Books to study English?

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stillwaiting
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Post by stillwaiting » January 19th, 2018, 5:36 pm

Hi. My name is Boris. This is my first post on the forum :clap: , but I'm a long-time librivox user. I guess that I have listened more than 20 books already. Thank you! Thank you so much!!! :)

I adore English language and literature, but, unfortunately, I'm not a native speaker. However, I do believe that one of the best ways I could follow to understand the language better is to read, listen and repeat (after the narration) the classical books in English.

I'm a software engineer, and to tackle my problem I created an app for Android called "You can read it!", in a hope that it might be useful to other people too. This is a basic reader integrated with a dictionary and a flashcard system to study the new vocabulary (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flashcard , my users can save unknown words from books they read with their translations and the context they are used as flashcards.) And I filled it with classical books in English synchronized with their librivox narrations. (Libribox people! Thank you so much for making this possible! This would've never happened without all your hard work!) You can find the complete list of books and features here: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.borisgdev.youcanreadit

Now, the problem that I have is that all of these books have quite advanced language. My English skills allow me to read them, however, it is quite challenging to people with basic and intermediate English skills. I'd say that even "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" (the smallest book that I have) is too advanced for beginners, even though it has only ~2600 unique words.

So, my ask would be: could somebody please advice me some books/poems/stories/novels/whatever in English, that are also available at librivox, that would be suitable for people with basic English skills? For intermediate English skills?

Thank you so much for your attention.

Availle
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Post by Availle » January 19th, 2018, 5:45 pm

Hi Boris and welcome!

That sounds like a really good idea - coming up with the vocabulary on the side!

As for "suitable" books, well.. we do have "children's fiction" as a category here which you can search for. Some books are for very young children, so that could be a start.

However, you will have troubles with vocabulary in many cases.

I'm studying Japanese and am trying to read easy kids books. The stories are cute, the language is easier, yes, no difficult kanji (chinese characters), spaces between the words... but still, the vocabulary is not always suitable - I don't think I'll need to know the words for "hedgehog" or "vase" in normal conversation anytime soon... :lol:
For me, I have found texts that are geared towards learners on a particular level and use often used standard vocabulary the most useful.

Anyway: good luck! :D
Cheers,
Ava.

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Availle
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Post by Availle » January 19th, 2018, 5:55 pm

Oh, I forgot, we also have a list of books on the Ambleside Book List for homeschooling. Not all of them can be recorded for LibriVox, but many have been, and the list is divided by year/age of the students. Same caveat as above about the vocabulary, but you may want to have a look at them:

https://wiki.librivox.org/index.php?title=Recordings_of_Books_on_the_Ambleside_List
Cheers,
Ava.

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annise
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Post by annise » January 19th, 2018, 6:14 pm

There are books https://librivox.org/search?q=words%20of%20one%20syllable&search_form=advanced that might work for beginers.
It's also possible to slow the recordings down which can help.

Anne

Peter Why
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Post by Peter Why » January 19th, 2018, 7:15 pm

Looking at those "in words of one syllable" books, although the vocabulary is simplified, the actual sentence construction is sometimes quite advanced (it certainly is in Robinson Crusoe, for example). So the books selected for this project could be classified separately in relation to vocabulary and complexity of language. I would suggest Baum's Oz books, and probably many children's books, as having a simple English structure as well as a fairly simple vocabulary, but their use for a learner of modern English would be limited by their fantasy setting.

I think that you're going to have to inspect, or get a natural English speaker to inspect, a range of books and grade them.

I don't know anything about learning another language, so don't know how a learner would balance picking up vocabulary against picking up sentence construction. I suspect that sentence construction in many of our books, most being written over 90 years ago, will be more complex than in most modern books.

