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Great Literature to Encourage the New Language Learner
by Staff, Anthea Mitchell

Great Literature to Encourage the New Language Learner

Learning a new language is an incredible challenge, both academically and emotionally. The latter aspect isn’t always given enough thrift, but anyone who’s ever stumbled over a question or greeting in a language other than their first, knows that it takes courage to publically practice something your new and maybe a bit clumsy at. That’s why it’s important to keep perspective and a sense of humor when approaching a task as arduous, but exciting, as language study often is. One great way to do that is to take a break from all that conjugation practice and vocabulary flash cards, and read a book that understands or compliments your struggle. Here are just five great pieces of literature to inspire the new language learner.


The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

Junot Diaz is a Dominican American wrier with a number of awards under his belt, including a Pulitzer Price for “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.” This novel accomplishes what much of his work does – it knits together a story that combines American culture with his Dominican roots. It also includes a large amount of code-switching, a phrase that refers to a subtle back and forth between English and Spanish spoken by the protagonist’s family or the protagonist himself. Not only does this allow the reader to practice basic phrases, it introduces a number of colloquial phrases and new vocabulary words. Most of Diaz’s novels are also available in Spanish translations, so if the reader is more advanced in their education, it’s a spectacular novel to practice reading in another language.

(The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, Junot Diaz, Riverhead Books, 2008, front cover)



Me Talk Pretty One Day

“Me Talk Pretty One Day” is the perfect book for someone struggling to learn proper conjugation, or trying to sort out plural and singular phrasing. David Sedaris is well known for his deep, gut-bubbling hilarity, and this book does not disappoint as he describes his embarrassing but well intentioned efforts to speak French. Anyone that has tried to learn the language will immediately recognize a kindred spirit, and might even pick up a few new words along the way. Beyond the language aspect, his books are always wildly entertaining stories about his personal life and travels, and are generally quick easy reads, very much a good break from studying.

(Me Talk Pretty One Day, David Sedaris, Back Bay Books, 2001, front cover)



(The Stories of Vladimir Nabokov, Vladimir Nabokov, Vintage, 1996, front cover)

The Stories of Vladimir Nabokov

Most people know Vladimir Nabokov for his most famous novel, “Lolita,” but his short stories are written in the same dark and mysterious tone, and well worth a read. Beyond the quality of the writing, anyone with an interest in Russian language or culture will pick up quite a bit from his stories, and as the dialogue and prose are often peppered with French phrases worth knowing, Francophiles can benefit as well.


Inside Out and Back Again

If you’re having trouble with a language program, you could consider it a lesson in the everyday struggle of so many immigrants that have come to the United States or other English speaking nations. “Inside Out and Back Again” is an interesting novel to read because it looks at language acquisition from the other side – English itself is a major challenge for so many trying to acclimate to a new home and culture. It follows the story of a Vietnamese refugee moving to Alabama, and is well deserving of the National Book Award it received.

(Inside Out and Back Again, Thanhha Lai, HarperColins Publishers, 2013, front cover)






House on Mango Street

“House on Mango Street” is a spectacular piece of literature that’s worth reading even if one has no interest in picking up the Spanish language. That said, its style is similar to that of Junot Diaz’s books; code-switching occurs throughout, and each of the vignettes are written from the perspective of a young Mexican-American girl living in Chicago. These offer a valuable glimpse into the culture and characters living on her street and the diverse lives lived there.

(House on Mango Street, Sandra Cisneros, Arte Publico Press, 1984, front cover)

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