The day of the language textbook is long behind us (well, not really, but...!) There’s a plethora of tools out there now that people employ every single day to help with their language skills. While you’re browsing through those smartphone apps and Podcasts, however, don’t be too quick to cast out the old school. It still has a few great tricks up its sleeve --- like short stories.
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🧾 The Forgotten Art of Short Stories
In your hurry to boost vocabulary or master grammar, you might have forgotten the extraordinary value of the humble short story when it comes to fostering stronger language skills. Below we will share all the ways in which stories will prove your secret weapon on your linguistic journey.
1.) Digestible and Accessible Reading Practice
First and foremost, short stories are just that --- short! It allows you to get reading practice in manageable chunks that you can enjoy on the subway, bus or whenever you have some spare time. Better yet, you can access them via your e-reader, smartphone or, if you’re so inclined, a good old-fashioned book!
In the same way that learning vocabulary and grammar in smaller batches helps with real mastery and retention, reading a complete-yet-shortened story gives you a fulfilling reading experience without overloading you with too much new knowledge or vocabulary.
2.) Huge Variety
Another advantage to reading short stories over novels in your target language is that you can expose yourself to a bigger variety of writing content and styles. A novel will be written over several hundred pages without changing the style or format, and on the same topic and plot. Novels are engaging, sure, but language learning is aided by opening your experiences to different styles so you can acclimatize to more of the ways that the language gets used.
This factor also makes reading short stories more enjoyable. If one story doesn’t grab you so much, you can finish it up quickly, gather what linguistic value you can, but then move swiftly onto the next, hopefully more exciting piece.
3.) Literary Devices Galore
Related to the variety factor is the way that creative and original short stories will deliver you a wider range of useful and expressive idiomatic language. Textbooks and vocabulary apps are more limited in their scope, whereas a book of short stories may contain hundreds or even thousands of terrific expressions that you can pick up for yourself.
It’s not just idioms, either. Short stories will teach you about using your target language figuratively via similes, metaphors and analogies. While many of these devices actually do carry between languages, others do not. This new perspective is invaluable when trying to master a second language. For example, in the English language, describing someone as a “worm” describes a craven braggard of low cunning and poor morals. In the Chinese language, however, a “confused worm” (糊涂虫) refers to a “poor fool” and can either be genuinely critical or used somewhat more affectionately to a close friend acting silly.
Short stories can teach you such difference, thus enriching your language repertoire.
4.) See Language in Real Context
A further advantage of the short story is how it presents its varied, creative and expressive language in a natural context. This helps you lock in your understanding of the language, and subsequently remember it more effectively. Seeing words in a list or via flashcards (even digital flashcards with example sentences) is never quite the same as seeing it used in an absolutely natural way.
Reading the language as its writers use it helps you see different ways that words and phrases can be applied. You may never have known before that certain words when used artistically mean something quite different from when they are used academically.
💭 Lose Yourself in Short Stories
And so, you see, the old school tools still have their special place in the toolkit of many a language learner. Short stories are one of those traditional art forms that have melded beautifully with our modern technology thanks to e-reader apps and devices. You can now enjoy this precious resource on the go, soaking up all the artistic and cultural value it has for you along the way!
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