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Non-fiction Vs. Fiction Books for learning English

Bobby Sharma
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Joined: Mar 18, 2008
Posts: 574
    
    1

Hi there, good morning.

I have read both fiction books and non-fictions books. I personally enjoy fiction-books but my proper need is non-fictions. I also asked for help from you guys to suggest some non-fictions books to read.
Whenever I compare the english of non-fiction books and fiction books and came to know that..(got some personal idea) non-fiction books uses nice vocabulary we find on day to day conversations but some fiction books uses very different kinda vocabulary which we don't use in daily conversation. I personally think non-fiction books are better than fiction books when it comes to learning English, the other good people may think otherwise. I would like to know about your advice.



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Bear Bibeault
Author and ninkuma
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Joined: Jan 10, 2002
Posts: 61424
    
  67

Bobby Sharma wrote:non-fiction books uses nice vocabulary we find on day to day conversations but some fiction books uses very different kinda vocabulary which we don't use in daily conversation.

Hmm, I find it quite the opposite. I think non-fiction is generally written in a formal manner, while fiction generally uses dialog that mimics how people actually talk.


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Paul Clapham
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Joined: Oct 14, 2005
Posts: 18657
    
    8

Here's my story:

Way back when I was in university I decided to learn Russian. This was because I was a mathematics student, and many of the best mathematicians in the world were Russian then. Since this was in the days before English was widely used, naturally they published in Russian. So if I wanted to read their papers, I would have to know enough Russian to do that.

And my university had a course named "Russian for Scientists". Exactly what I needed. I took that course for two years and then I could read scientific papers in Russian quite well.

Later in life I got hold of a copy of Solzhenitsyn's novel "One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich" in Russian, and I decided to try reading it. Well, that was an eye-opener. Like Bear said, fiction is a very different animal from non-fiction. I struggled to get through the first page, and after I clawed my way through the third page I decided to go back to the first page and apply my hard-earned fiction-reading skills to see what it really said. But basically I had to give it up.

All of which doesn't apply to you unless you can say why you want to learn English. Do you need to have better skills so you can read (say) Java tutorials better? Or do you want to speak English to people who are visiting the place where you live? If it's the latter, then fiction is what you should read... and I've heard that watching movies with dialog in a foreign language are a good way to learn that language.
Bobby Sharma
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Joined: Mar 18, 2008
Posts: 574
    
    1

Dear Paul and Bear, I want to learn better english so as to I can speak fluently. I can listen to the dialogs of english movies very well without subtitle, if the movie quality is pretty good. I have tried reading some daily english conversations books with variety of topics. This doesn't interest me much, so I am looking for novels which use actual American dialogs. I read Dan Brown, Agatha Christie, Lee Child and other mystery author's books and they use specific english language , they don't use teenage english.( I am not a teenager though). And they don't have much dialogs too.
To learn some good vocabulary , I am in search of some picture books so I can learn about different houses, plants, landscapes, cultures, and geography. Of course, I can use internet for all these things but unfortunately, I don't have internet at home as I live in a hostel.
Anayonkar Shivalkar
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Joined: Dec 08, 2010
Posts: 1509
    
    5

Hi Bobby,

I think I understand what you are saying. I see two issues from your posts so far:

1) When it comes to 'things they teach in school' - you find it difficult with those words (e.g. plants, list of kitchen appliances and so on). This typically happens when your primary learning language in school is not English, and/or you don't use English in day-to-day life (ok - you might be using it at work, but you don't need to know 5 kitchen appliances in English for that ).
Don't worry - this happens to me as well - as I got my education till high-school in regional language. The only thing can be done here is - go back to those books and learn the words.

Though I doubt if it is worth the effort - unless you are planning to land in community/place which speaks English everyday (not only at work, but in shops, hotels and so on).

