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Welcome to Easy Stories in English, the podcast that will take your English from OK to Good, and from Good to Great.
I am Ariel Goodbody, your host for this show. Today’s episode is for beginners and intermediate learners. You will hear the same text at a beginner level and an intermediate level. The name of the episode is Why You Must Read. You can find a transcript of the episode at EasyStoriesInEnglish.com/Read. That’s EasyStoriesInEnglish.com/Read. This contains the full text, as well as my conversation before it.
So you probably noticed that I said ‘text’ instead of ‘story’ today. That’s because today’s episode is going to be a bit different.
Next Monday, on the 19th of July, I’ll be releasing Easy Stories in English. This is a book that will have 10 stories in it, but what is different about this book is that there will be four versions: a beginner version, a pre-intermediate version, an intermediate version and an advanced version.
I sent the book to my exclusive book team, and several people tried reading it in several levels. That is, they read the stories in one level and then read them in a higher level. They found this really useful, and I’m sure you will, too.
So today, I decided to give you an idea of how it works. As the stories go up by level, I have added more vocabulary, but also more details, to make it interesting. The book starts with an introduction, called Why You Must Read. In this introduction, I give you all the reasons why reading is really important for improving your English, and I talk about scientific studies that show why.
So, first you will hear the beginner version of Why You Must Read, and then you will hear the intermediate version. This way, you can get an idea of how the books will work, and you can know if you want to buy them when they come out.
If you join my email list, you will get an email when the books are available online. You can join the list at EasyStoriesInEnglish.com/Email.
OK, I’ll just explain some words that are in the beginner-level text.
Pleasure means enjoyment, fun. For example, I take pleasure in eating chocolate. I really enjoy eating chocolate. But you might take pleasure in eating broccoli. Hey, everyone’s different!
When you do an experiment, you try something new and see what happens. Scientists do experiments to learn more about the world. Chefs often experiment with food.
A crime is when you do something bad that you shouldn’t do. If you do a crime and the police find out, they will take you to prison. For example, if you steal a car, that is a crime, and if the police catch you, they will take you to prison.
When there is no sound, when nobody is speaking, there is silence. Actually, we don’t have true silence very often. There is usually some sound. For me personally, I find it hard to concentrate without silence. If people are talking, I can’t concentrate.
When you do something naturally, you do it in the normal way, the correct way, and it is easy. For example, if you learn to sing naturally, you just sing songs that you like and get better that way. But you can also learn to sing in a more unnatural way, where you have a teacher, do exercises and so on. Sometimes, learning naturally is the best way, but other times it isn’t.
A novel is a book with a story, and novels are usually quite long. Harry Potter is an example of a novel. If a book is not about a story, but about real things, then it is not a novel. If the story is quite short, then it is not a novel, but a short story.
Science fiction or sci-fi is a genre, a type of story. Science fiction stories are about the future. They are often about space, robots and aliens. For example, Star Trek and Star Wars are science fiction stories.
A translation is when you take a text in one language and put it in a different language. For example, sometimes stories on Easy Stories in English are translations. I might translate a story from Japanese or Czech into English. Translation is quite hard work, though.
An expert is someone who knows a lot about a certain subject. For example, university professors are usually experts in their field, in their area. You could say I am an expert in teaching English using stories, but I don’t know if this is true. I don’t have a master’s degree or a doctorate!
When you follow a story, you read the story and understand what is happening. If you don’t follow a story, then you find it hard to understand what is going on. Maybe the writer wasn’t very clear, and the story is hard to follow.
OK, so listen and enjoy!
Why You Must Read (Beginner level)
‘Why do I need to read in English?’
My students often ask me this. They think, ‘I go to classes, I do my homework, I watch films in English. Why should I read books?’
Actually, reading is the best way to improve your English. I will tell you why.
First, reading is very important now. In 2006, only 1 in 100 people went to university. Now, 7 in 100 people go to university. All jobs need more reading and writing than 100 years ago. This is true for everyone. It doesn’t matter if you’re an office worker or a mechanic.
Second, reading will improve your speaking, writing, vocabulary and grammar better than any other way. It won’t improve your listening, but it will improve your vocabulary. And when you have a better vocabulary, you can listen more easily, and improve your listening that way.
In school, you probably read lots of English. You probably read boring textbooks and stories with exercises at the end.
