Extensive reading – Who chooses the books? Teacher? Or Student?

Extensive reading, in which one reads books graded to one’s level, is an important element of foreign language study. Students should be able to read the book easily without a dictionary.

One of the ten principles of extensive reading (Day and Bamford – Reading in a Foreign Language, Volume 14, No. 2 October 2002) is that “learners choose what they want to read”. What the students want to read, and what the teacher wants them to read can differ.

I have been teaching university and college level students, and adults students on a full-time and part-time basis for 19 years. During that time, I have recommended extensive reading to my students, and very often, they have asked me what kind of books I recommend. Early on in my teaching career I used to recommend classics by Dickens, Shakespeare, and Austen. When I followed up with the students to see how their reading was going, I found that in some cases, it wasn’t going well. “I just can’t get into it”. “It’s just not my type of book”, and “Even in Japanese I don’t read old classics”, were some of the comments I received as feedback. So I told them to do as Day and Bamford say, “choose what you want to read”. This had a much more positive outcome, and showed me that what we as teachers want our students to read is not necessarily what our students want to read. We often think that, as teachers, we are responsible for our students’ learning, and we are, up to a point. We plan the curriculum, we choose the class textbooks, we conduct the classes. However, there comes a time when the student must take responsibility for his or her own learning. Extensive reading is one of those times. As the phrase implies, students must read extensively to get the benefits of graded reading. Thus, they have to enjoy what they are reading. If they don’t, it becomes a chore, and the benefits are lost.

When I started publishing graded readers, I did some market research. Students, rather than teachers, were the first people I approached. They told me what they wanted to read. We started out writing books for our students, with an awareness of what they would enjoy. We have since made our books available to the general public and to other universities and institutions. The kind of books ordered gives us insights into what is popular and what is not. For any company, when planning a new product, the end user’s desires are of great importance. It is, after all, those who will buy and use the product. Graded readers are no different.

What have you translated?

Lawyer give his customers signed a contract in the document. Consulting in regard to the various contracts

Very often, new clients ask me this question. They want to know what work I have done before they ask me to translate for them. I would like to tell them what I have translated, as I am proud of a lot of the work I have done. Much of it has been for large multi-national corporations, or national governments. However, there is something stopping me from giving a potential client a list of work I have done. It’s the non-disclosure agreement (NDA). More times than not, I have to sign one of these before starting work on a project, or working with a new client. The agreement prevents me from talking about any of the work I have done. This means that I can only give vague answers when asked what I have translated, such as “company IR information”, “government website”, “product catalogue (food, cosmetics)”.

The only work I can mention specifically is that which has my name on it. I have translated two books and done the subtitles for a DVD, all of which have my name listed.

When looking for a translator, you might be wary of the translator who is vague regarding their past work. However, it is the translator who tells you everything they have done in detail that should give you cause for concern. If they are talking openly about work they have done for other organizations, will they also talk to other companies about the work they do for you? If confidentiality is not a problem for you, and you don’t require an NDA, that’s great. The translator gets to list your work on their CV, which is helpful. But if you require a degree of confidentiality, in many cases, the vaguer an experienced translator is about past work, the better it is for you.

Word Retention in Language Learning

Over the years I have spent teaching English to Japanese speakers, the one complaint I have heard more often than any other is “I can’t seem to remember the words”. Obviously, if you are learning a language, you need to learn (and remember) words. When I ask my students how they go about learning words, almost all tell me they attempt to memorize the words by rote. Some have vocabulary books, with lists of random words, which they try to memorize. Others write each word over and over again in a notebook.

The issue with this is that it only engages the mechanical brain and not the emotional brain. It takes the words out of context, and turns them into a line of letters which corresponds to a certain word in Japanese.

When I study languages, I make learning vocabulary a priority, but I don’t learn by rote or memorization. I am currently learning Chinese. When I see a new word in my textbook, I write it in a small notebook, with the reading and the English, and move on. Of course, I don’t remember the words just by doing this. I do three things to get the vocabulary to stick. First, I make a sentence using the word, which has relevance to me. This relevancy is important, as it gives the word an emotional element. So, if I have learnt the word for “mobile phone”, I write a sentence related to me and my mobile phone, for example, “I called my friend Stephen on my mobile phone this morning.”. This sentence is true, and connects the word “mobile phone” to an emotional element – talking to my friend.

