- 95%+ vocabulary coverage,
- focus on very frequent words (eg. “le”/”the”) to give best coverage sooner,
- repetition of new vocabulary,
- images to enhance recall,
- high interest story (I hope).
Here’s my Goodreads review of the book…
Three distinct sections in this reader, at different levels of difficulty.
1. Beginner French, with very simple grammar, but school vocabulary assumed. Progresses through the chapters. Not overly interesting.
2. History. Written in present tense. I enjoyed reading about the ancient history more than the modern. I had read some of these before in Roussy de Sales’s earlier publications, where these were separate books. Again, there is quite a bit of vocabulary here.
3. Famous short stories. These include perfect and imperfect tense, so grammatically suitable for the intermediate student. For some reason I don’t really enjoy these stories, though I think I understood more of them in my most recent reading than when I read them over 10 years ago in other editions.
There is still quite a vocabulary burden when reading these, so their suitability will depend on how comfortable people are with unknown words, and the size of their current vocabulary.
Further info on an extract of the text.
Chapter 1 is 87 words (tokens) and 43 distinct words (types), which makes a type-token ratio of 0.49, which is suitably low for beginners. This compares favourably with other beginner stories, like Bonjour Berthe, and Gnomeville Episodes 1 and 2, but is aimed at an older audience.
Chapter 1 gives a reasonable amount of repetition for de, est and il. Other words would need to be encountered more frequently to be acquired via reading.
In summary, it is good that these stories are still available, as they certainly have their place for French extensive reading.
I sold the first “I can’t believe I’m reading French” Gnomeville comic that I listed on ebay last week, and I’ve decided it’s worth putting my comics up there to provide somewhere for people to buy them easily until I move toward having my on-line shop. Currently sales are a little too low to warrant having a shop front, but it will come. So far I’ve sold about 20 comics, and given away 14 ebook issues, but things are on the increase.
Here are a couple of photos of a comic book page spread in Episodes 1 and 2.
This link should help you find Gnomeville comics on ebay at any time, though it may be the Australian ebay. I have, however, set up international sales for the comics. My Gnomeville Comics products page also lists the links, if you should need them late.
The ebooks of Gnomeville comics, including previews are available on Amazon.
Only four months after its launch, Gnomeville: Dragon! Episode 2: Les Potions et les Pythons is available on Amazon as an ebook. Now you can read both Episode 1 and 2 and learn the 20 most frequently occurring words in French newspapers, as well as many English-French cognates.
In this episode, you meet Le Prince des Pythons, who lives in La Jungle des Pythons. Enjoy!
After many years in development, and release in physical form in 2014, my comic is finally available as an eBook.
This is the first episode in what is arguably the easiest book in French for native English speakers. Designed to introduce one or two new words or concepts per page, and to exploit the over 1,000 words that are the same in French and English, you learn the most frequently occurring words in French, while being entertained with a story about gnomes, mages and dragons. While the series is optimised for language learning, by using sight gags and visual humour it still manages to be entertaining from the first few pages. Follow the story of Jacques, Magnifica the mage, the gnomes Didi and Dada, and the griffon as they commence a quest to capture a rogue dragon.
The book includes further stories to reinforce the vocabulary learnt so far, as well as a crossword and songs. The mp3 file of the narration by a native French speaker of the Gnomeville Episode 1 story is available from the author on email of the receipt as proof of purchase (first 500 buyers). The first 10 customers will receive all audio tracks of Episode 1 (3 stories, 2 songs), while the first 100 customers will receive the narration and one song.
The comic book has been checked by three native/near-native speakers of French to ensure authenticity. It exploits several principles of language acquisition:
- language can be acquired by reading extensively at a comfortable level of difficulty;
- images increase retention of language;
- glosses increase vocabulary retention;
- repeated occurrences of new vocabulary increase vocabulary retention;
- comprehension-based activities (eg. crossword) related to the reading improves retention of language;
- once ~95% vocabulary coverage is achieved (episode 2), then it is possible to guess the meaning of new words, and confirm by checking the gloss after guessing, which further increases vocabulary retention.
In summary, this is a well-researched, well-edited, entertaining introduction to reading French via an extremely easy to read comic book. Read it before you read anything else in French. Read it now!
Level 0: Single-word nouns or adjectives – if the book is nicely illustrated in a way that makes the words identifiable, not too long, and maybe has some punchline equivalent at the end, as some do, then these are good for practising an unfamiliar alphabet such as hiragana and katakana. The words are typically not high priority words, but tend to recur in stories anyway. I have had enough repetition of certain animal words that I know them, even though they are not very useful for me when communicating to others.
Level 1: Repeated sentence structure – as above, these are excellent reading practice, and can help people learn some basic grammatical structures, while a story of some kind is told via the repeated sentence having different substituted nouns that are identifiably illustrated. The LOTE series by Nelson Price Milburn are very good in this regard. If they were longer than they are, then they would be tedious, but there are about 6-7 repetitions with minor variations, followed by a punchline of some sort. The books by Evrat Jones, published by PCS Publications, are not as good, largely because of the illustrations. Maybe I’m biased against old-fashioned repetitive images that look like dorky Grade 1 readers from the sixties, but their lack of appeal makes them more of a chore to read through. They would also benefit from a glossary at the back.