But I’m not talking about that. I’m talking about reading for pleasure.
That means reading a book you enjoy because you enjoy it. You are not reading because your teacher said, ‘Read this book.’ You are not reading because you think, ‘I should read this book.’ You are reading because you want to.
In 1965, they did an experiment in schools in America. These schools were for boys who had done crimes. For example, some of them stole things. They gave some of the boys free books. They were fun books, like James Bond. They said, ‘You can do what you want. You don’t have to read the books.’
But the boys did read the books. They read a lot of books. Some boys read a book every two days.
After two years, they gave the students a test. The students who got the books got better at reading and writing, and they liked school more. The students who did not get the books did not get better at reading and writing. Actually, some of them got worse.
This isn’t just true for native speakers. They also did an experiment on students learning English in the Fiji islands. They used three ways to teach. The first way was normal English teaching. They did grammar classes, exercises and so on. The second way was reading in silence. The students read books in class. The third way was reading together. The teacher read books to the students.
After one year, the two ways with reading were the best. They were much better than the students who did normal English classes. They did the experiment again in Singapore. There, the students who read in silence did very well. They did the best in grammar tests. Other students did grammar classes, but they did worse in grammar tests!
In normal classes, we try to remember grammar and vocabulary. When we read, we learn them naturally.
Maybe you’re thinking, ‘When I read in English, it’s too hard! I have to use the dictionary all the time. It’s boring. I can’t do it.’
I understand. So I wrote this book. I think this book will make you like reading, because the stories are easy and fun. The early stories are short and easy, and the later stories are longer and harder. When you finish the book, you will think, ‘Wow, I did it!’
I make a podcast called Easy Stories in English. Nine of the stories in this book I wrote for Easy Stories in English. One of the stories I wrote for this book. But when I made this book, I made the stories better. Now you can read the stories at beginner, pre-intermediate, intermediate or advanced levels. The stories are all fairy tales. Some are very popular fairy tales, but some are not so popular. One of them I wrote myself.
Maybe you’re thinking: ‘Fairy tales? Fairy tales are for children! I need useful vocabulary. I need to learn about business and science. That can’t be fun!’
Actually, the vocabulary in these stories will be useful. McQuillan did an experiment where he looked at vocabulary in 22 novels. 85% of the words were on academic word lists (these are lists of words that you need to know to study at university). Rolls and Rogers also did an experiment. They said, ‘If students read a million words of science fiction, will they learn important science words for studying at university?’ The answer was yes.
So yes, fairy tales are useful for you, too.
But I understand if you still don’t believe me. When I learned about all this, I found it hard to believe, too. But I like to try new things, and I love learning languages.
So in 2017, I decided to do an experiment. I had wanted to learn Spanish for a long time, but I didn’t learn much in normal classes. I said, ‘I will read a million words in Spanish. Afterwards, I will see what my level is.’ A million words is about twenty novels, so it was a lot of work.
I started with very easy reading, like this book. Then I started reading translations of books that I knew in English. For example, I have read Harry Potter and Game of Thrones in English, so I read them in Spanish, too.
Finally, I read new books in Spanish. I read Latin American authors (that means writers) such as Isabel Allende, Luis Jorge Borges and Manuel Puig. I loved them. I also listened to podcasts, but I always read the transcripts and added the words to my goal.
After I finished reading a million words, I wrote and talked to native speakers. I was at an intermediate level. I could understand almost everything I read, I could understand people when they spoke clearly, and I could have conversations. And I had spent most my time reading, not speaking!
In one year I learned more than most students learn in five years.
I didn’t try to remember grammar and vocabulary. I learned them naturally.
Maybe you’re thinking, ‘I don’t believe this!’ or maybe you’re thinking, ‘Wow! I’m going to read for hours every day!’
But I have to say something very important: you must read books that are easy. You must read books that are fun. If a book is too difficult or too boring, put it down and find another one.
Stephen Krashen, an expert in language teaching, says, ‘Only read things in English that are fun and interesting. Read things that are really easy, that you wouldn’t read in your native language because they are “too” easy. So you can read comics, magazines, detective stories, romance stories and so on. Don’t feel bad about reading translations.’
If you read very easy books, when you see a word you don’t know, you will understand the meaning easily. You won’t have to use a dictionary.
So what is ‘easy’? Experiments show that you should understand at least 98% of the words in a text.
