Monday, August 4, 2008

International Association of School Librarians: Ten Tips for Teens New to North American English

Ten for Teens New to North American English

Francisca Goldsmith IASL 2008

Nearly ten years of working with Earphone English has allowed the development of some basic tenets of audiobook selection for this group of diverse English Language Learners.

Titles selected should

  • Feature resilient teen characters
  • Offer a balance of plot- and character-driven elements
  • Include nonfiction as well as fiction in many genres

Performances should

  • Consume between one and five hours of listening time
  • Provide excellent pronunciation of both English, representing a variety of accents and dialects, and any other language included in the text
  • Offer a variety of voices, either by a single performer, a full cast, or an arrangement between

The titles on this list are the most heavily requested ones in the Earphone English collection, which currently numbers more than 400 unique audiobooks. Multiple copies of these are suggested so that friends and classmates can listen to any of them without regard to other concurrent listeners. Alternatively, download arrangements may make it possible to have multiple concurrent listeners. Cassette and download are the easiest formats for this project, as both allow the listener to stop and start at the same place. Compact discs are suitable if the packaging includes information about chapters or pagination coordinated with track numbers in order to facilitate finding one’s last listening place.

Breadwinner (Listening Library)

Book by Deborah Ellis; performed by Rita Wolf.

Set in Afghanistan when the Taliban was in power, Ellis’ culturally competent story and contextualizing is matched by Wolf’s excellent pronunciation of Pashtu words. This combination makes the listen a welcome one for teens for whom the story’s world is not foreign, while the brevity and compelling story arc make it accessible for other listeners as well.

The Circuit: Stories from the Life of a Migrant Child (Audio Bookshelf)

Book by Francisco Jimenez; performed by Adrian Vargas.

These based-on-the-author’s-life stories of illegal immigration, manual labor, and discovery of books are brought to life by a reader with fitting inflections, as well as appropriate accent. This audiobook is one of the few that is also available in Spanish, allowing new listeners comfortable with Spanish to first listen to it before moving on to the English version.

Esperanza Rising (Listening Library).

Book by Pam Muñoz Ryan; performed by Trini Alvarado.

A consistent favorite with students, both girls and boys, since its first publication in 2000 (audiobook in 2001), the themes of immigration and reworking one’s identity are realized in a plot that includes magic realism and historical accuracy. Spanish words and phrases are correctly and seamlessly pronounced and add texture to the English language story.

The First Part Last (Listening Library)

Book by Angela Johnson; performed by Khalipa Oldjohn.

This immediately gripping story of a teen facing the responsibilities of fatherhood is narrated in cadences that new Americans will already recognize as representative of African American speech. Listening to diversity is an important element of becoming acculturated.

Lost! On a Mountain in Maine (Audio Bookshelf)

Book by Donn Fendler with Joseph Egan; performed by Amon Purinton.

The author, 50 years after the fact, recounts being alone in the wilderness. The narration here is straightforward, giving the listener the sense of immediacy that comes from hearing about the event first-hand.

Miracle’s Boys (Listing Library)

Book by Jacqueline Woodson; performed by Dule Hill.

The story of three young brothers raising themselves after their Puerto Rican and African American parents’ deaths is credible, as is the range of tones and speech patterns the narrator provides to differentiate among them.

Seedfolks (Audio Bookshelf)

Book by Paul Fleishman; performed by a full cast.

The nine narrators in these interconnected stories of a community garden’s caretakers reflect a variety of ages, ethnicities and genders. Each reader here was chosen, in part, because s/he is a member of the demographic from which his/her character is drawn. Listeners new to English relate to the overarching story but also have the opportunity to sample how different types of voices and pitches aid or confuse their understanding of their new language.

A Step from Heaven (Listening Library)

Book by An Na; performed by Jina Oh.

This archetypal immigration story allows listeners to develop a better understanding of how the experience affects and is affected by different personality types. Oh pronounces Korean words easily and correctly and portrays the main character’s growth from preschool age through high school graduate.

Speak (Listening Library)

Book by Laurie Halse Anderson; performed by Mandy Siegfried.

The story of a young high school students who begins the year traumatized by a summer event resonates with both girls and boys. The narrator realizes the emotions of the main character as well as providing personality in the voices of her tormentors.

Stuck in Neutral/Cruise Control (Recorded Books)

Books by Terry Trueman; performed by Johnny Heller/Andy Paris.

Companion stories by brothers—one physically incapable of communicating and the other deeply stressed by the impacts of his family dynamic concerning a disabled member—prompt students to act as sleuths in putting together the full social and psychological picture of what disability can mean for individuals. Heller’s boyish voice, and Paris’s somber tones, work well for these temperamentally different brothers.

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