Level 2: Small vocabulary and a small set of grammatical constructions. Here is where the typical vocabulary-controlled reader fits into the scheme of things. Within this level are all the stages of most published reading schemes, taking readers from around 300 words of vocabulary to 2,000, and from present tense to all the normal grammatical constructions.
Level 3: Native text.
Reading at levels 0 and 1 for the past week or so has me thinking there is a niche for books at these levels for adults. Given an adult’s greater world knowledge and sophistication, it should be possible to create a more interesting narrative with these levels than is currently seen.
I have finally produced an extract of the comic book for people to look at. It contains 12 of the 28 pages, with images reduced to readable low resolution.
The extract contains all the text that explains the rationale for the approach, as well as showing a summary of the language covered in the first episode. There are 3 pages of the Gnomeville story in the extract. The first two show how the story begins with no prior French knowledge, and how the language is introduced. The third page shows how the text increases in complexity and length later in the story, with a very short word definition on the page, so that the person reading is not slowed down too much in their reading in French.
Note that the extract doesn’t show the true page format, as it is an ordinary A4 pdf file, whereas normally the pages are processed into book form, re-numbered appropriately and trimmed to size. The story pages are colour right to the edge of the paper in the physical copies.
I’ve been reading a lot of easy readers in French and German of late, and some of the recent ones are of the Lectures CLE en français facile series. I’m now at a point where reading the 500-600 word vocab ones are easy enough for the story to be enjoyed.
In the past I’ve not looked forward to reading abridged and adapted versions of classics, either because I wanted to read the original at some point, or just because I found them uninteresting. However, I’ve changed my mind. The CLE 500-word vocabulary adaptations of En Famille (by Hector Malot) and La Guerre des Boutons (by Louis Pergaud) were both thoroughly engaging. I’m now reading Jacquou le croquant by Eugene le Roy, which is a 600-word vocab adaptation. There seems to be a lot of 19th century French literature about people living in poverty and hard times, and CLE has made it accessible to learners of French. I find the lengths of the books to be about right too, at about 50 pages of story – probably about 12,000 words all up.
I hope that I can find a similar resource for German.
Having given myself a hard deadline of Friday so it would be ready for launching at a concert of French music, it is done!
The “I Can’t Believe I’m Reading French” Comic Book Series, Episode 1: Gnomeville: Dragon!
- 28-page booklet plus audio CD containing 3 stories in comic book format, a crossword, a song and a language summary.
- Assumes no prior knowledge of French but a native or near-native English speaking background.
- Introduces 12 of the twenty most commonly occurring words in French newspapers, one new word per page of the Gnomeville story.
- Uses the words that are common to French and English to ensure that all words in the stories are familiar, such as “dragon”, “gnome”, “arrive”.
- The Fido story provides further reading practice, ensuring each target word has been read at least 5 times.
- The crossword allows you to actively use the language to increase retention
- The songs provide further practice, including pronunciation
- The narration provides pronunciation information and listening practice
- The Taxi story is a nice easy story to read after the other stories.
- The audio CD contains the stories read by a native speaker, plus two songs related to the stories.
- $20 plus postage from Melbourne Australia
- Currently only available from me directly, but stay tuned for updates.
Continuing my articles on easy readers, today’s post is dedicated to Dr Seuss. His first constrained vocabulary book was The Cat in the Hat, which was released in 1957. It had a vocabulary of 236 words (though other sources state slightly different numbers) , and yet was entertaining. Dr Seuss then went on to write other books with a reduced vocabulary, including Green Eggs and Ham, which has only 50 different words. Wikipedia lists the words used as: a, am, and, anywhere, are, be, boat, box, car, could, dark, do, eat, eggs, fox, goat, good, green, ham, here, house, I, if, in, let, like, may, me, mouse, not, on, or, rain, Sam, say, see, so, thank, that, the, them, there, they, train, tree, try, will, with, would, you.
These books are truly brilliant, in that they make children want to keep reading, while being easy for them to read. A 50 word vocabulary is an amazing achievement.
Green Eggs and Ham has been translated into many languages. We have a copy in Italian: “Prosciutto e uova verdi”. However, once translated, the number of distinct words increased to about 127. A translator has to somehow convey the original story as well as the rhyme and rhythm. I’m not sure if the translator considered the goal of using the smallest vocabulary possible, as 127 for a text length of 620 words seems quite high.
I’m reminded of a section in the book “Gödel, Escher, Bach: an eternal golden braid” by Douglas Hofstadter, which looks at German and French translations of Lewis Carroll’s Jabberwocky poem. The original has many made-up words that hint at meanings due to their phonetic similarity to other words. For example “slithy” hints at “slimy” and “slither”, among other words. It is translated to “lubricilleux” in the French and “schlichten” in the German version. Combining made-up words with rhyme and meter makes it a very difficult translation challenge.
But back to easy readers. While it may be useful to translate an easy reader to another language – particularly when they are as entertaining as those of Dr Seuss – I think the best work can be achieved by exploiting the quirks of the original language. Design your easy reader for your specific target language.