Peter
"Anyone who believes that exponential growth can go on forever in a finite world is either a madman or an economist." Kenneth Boulding, 1973

annise
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Post by annise » January 19th, 2018, 7:48 pm

Yes that is true - but splitting them into syllables does make it easier to know where long words are divided - which does make them easier to say. Even if you still have to work out what to stress . And they are usually read more slowly - which also helps :D

Anne

stillwaiting
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Post by stillwaiting » January 20th, 2018, 4:46 am

Availle, thank you for the list. I think it sounds reasonable to go through the class program. I'll download the texts and then will try rank each by the number of unique words and their complexity (popularity?) and see how this works.

Annise, thank you, I didn't know about these works. I'll have a close look at the list.

Peter Why, about the language modernity, that's another big question to me. As an English language student, I'm particularly interested in modern texts. One finding I have is https://librivox.org/twenty-thousand-leagues-under-the-sea-by-jules-verne-2/ . Looks like this is a modern translation of "Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea". The original work was published in 1870 in French, therefore it is in the public domain nowadays. But the translation is modern (a derivative work? I'm not a layer...) that was done by Frederick P. Walter in 1991. I was wondering if there are more modern translations that are in the public domain, like this one?

Another finding one is Andre Norton, e.g. https://librivox.org/star-hunter-by-andre-norton/ . It was published in 1961, and yet it is already in the public domain (probably because of some legal issues?). Wondering if there are more legal collisions that lead remarkable modern texts to enter the public domain?

Thank you.

annise
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Post by annise » January 20th, 2018, 5:42 am

re Jules Vernne I don't see a date for the translator , we rely on project gutenberg which says it is PD - his works were tranlated and published quickly when they were published so I suspect you have mistaken the publication date - 1891 sounds more likely
USA PD law is complicated , we do have some post 1922 books that PG clears . . briefly the copyright period was extended , but only if cooks were re registered by the coyright holder , and this did not always happen.

Anne

stillwaiting
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Post by stillwaiting » January 20th, 2018, 5:54 am

re Jules Verne Yes, I may be mistaken with the publication date. However, regarding the translation, here's a quote from the librivox page: " English translation by Frederick P. Walter, published 1991" , and here's a quote from PG: "Translated from the Original French by F. P. Walter" (http://www.gutenberg.org/cache/epub/2488/pg2488.txt). And this is the quote from Wikipedia: "Many of Mercier's errors were again corrected in a from-the-ground-up re-examination of the sources and an entirely new translation by Walter James Miller and Frederick Paul Walter, published in 1993 by Naval Institute Press in a "completely restored and annotated edition".[11] It was based on Walter's own 1991 public-domain translation, which is available from a number of sources, notably a recent edition with the title Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Seas (ISBN 978-1-904808-28-2)" (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Twenty_Thousand_Leagues_Under_the_Sea). Therefore, it seems to be a very modern translation.

VfkaBT
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Post by VfkaBT » January 20th, 2018, 1:56 pm

Have you considered English schoolbooks, like the McGuffey series?
https://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/search/?query=mcguffey

The Eclectic Readers become progressively more difficult by grade, 1-6. Project Gutenberg also has readers that have chapters and stories from more 'name' writers, like James Fenimore Cooper. We've recorded at least one of the Ontario Readers.
https://www.gutenberg.org/wiki/Children%27s_Instructional_Books_(Bookshelf)#Graded_Readers
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watekinslet
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Post by watekinslet » January 26th, 2018, 5:46 am

Your English already sounds pretty good! What about books you've already read in your own language? Like Harry Potter maybe? Then you know the story and it's perhaps easier to understand in English.

stillwaiting
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Post by stillwaiting » January 30th, 2018, 5:35 am

VfkaB: thank you for your advice

watekinslet: Thank you for your kind words. I live in Australia and hear every day how natives speak and realize that I'll never be able to speak like that. :cry:

My question is more general though. I feel comfortable enough to read classical books in English (with a dictionary of course), while other people may have less advanced English. My goal is to help them, so I'm trying to find some books for different skills.

