

6) Rich Dad, Poor Dad by Robert T. Kiyosaki

-A great introduction to the basics of money management in our lives, told in a simple and engaging way (short read, Intermediates will be challenged but can manage)

7) The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

-A best seller from 2015/psychological thriller (Intermediate and higher)

8) The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

-Another best seller and psychological thriller (Intermediate challenge and higher)

9) In a Sunburned Country by Bill Bryson

-A hilarious first-take experience on the land down under (Australia).  A fantastic and enjoyable read (Upper-Intermediate)

10) One Summer: America, 1927 by Bill Bryson

-Another classic by this author about one summer that brought amazing changes to America and inevitably to the world. Funny and entraining as always (Upper-Intermediate)

The benefits for ESL students

So those are my top ten choices for ESL learners this summer.  I’ve tried to be diverse in my choices and avoided the sci-fi and fantasy genres because quite frankly they don’t offer the same amount of practical vocabulary that ESL learners can use as often in their daily lives.  However, reading is reading so if you feel like that’s what you prefer then by all means, hit it.  The list clearly favors the middle and upper echelons of learning levels but there is a great site you can check out with ideas for younger learners or lower level ones.  Plenty of categories to discover what’s best.  This site is a great option for anyone living in Poland, which has a huge selection to choose from.

It’s a win/win people.  Reading allows us to recycle and consolidate what we have studied and worked so hard on all school year.  We get exposure to the language, the vocabulary in particular, and familiarize ourselves with sentence structure, idioms, phrasal verbs etc.  Summer offers the perfect opportunity for this because of time.  I’ve talked about time before and its importance, but I think it’s obvious that summer offers us an abundance of time we would dream to have during the school year.  So there are no excuses really.  Choose a method that works best for you, i.e. translating sentences or words as you go, or reading slowly and steadily to simply get the gist or making a list of words you specifically want to incorporate in your personal vocabulary bank. Got it? Boom!

Building momentum

I believe the hardest part is taking charge and actually picking up that book and going for it.  I’m not big on excuses.  We all have the tools and the summer provides us with the time so all that is left is willpower! I came across a quote recently while preparing my lessons, it was from Lao Tzu, it read “Time is a created thing. To say ‘I don’t have time,’ is like saying, ‘I don’t want to.”
I’ve always found the beginning of an endeavor challenging but once you get started the momentum grows.  I believe that.  The start is never easy but the reward in the end is something to behold and on top of that the feeling of  achievement is truly gratifying.  Besides, if all that is not reason enough, how can anyone resist sitting outside on a beautiful warm sunny day, hearing the birds sign with a book in your hands and if need be an ice cold drink by your side… A-men.

‘Nough said, happy reading!

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