This is The English Chronicles, the book club for English language learners.
I’m Veronica, an English tutor, a passionate reader, and a lover of languages. I know that learning languages can be fun, but it can also be very difficult. Like many people, I started learning a foreign language in high school. I took years of Spanish classes, but I could understand and speak very little. It wasn’t until I decided to take charge of my own learning that I saw my skills drastically improve.
One of the best things I did was teaching myself to read in Spanish.
While many argue that actually speaking a language is the best way to learn to, well, speak a language, there are also arguments that show the value of reading in your target language. Famed linguist Stephen Krashen uses the phrase Free Voluntary Reading, or FVR, to describe the practice of reading for fun for the purpose of learning a language.1 Reading is important because we acquire a language by understanding it. He says that those who read for fun develop better skills in reading, writing, grammar, and vocabulary. This is true for learning one’s native language and for learning foreign languages. This is also true for both children and adults.
However, language learners face a common problem: What should we read? To solve this, Krashen suggests what he calls “sheltered popular literature,” a combination of literature class and Free Voluntary Reading. In sheltered popular literature, the goal is the same as with any other literature class: to use literature to help us understand the world around us. Unlike traditional literature classes, the focus is not on the “classics.” Instead, the focus is on literature that you find interesting and can understand.
That’s the goal of The English Chronicles, to help you find literature that interests you and to help you understand it. It’s not that the classics aren’t worth reading, and we may read some together, but there is so much good literature published in English every day that there’s no need to limit yourself to books over a hundred years old. In this book club, we’ll read a lot of modern fiction and non-fiction that covers a variety of topics, plus some older literature that you may not have heard of. We’ll even read some literature translated into English. My hope is that you discover some new authors to love and that you make reading in English a lifelong habit.
Each month we’ll focus on one book, and each week we’ll discuss a portion of the book and what it means. Whether fiction, non-fiction, or a graphic novel, we’ll go through each text little by little so that you have time to read along, make notes, and look up words that are new to you. To help you with your listening comprehension, each episode will also be accompanied by a transcript, which you can find at the link in the description. My hope is that this will not only help you improve your English reading and listening comprehension, as you follow along with each episode, but also help you learn more about the people and the world around us.
With that in mind, please remember that I’m only one person and the way I interpret a text is only one way. I welcome hearing other interpretations of these books and what they make you think. That is one of the many benefits of being in a community of readers, and I hope that we can have lively discussions of these books.
Here are our first three selections:
The first book I’ve chosen is Exit West by Mohsin Hamid. Published in 2017, this novel is about a young couple – Nadia and Saeed – who live in an unnamed country that is on the edge of civil war. As violence breaks out in the streets, they begin to hear about doors that take people far away. The story follows the couple as they step through one of these doors and find out what waits for them on the other side. While the doors add an element of magical realism, much of the story is about the real effects of war and the way the world sees those who seek refuge from it.
Our next book will be Intimations by Zadie Smith. Published in 2020, Intimations is a short collection of six non-fiction essays. Smith began writing these essays at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, and she finished them shortly after the murder of George Floyd. The essays talk about a lot of the confusion many of us were feeling when the quarantine began, and they express much of the frustration and rage that drove many to protest the killing of an unarmed Black American man by police.
Our third book is very special to me, and it’s the book that lends the podcast its name. Many of you may know of Ray Bradbury’s most famous book Fahrenheit 451, but The Martian Chronicles was Bradbury’s first novel, published in 1950. It’s made up of a collection of short stories about the human colonization of Mars. This work of science-fiction may be 70 years old, but the themes it talks about continue to be important today. I still have my copy from when I was a teenager.
The next episode will cover Chapters 1-3 of Exit West. I hope you join me to discuss this book and our future selections and that it helps you improve your English in a way that is interesting and fun.
You can leave me comments or questions about the podcast or the book at theenglishchronicles.com, where you can also find a transcript of each episode, send an email to email@example.com, or find me on Instagram @theenglishchronicles.
I look forward to hearing your thoughts on English language learning and Exit West. Until then, keep reading.
- Stephen Krashen, “Free Voluntary Reading: New Research, Applications, and Controversies,” April 2004, http://sdkrashen.com/content/articles/singapore.pdf.