‘98%? That’s so high!’
I know. But let me show you an example. Here is a text where 10% of the words are not real words. So you should understand 90% of the words.
Jerry FLURGED out of bed and opened the curtains. He BIMPED to himself as he made breakfast. He made coffee and put butter on his POFFER. Someone called his phone, and he picked it up. He was very surprised by who was TORNGLING, so his VINKY fell on the floor.
Is that easy to understand? Could you read a whole book of that?
Here is the same text, but only 2% of the words are not real. So you should understand 98% of the words:
Jerry jumped out of bed and opened the curtains. He sang to himself as he made breakfast. He made coffee and put butter on his toast. Someone called his phone, and he picked it up. He was very surprised by who was calling, so his VINKY fell on the floor.
How was that? You probably didn’t understand everything, but it was more fun to read than the first text. That’s why reading for pleasure is so great: maybe you don’t understand everything, but you understand enough to follow the story, and you don’t have to pick up a dictionary!
So if you find that this book is too hard, read something easier. If you find it boring, read something more fun. I know that not everyone likes my writing, and that’s OK. Find a book that is good for you. When we have fun, we learn much more.
Because I want this book to be fun, it has no exercises in it. I thought about adding them after each story, but I don’t think it’s a good way to spend your time. Instead, you should read more. Read for pleasure. If you finish this book, you can try the level above. Because you already read the stories, you will know them well, and it will be easier to understand.
But maybe when you finish this book you will love stories. I hope so! If you do want to read more, you can listen to my podcast, Easy Stories in English. I write a new story every week, with audio and text, and there are over a hundred episodes for you to listen to.
Happy reading and happy learning!
I hope you enjoyed the beginner level version. Now I’ll just explain some words that are in the intermediate-level text.
Proficiency means skill. Usually, we use the word ‘proficiency’ to talk about language skills. If you have a high level of proficiency in English, it means you can talk and write English very well.
When you train your ear, you try to make your ear better at hearing different sounds. Usually, there are two ways you can train your ear. You can train your ear for music, so that you can hear the difference between different musical notes better. Or you can train your ear for language, so that you can listen better in that language.
A juvenile delinquent is a young person, a juvenile, who has done crimes, a delinquent. Juvenile delinquents do not go to prison, as they are not adults. Instead, they go to juvenile delinquent reform centres, which are places, centres, to help make these people better, to reform them.
When you replicate a study, you take an academic study that has already happened and do it again, but in a different place. The idea is that you keep all the conditions the same, to see if you get the same results when you replicate the study. If a study has been replicated many times with the same results, then scientifically we can say that this idea has been proven or disproven.
When you memorise something, you make yourself remember it. There are many ways to memorise things. One way is to repeat it, to say it many times to yourself. Another way is to think of an image, a picture, that goes with it. To be honest, people often try to memorise words when they learn a language, but this is a very bad way of learning words, as you will forgot it within a few months.
Second language acquisition is the scientific study of how we learn languages. Second languages are languages that are not your native language, your first language, and acquisition means acquiring, learning. The field of second language acquisition has lots of important research for language teachers like me!
When you say that there is no shame in doing something, it means that you should not feel shame, you should not feel bad, for doing it. For example, many people worry about making mistakes when speaking a language, but there is no shame in making mistakes. Making mistakes is a natural part of learning a language, so we shouldn’t feel shame for doing it.
When something is comprehensible, it means you can easily understand it. When I teach, I work hard to make sure that I am comprehensible to the students, that the students can easily understand me. Hopefully, today’s episode will be comprehensible to you!
‘Don’t sweat it’ means ‘don’t worry about it’. For example, if one of my students says, ‘I’m really sorry, Miss! I tried really hard to complete my homework by today, but I ran out of time… Can I have more time to do it?’ I would say, ‘Don’t sweat it! Take as long as you need.’
When you contradict something, you say the opposite of it, you say something against it. For example, if you tell your children, ‘Don’t smoke!’ but then you go outside and smoke a cigarette, you’re contradicting yourself. Actually, humans contradict ourselves very often.
OK, so listen and enjoy!
Why You Must Read (Intermediate level)
‘Why do I need to read in English?’
I get this question a lot from students. They argue that, as long as they’re going to classes, doing their homework and watching films in English, there’s no need to sit down with something as boring and old-fashioned as a book.
