Learning the Language by Debbie Bennett

I have a friend who’s currently an ESL teacher living in Turkey. He’s also a retired professional photographer who used to supplement his business by selling photos of his lunch – but that’s a whole different story! Steve messaged me the other day and asked if I had any stories he could use on his YouTube channel

I’ve never come across this kind of thing before and it struck me as such a good idea – for those learning English as a second language, for reluctant readers or those wanting to increase their vocabulary or just want simple, engaging and easy to understand stories in audio format. Steve reads short stories aloud and the accompanying words appear on the screen. Didn’t Jackanory or other such children’s tv programme do this many years ago? I’m sure I remember watching television in the 1970s or 80s – after Play School and before the ‘infant’ offering (what were these? I can’t recall), John Craven's Newsround and then the ‘junior’ offering (a children’s drama or Blue Peter or such). There’d be a minor celebrity reading a book while a red ball bounced across the words at the bottom of the screen. 

But we’re in cyberspace now – or the MetaVerse as it will all doubtless soon be called – and we need new ways of learning. And this isn’t so much about learning English as a native speaker, but second language learners. I’m always impressed by anybody wanting to learn a second language to this level and I suspect it’s only us Brits who don’t learn extra languages as a matter of course. I don’t think taking a second language to exam level is an educational requirement these days, whereas many foreign countries teach English to their students as soon as they start school, if not sooner. My daughter spent one summer teaching English/drama at an Italian school, and I think her cohort was aged about 4 or 5. I’m somewhat unusual in that I did French at primary school in (what is now called) year 6. Mid 1970s, this would be. Very basic stuff – booklets with simple phrases which we’d read aloud, copy out and then colour in the pictures – but when I started secondary school I could count, I knew days of the week, colours, tell the time and had some simple phrases. Learning a second language stimulates your brain to use your primary language better. 

Steve’s stories are not exercises in grammar, punctuation or editing. Nor are they examples of how to construct the perfect short story. But they work perfectly as a way to increase vocabulary, refine pronunciation and understand the spoken and written language better. Even if you don’t want or need to follow on-screen, you could simply listen while commuting or falling asleep at night. 

And it struck me that here is an untapped market. I don’t think I’d want to read out stuff myself – there’s a reason I don’t do video blogging or YouTube or TikTok. I hate the sound of my own voice and I’m sure I have a perfect face for radio! But creating stories for this market is a challenge. How do we create an engaging story for adults with simple clear language, and yet enable the audience to increase their vocabulary and understanding? It's a good exercise in its own right, stripping down one’s words to their essence and then rebuilding them carefully.

I suspect most of my existing short stories are too complex for Steve's needs. But it's an interesting idea and I might give it a go!

And just to provide an image for this post - here's a picture of tonight's dinner! I'm sure I'm not on a par with Steve's photography, but it was very tasty. Les bâtonnets de poisson on sourdough toast with some artfully stacked pommes frites ...

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