2) Paul has rather nailed the second issue. There is difference between fictional English (or any language for that matter) and non-fictional English. However, if you are planning to be good at speaking English, unfortunately, reading/writing English is not gonna help you much.
At least from my experience, speaking proficiency can be acquired by hearing and speaking(not that I'm very proficient :wink. But again, hearing can help you mostly in a specific accent (e.g. watch few English movies and then you'll find accents of English speaking Russian are quite different) If speaking is not very practical - then you can exercise to think in English (let it be a day's planning, or a solution to some problem).
When I decided to learn English speaking (no - I did not use any of those fancy tools ) - thinking in English was a major part in it. Another better exercise is - in your mind, just try to imagine that you are explaining a problem/solution to other people and start thinking in English.

I hope this helps.


Regards,
Anayonkar Shivalkar (SCJP, SCWCD, OCMJD, OCEEJBD)
Ulf Dittmer
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Joined: Mar 22, 2005
Posts: 42277
    
  64
Not directly a response to Bobby, but then, this *is* MD...

It also depends a lot on the author in question - Paul mentioned Solzhenitsyn, which I would imagine is at the upper end of the scale (I read that book in English, and found it a fairly easy read - which could have been the aim of the translator, rather than the author). After I became fairly fluent in reading English (years of high school, including a handful books by "real" authors as opposed to stuff geared towards students), I became interested in Tom Wolfe, and wanted to read The Bonfire of the Vanities. I instantly hit a brick wall on the first couple of page. I was missing lots of stuff to make sense of it - vocabulary, vernacular, references to NYC and the US, etc. I made several attempts, but it wasn't until years later, and much more reading of English fiction and acquiring knowledge of the US and NYC, that I managed to finish it. That's rather different than non-fiction by the same author, e.g. The Right Stuff.

A few years later I enjoyed Dickens' Pickwick Papers during a long lazy summer break. The language is a bit old fashioned, and some concepts are unfamiliar, but hey - it's 180 years old. And it's a pretty easy read. So I figured I try my hand at A Tale of Two Cities, also fiction, by the same author - completely different experience. It uses a much larger vocabulary, has a much more intricate style, deals with psychological as well as physical events - it took much more concentration and time to finish this one, even though it's considerably shorter.

So, it's not just fiction vs. non-fiction, it also depends on the author, and even on the particular book in question. Generally I'd agree with Bear saying "...while fiction generally uses dialog that mimics how people actually talk", but "how people actually talk" can depend a great deal on the subject of the book. The Bonfire of the Vanities is an example of how certain people in NYC talk, and that can be rather different from how people talk elsewhere. Comparing that to later books by Tom Wolfe that are set in Atlanta (A Man in Full) and Miami (Back To Blood), respectively, there are big differences in language.

All of which is a long-winded way of saying: if your objective is to master reading non-fiction, then reading fiction may not help a great deal, and vice-versa. And that there a big differences within the fiction and non-fiction genres.


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chris webster
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Joined: Mar 01, 2009
Posts: 1772
    
  14

Definitely read modern fiction to practice and improve your English. Shakespeare and Dickens are wonderful, but most people don't talk like that any more! And most people don't talk like a computer textbook either.

Also, read aloud. If you are reading silently, you often skim through the text and may not really absorb every word. If you read aloud, your brain has to process the visual input and convert it into speech so more parts of your brain are engaged in the task. Try practicing your accent as well while you are doing this, because speaking is like any other skill: the more you practice the better you get. You will probably feel a bit silly doing this, but try to imitate the kind of accent, pronunciation and intonation/stress patterns that you hear from native speakers. Many people ignore things like intonation and stress when learning a language, but it makes a huge difference to how well people will understand you.

Try listening to English-language radio from native English speakers e.g. the BBC is available online, as is National Public Radio from the USA. Listen to spoken radio, not music, so you can practice hearing native speakers using colloquial English naturally. The good thing about radio is that you can listen to it while you're doing other things - household chores, travelling to work (if you can access internet radio via your phone) etc. So you can immerse yourself in an ocean of English wherever you are.