Well, to put it simply, they’re wrong. In fact, reading is the best thing you can do to learn English, and I’m here to tell you why.
Firstly, reading skills are more important than ever, whether that be in English or your native language. In 2006, only 1 in 100 people went to university. Now, it’s 7 in 100. All jobs, from office workers to mechanics, require far more reading and writing than a century ago. The competition is higher, and readers win.
Secondly, reading is the best way to improve proficiency in English overall. Yes, you heard me right. Reading will improve your speaking, writing, vocabulary and grammar far more efficiently than any other method. It won’t improve your listening skills, but it will give you the vocabulary necessary to train your ear quickly.
But it’s not just any reading we’re talking about. In school, you probably read lots in English. Boring textbooks and stories with exercises at the end.
No, we’re not talking about that. We’re talking about reading for pleasure.
That means reading a book because you enjoy it. Not because your teacher told you to. Not because it’s what you’re ‘supposed’ to read to improve your English. No questions, no book reports. Just pure pleasure.
‘Yeah, right!’ you’re probably thinking. ‘That’s too good to be true.’
Let me show you.
In 1965, an experiment was carried out in juvenile delinquent reform centres in America. One group of the students were given free books. They made sure they were exciting books that would appeal to young boys, such as James Bond. But unlike most reading programmes, they were not required to read the books. They were simply given them. They could throw the books away, give them back, or draw on the pages, and nobody would punish them for it.
But the boys did read them. They read a lot of them. Some of them read a book every two days.
At the end of two years, they tested the students. Not only did their reading and writing greatly improve, so did their attitude towards school. But the students who were not on this programme stayed the same. In fact, some of them got worse over the two years.
This isn’t just for native speakers, either. A study of English as a Second Language (ESL) students in the Fiji islands looked at three methods: traditional English teaching, sustained silent reading (which means reading in silence for a long time), and a more conventional reading programme, where the teachers read aloud to the students.
By the end of the first year, students taught with the two reading methods had a 15 month advantage in English ability, compared to the 6.5 months of the traditional method. When the study was replicated in Singapore, the students who did only sustained silent reading did better on grammar tests than the students who had taken only grammar classes!
When we do grammar exercises, we try to memorise the rules of the language. When we read, we absorb them.
But I know what you’re thinking: ‘That’s all well and good, but when I pick up a book in English, it’s too hard for me! I get bored of looking up words, and I give up after a few minutes.’
That’s why I wrote this book. It is designed to make you fall in love with reading, by providing fun, familiar stories that are easy to understand.
The stories gradually increase in difficulty and length, so that you can feel a sense of progression and success at the end. Most of them were originally released on my podcast, Easy Stories in English, but they have been rewritten and improved for this book, as well as having a version for each language level. They are a mix of classic and less popular fairy tales, as well as one that I wrote myself.
Again, I know what you’re thinking: ‘Fairy tales? But those are for kids! I need useful vocabulary, about business and science and technology. There’s no way to make that fun!’
The thing with language is, there isn’t such a big difference between Important Language and Fun Language. We use a wide range of words when talking about technical topics as well as chatting with our friends.
A study by McQuillan examined vocabulary in 22 novels and found that they included 85% of words on academic word lists. Rolls and Rogers found that, if a student read a million words of science fiction, they would acquire many of the technical words required for a science degree.
So yes, reading fairy tales will help your English in all areas, even for academic purposes. As an English teacher, I’ve seen many times that the students who do the best are those who read the most. For IELTS, for university, for business or just for travel, reading is the factor that predicts success.
But I understand if you’re still unsure. When I learned about all this, I was, too. But I like to experiment, and I have a passion for learning languages.
So in 2017, I decided to test this theory. I had wanted to learn Spanish for a long time, but aside from struggling with Duolingo and not really learning anything, I hadn’t made a serious attempt. I set myself a goal: I would read a million words in Spanish and see what my level was afterwards. A million words is roughly twenty standard-length novels, so it was a huge task.
I started with very easy resources, like transcripts of podcasts for learners, but I avoided anything that felt too much like work. Once I’d learned the basics, I started reading translations of books that I knew in English, such as Harry Potter and A Song of Ice and Fire (you might know it as Game of Thrones).
Finally, I was ready to move onto completely new books, and I fell in love with Latin American authors such as Isabel Allende, Luis Jorge Borges and Manuel Puig. With the reading, I also listened to podcasts, but I always read the transcripts and counted the words as part of my reading.
