East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

Teaching foreign languages through adventure fiction


Languages-512A few days back a friend asked me to give her English lessons through the web – to improve her reading and writing skills first and foremost, and then to help her with her spoken English.
I was happy to comply – she’s a friend, and also, it’s a good way to start a new project and possibly a new source of income and help me pay my bills through the rest of the year.

I’ve taught English to Italians and Italian to English-speaking foreigners for a number of years, about fifteen years ago, and I had developed a few tactics to help my students

  1. Get familiar with the basic phrase structure – to learn, in other words, what goes where in an Italian or English phrase.
  2. Acquire as large a vocabulary as possible
  3. Keep going and practice while having fun

The basic strategy was, of course, to start reading in the second language, with minimal or (possibly) no access to a dictionary. Newspapers are obviously a good choice – as one imagines the language used in a newspaper should be clear, highly accessible and as straightforward as possible.
But genre fiction also works nicely – and comes with the extra bonus that students can get into a text they actually enjoy, and this is a great point.

51+XDBYq3uL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_Both for my friend and my (hypothetical) future students, considering we’ll be keeping this as an online activity using email (for home-works), a chatroom and possibly Hangouts, I am thinking of going for either free texts from Project Gutenberg or ultra-cheap collections of short stories like the Wildside Press Megapacks. Also, the Baen Free Library is a good place to find fun reads for free.
I’ll just have to check what genre my friend prefers.
I’d be partial to using Talbot Mundy, should we go for Gutenberg texts – Told in the East, or maybe Thros of Samothrace.
The language is a bit archaic here and there, but that’s not really a problem – and these are good stories.

And for listening practice, of course, we could use some Old Time Radio show.

It would be something like Learn English through the Pulps.
It could have a market.

51ixI0LqozL._SX350_BO1,204,203,200_And what about teaching Italian in the same way?
I could design a Learn Italian with Sandokan sort of course, to be offered for cheap, using open and free texts by Emilio Salgari.
Or something.
I’d love to use Duemila Leghe sotto l’America, a lost world adventure featuring a lost Inca treasure, written by the Italian Master of Adventure in 1888. Sadly, despite the book being now in the public domain, no cheap ebook nor any open text seem to be available.
But it would be fun…
Probably marketing the course would be the hardest part. Any ideas?

Author: Davide Mana

Paleontologist. By day, researcher, teacher and ecological statistics guru. By night, pulp fantasy author-publisher, translator and blogger. In the spare time, Orientalist Anonymous, guerilla cook.

2 thoughts on “Teaching foreign languages through adventure fiction

  1. Here’s a good news: Duemila Leghe sotto l’America is available as eBook in this collection https://www.amazon.com/dp/B00AUX45VC/ with five other stories (by Salgari) on the same theme of Lost Worlds =D


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