UPDATE: I wrote a small algorithm that calculates the average "complexity" of words from a book based on popularity index. E.g. I consider the word "go" as an easy one with the complexity of 610 (because it is under number 610 in the list of most popular words that I have), while the word "juxtaposition" has the index of 66300. Run this algorithm across the books that I currently have and here're the results:

The Wizard of Oz = 7.4K
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland = 8.4K
Star Hunter = 13.2K
The House of a Thousand Candles = 15.3K
The Art of War = 16.5K
Crime and Punishment = 18.9K
Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea = 21.9K
Jane Eyre = 24.6K
Moby Dick = 29.8K

How does it look to you? Does it look as a reliable metric to estimate the complexity of a book?

tovarisch
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Post by tovarisch » January 30th, 2018, 6:32 am

Re complexity:
Interesting, and frankly speaking, rather simple approach. Perhaps too simple, though. I think you need other factors, like average sentence length, and the publication date (i.e. age of the text). I remember reading Poe (some years ago), and it struck me as quite complex. I understood every word, but their combination was what gave me trouble... :wink:
tovarisch
  • reality prompts me to scale down my reading, sorry to say
    to PLers: do correct my pronunciation please

Peter Why
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Post by Peter Why » January 30th, 2018, 10:47 am

Some time ago, I was curious about how difficult one of the books I had read would be for a listener, and read a little about the Flesch-Kincaid readability scores. You can find out more on wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flesch%E2%80%93Kincaid_readability_tests

There's a link there to a list of Gutenberg texts together with their readability scores: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flesch%E2%80%93Kincaid_readability_tests

... and here's a link to a free download for a Java application that will analyse a text to give the scores: http://flesh.sourceforge.net/

I'm not sure how helpful the scores would be for learners of English though.

Peter
"Anyone who believes that exponential growth can go on forever in a finite world is either a madman or an economist." Kenneth Boulding, 1973

stillwaiting
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Post by stillwaiting » January 30th, 2018, 4:51 pm

tovarisch, Peter: thank you for your insights. I do agree this is a bit primitive and only one feature of the text.

Quick googling brought me to this website, which looks quite promising: https://readable.io/text/

Here's the results:

Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level | Gunning Fog Index | Coleman-Liau Index | SMOG Index | Automated Readability Index
The Wizard of Oz
6.1 | 8.1 | 5.9 | 8.4 | 6.0 | avg = 6.9, min = 5.9, max = 8.1

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland =
5.7 | 7.9 | 6.0 | 8.0 | 5.4 | avg = 6.6, min = 5.4, max = 8.0

Star Hunter =
5.4 | 7.6 | 7.0 | 8.3 | 5.2 | avg = 6.7, min = 5.2, max = 8.3

The House of a Thousand Candles =
6.4 | 9.0 | 6.9 | 9.7 | 5.7 | avg = 7.5, min = 5.7, max = 9.7

The Art of War =
7.7 | 10.6 | 8.1 | 10.9 | 6.9 | avg = 8.8, min = 6.9, max = 10.9

Crime and Punishment =
6.3 | 8.6 | 6.9 | 9.5 | 5.7 | avg = 7.4, min = 5.7, max = 9.5

Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea =
8.2 | 10.4 | 9.5 | 11.1 | 8.0 | avg = 9.4 , min = 8.2, max = 11.1

Jane Eyre =
8.6 | 11.2 | 7.7 | 10.6 | 8.8 | avg = 9.4, min = 8.6, max = 11.2

Moby Dick =
8.9 | 11.1 | 8.4 | 10.9 | 9.2 | avg = 9.7, min = 8.9, max = 11.1

However, even though Star Hunter's avg score is roughly the same as of Alice's Adventures and The Wizard of Oz, I personally find it much more challenging because of the vocabulary it uses.

What I did: I took the avg from the table above and calculated the median between it and the normalized value of my prev "vocabulary" index, here are the results:

The Wizard of Oz = 4.6
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland = 4.7
Star Hunter = 5.5
The House of a Thousand Candles = 6.3
The Art of War = 7.1
Crime and Punishment = 6.8
Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea = 8.3
Jane Eyre = 8.8
Moby Dick = 9.8

Wdyt?
Last edited by stillwaiting on January 30th, 2018, 6:19 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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