After I achieved my goal, I tested myself by writing and talking to native speakers, and found I was at a decent intermediate level. I could understand almost everything I read, understand clear speech, and have conversations at a comfortable level, even though I had barely spoken the language since I started learning.
I had been learning for about a year, and I had made more progress than most students make in five years.
I didn’t memorise the vocabulary and grammar rules. I absorbed them.
By this point, you’re either thinking, ‘This is all complete nonsense!’ or you’re super excited, ready to start reading for hours a day.
But the next thing I’m going to say is extremely important: you must read books that are easy. You must read books that are fun. If a book is too difficult or too boring, put it down and find another one.
Stephen Krashen, an expert in the field of second language acquisition, says, ‘Read only material in the second language that is genuinely fun and interesting, material that is so easy that you probably feel guilty reading it in your primary language. This is your excuse to read comics, magazines, detective stories, romances, etc. There is no shame in reading translations.’
Ideally, you want to be reading a book so easy that, when you see a word you don’t know, you can understand the meaning from context. Research has shown that in order for this to happen, the text needs to be at least 98% known words.
‘98%? That’s so high!’
I know, dear reader. But let me show you an example. Here’s a text where I’ve replaced 10% of the words with nonsense words—that is, it’s 90% comprehensible.
Jerry FLURGED out of bed and threw open the curtains. It was a beautiful day! He BIMPED to himself as he did his daily routine, pouring coffee and buttering POFFER. But then his phone rang, and the person TORNGLING was so unexpected that he dropped his VINKY on the floor.
Is that easy to understand? Could you read a whole book of that?
Here’s the same text, but 98% comprehensible:
Jerry jumped out of bed and threw open the curtains. It was a beautiful day! He sang to himself as he did his daily routine, pouring coffee and buttering toast. But then his phone rang, and the person calling was so unexpected that he dropped his VINKY on the floor.
How was that? Even if you couldn’t understand everything, I bet it was far more enjoyable to read than the first text. And that’s the magic of reading for pleasure: even if you didn’t understand everything, you got enough to follow the story and keep going, without having to pick up a dictionary!
So if you find that this book is too hard, put it down and read the level below. If you find it boring, go read something else. Yes, I’m giving you permission to stop reading my book. I know not everyone likes my writing style, and that’s OK. Find what works for you.
As you read, focus on the meaning of the stories, and don’t sweat it if you don’t understand every single word. Just relax, and try to get lost in the pages. Believe it or not, when we have fun, we learn far better.
The levels of these volumes are based on the Common European Framework of Reference, a system for defining language levels. You’ll know them as A1, A2, B1, B2, C1 and C2, although these books only cover A2-C1. If you’re A1 level, you probably need more guided teaching before you start reading, and if you’re C2 level, then you can start reading books for native speakers.
A great strategy, if you don’t feel so confident about your reading ability, is to start with the beginner level of the book and reread it level by level, going all the way up to advanced. This will allow you to really absorb the new language and gradually increase the difficulty. There is not a huge difference between the intermediate-level stories and the advanced-level stories, but even rereading the same story twice can be very effective. We need to repeatedly encounter new words and phrases before our brain can really understand them.
Finally, this book has no exercises in it. I considered adding them after each story, but it would contradict everything I just told you. The most effective way to spend your time is reading for pleasure, and exercises distract from that.
If, however, you finish this book and find yourself wanting more stories, do go and listen to my podcast, Easy Stories in English. I publish a new story every week, with audio and text, and there are over a hundred episodes for you to listen through.
Happy reading and happy learning!
Thank you for listening to today’s episode. Remember, there will be a launch party on July the 19th to celebrate the book launch! Come along to my YouTube channel at 16:00 BST/15:00 GMT for a three-hour live stream, where you have a chance to win a copy of the books! Go to EasyStoriesInEnglish.com/Stream to get a link to the stream.
If you enjoyed today’s episode and want to say thank you, you can buy me a coffee on Ko-Fi. Just go to EasyStoriesInEnglish.com and click the orange button that says Buy me a coffee! Then you’ll be able to send me $3 so that I can buy a coffee, but really, I’ll probably get a bubble tea. And I’ll think of you while I drink it! Thank you for listening, and until next week.