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August 2017

Five Reasons Short Stories Are Best for Language Learning

...and one reason why they are not

Reading is a fundamental component when it comes to language learning. While speaking and listening comprehension also require simultaneous development, it’s through reading that students can learn both grammatical structures and new vocabulary. How well one reads is a good indicator of progress, as the act of reading tests students across many variables, from verb conjugation to sentence structure to knowledge of diverse vocabulary. In this article, we’ll explore why short stories are ideal for such learning.

Short stories offer more cultural exposure than novels

For the average student, a full novel may be too much to take on because of its length. Even for the advanced student, it’s more preferable to read a variety of shorts stories from a selection of writers than it is to limit oneself to one story and one style. Because short stories are quickly consumable, students can expose themselves to more topics, and thus a wider range of vocabulary, than with a single novel. Short story collections tailored for language learners are even better, as they are often compiled to present diverse viewpoints and styles.

Short stories are more personal than news articles

Reading the news is an excellent method of learning new vocabulary as articles are short and one newspaper contains many sections from politics to sports. The downside, however, is that newspapers report news rather than tell stories with dialogue, the way fiction might. Dialogue is useful for learning colloquialisms, while fiction narrative often includes grammar more closely tied with everyday situations than some news stories. News stories can often be cold, as they are generally not supposed to have any opinion.

Short stories are great for culture exposure

Short stories can tell a lot about another country’s culture. From beliefs to ways of living, good fiction mirrors the livelihoods of the reader base. A helpful tip would be to seek short fiction that’s critically acclaimed. Many international writers are winners of prestigious awards like the Nobel Prize. Reading such works will not only illuminate a student to the language but also educate on cultural nuances.

Short stories are perfect for busy lives

Most of us are extremely busy, and sitting down for an hour-long study session each day can be difficult. Short stories are perfectly sized for daily commutes; a student can read much, if not all, of a short story on the way to and from work. This makes learning more rewarding, as approaching learning without any discernible end can be demoralising. Because good short stories have compelling story arcs, there is a sense of beginning, middle, and end, of start, conflict, and resolution. There is a satisfaction to finishing a story, and short stories offer much of this kind of pleasure.

Short stories require less investment

Have you ever read a story you didn’t care for? How hard was it to stick with it until the end? Short stories benefit from being concise. If a particular short story doesn’t interest you, it’s not hard to finish it and move on to the next. If you’re the type of person who gets bored with the same thing all the time, short stories offer quick escapes into other worlds. If novels are one big adventure, short stories are many brief adventures.

Downside: Short stories can be difficult

One major downside to short stories is that they can often be too difficult for beginner to intermediate students, especially if they’re of the literary fiction genre. Some languages utilise unique grammar when it comes to literary works, such as the passato remoto in Italian, a form that’s not used so much in everyday parlance. Literary works also often include poetic language which may not make sense to students who are not deeply familiar with specific cultural references or such manners of speech. Dual language books are useful in such cases, as they provide the contextual translation of the text on the opposing page.

Do you prefer long or short stories when it comes to studying? Let us know on our Facebook Page, and be sure to “like” TELC English for more articles on language learning from around the world.

Picture: (c) Fotolia, Henry Schmitt