Next, I read and listen. I read other textbooks and websites, and I listen to videos on YouTube. While I don’t understand everything that is being said, I often catch the words I have learnt. Words in textbooks tend to be high frequency words, so they appear in texts and crop up in audio often. The more I see and hear the word, the more likely I am to remember it. The last thing I do is use the word. When I have a Chinese lesson with my teacher, I work the word into the conversation. Once I have used it, I rarely forget it.

Vocabulary acquisition is one of the benefits of extensive reading. If you choose a book which you can read easily without a dictionary, you are encountering words you have already seen. Seeing the words again reinforces them in an emotional way, especially if you are reading fiction. It is more fun, and (for me, anyway) more effective than mechanical memorization. This was the method I used to learn Japanese, and it served me well. It is also working well with my Chinese.

Why not write your own graded reader?

English teachers tend to be creative. From making materials to use in class, to coming up with ways to explain vocabulary and grammar, they are constantly creating. Many teachers I have know have expressed interest in writing a textbook. I think every teacher has a textbook in them, but how about a graded reader?

I Talk You Talk Press was founded by two teachers who wanted their students to read more. At the institutions where we worked, students had access to libraries of graded readers, but they were not as extensive as we would have liked. We also taught adults, who didn’t have access to any graded readers, as the local libraries and local book shops didn’t have any. So, we started to write our own. We are both avid readers, and have been since childhood, so we were familiar with story structures. Actually, coming up with the story is the easy bit. The hard bit is grading the story. We grade our books to CEFR grammar levels, and we have our own vocabulary lists for each level. If you are planning on writing and publishing many books, and starting your own publishing company, like we did, then you need to think carefully about grading criteria. However, if your aim is just to write books for your students, then you can write to their levels. You probably know the level of each student more than anyone. When writing, ask yourself if your students would understand what you are writing, and adjust your grammar and vocabulary accordingly. One of the principles of extensive reading is that students don’t use a dictionary, so you should write something your students will be able to read easily.

When we wrote for our students, they were delighted, and eager to read the books we had written. As our students read more, we wrote more, and that was the beginning of the company we have become today – an award-winning publisher with 68 titles. We still have students read our books. We also ask them what they want to read. This feedback has been invaluable for us when planning our series.

Of course, you don’t have to publish your graded readers. You can print them out and keep them in your school, for your students to enjoy. If you choose to publish them, it is now very easy to do so. There are many print-on-demand companies you can use, and you can publish e-books easily. Most are free, so all it will cost you is your time and the fee for a cover image, which you can license from a stock images site. So if you have time, and are feeling creative, why not give it a go? Your students will love you for it, and you never know where it might lead.

Calculating the cost of a translation

When you are submitting a file for translation, you want to know how much it will cost. For translation between Japanese and English, it used to be the norm to calculate the cost on a page basis. One page of Japanese was taken as 400 characters and one page of English as 200 words. There are still companies who calculate costs in this way, however, the majority of translation agencies I work for, and my own office, calculate the cost on a per character/word basis.

So what it counted? The number of source language characters/words, or the number of characters/words in the completed translation? It depends. When I started working as a translator, the agencies that sent me work calculated the cost on a target language basis. This meant that neither the customer, nor I, the translator, knew the actual cost of the translation before it was finished. The client was given a rough estimate, and only found out the actual cost when the translation was finished. In Japanese to English translation, 400 characters is said to correspond to 200 English words, but this is just a guide. With this method of calculation, the exact cost depends on the style of writing of the translator. Some write clearly and concisely, others less so.

When I started my translation office, and began to get clients, the first question they asked was “How much will this cost?” Even now, this is always the first question my clients ask. So that I can give them an accurate answer, right down to the last character, I calculate the cost by counting the characters in the source text, that is, the Japanese document they give me, and provide an estimate based on that. The client knows exactly what he or she will pay once the job is finished. There is no ambiguity. If you are requesting a translation, I recommend you ask the company or translator to calculate the cost on a source text basis. This way, you won’t have any surprises when the translation is delivered.