Edit: sorry - I just noticed that you said you don't have internet access, but I'll leave the tip here in case it's useful to other people.


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Ulf Dittmer
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Joined: Mar 22, 2005
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  64
e.g. the BBC is available online

The BBC also has documentaries available as podcasts, if that's of more interest than the general program. I find they have interesting stuff pretty regularly, and it deals with topics around the globe.
chris webster
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Joined: Mar 01, 2009
Posts: 1772
    
  14

@paul: Ivan Denisovich was the first novel I read when learning (and almost instantly forgetting) Russian. As I recall, the language was fairly colloquial with lots of prison slang which made things more difficult. In any case, reading Russian always seemed to involve lots of dictionary work, checking case endings etc. As for speaking Russian, by the time I'd figured out what I wanted to say, remembered the vocabulary and worked out all the case endings, the person I meant to speak to had usually wandered off!
chris webster
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Joined: Mar 01, 2009
Posts: 1772
    
  14

Ulf Dittmer wrote:
e.g. the BBC is available online

The BBC also has documentaries available as podcasts, if that's of more interest than the general program. I find they have interesting stuff pretty regularly, and it deals with topics around the globe.

Good point. For example, In Our Time is a long-running series of discussions about all kinds of topics from the origins of the universe to philosophy and more. Great stuff.
Bobby Sharma
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Joined: Mar 18, 2008
Posts: 574
    
    1

Chris , Ulf and all gentlemen. thank you very much. BTW I do have internet wifi connection in hostel but it's very slow..but at work , I do have access of internet. I will get my own internet next month, so your all tips will work for me.
Tim Cooke
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Joined: Mar 28, 2008
Posts: 1130
    
  59

Adding to the Podcast recommendations, why not give BBC Friday Night Comedy: The News Quiz a listen. It's a very light hearted comedy show that makes fun of the week's news in the UK. Really enjoyable and from a language point of view it's a less formal conversational style of dialogue.


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Frank Silbermann
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Joined: Jun 06, 2002
Posts: 1387
Actually, if you want to learn to speak I suggest you buy lots of magazines written for uneducated people (e.g. the kind we sell at supermarket checkout lines). Practice reading them in two ways:
(*) Out loud.
(*) As fast as you can.

My advice is based on the assumption that the sophistication of grammar, vocabulary and sentence structure that modestly educated people _read_ is comparable to the sophistication of grammar, vocabulary and sentence structure that educated people _speak_. Reading as fast as you can will force you to learn to think in English and will force you to become comfortable with English sentence structure.

If, instead, you spend your time reading difficult material slowly (like what is done in university foreign language classes), you will never go beyond translating in your mind. It will be less like natural use of the language and more like cryptography (encoding and decoding).
Bobby Sharma
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Joined: Mar 18, 2008
Posts: 574
    
    1

Tim, thank you very much.. I have downloaded some BBC videos of wildlife as I am interested in wildlife. I will surely try the podcast you told me about. thanks once again.


Thank you Frank. Bro, would you please tell me the genre of such magazines as I suspect they don't come with "Magazines for uneducated people" title. Where can I find such magazines online I have no idea. I will probably have to order them online.

best regards,
Frank Silbermann
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Joined: Jun 06, 2002
Posts: 1387
Bobby Sharma wrote:...
Thank you Frank. Bro, would you please tell me the genre of such magazines as I suspect they don't come with "Magazines for uneducated people" title. Where can I find such magazines online I have no idea. I will probably have to order them online.

best regards,
Google "Supermarket Tabloids"

According to the movie "Men in Black" some of these tabloids provide news you will not get elsewhere. :-)
Bobby Sharma
Ranch Hand

Joined: Mar 18, 2008
Posts: 574
    
    1

Frank Silbermann wrote: Google "Supermarket Tabloids"

According to the movie "Men in Black" some of these tabloids provide news you will not get elsewhere. :-)


ha ha , thank you.
 
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