Abstract


Motivating second language learners to read in their target foreign language presents a dilemma: on the one hand students are motivated to read authors in the original who's works are already well known to them, perhaps as part of the literary canon in their native language. (Shakespeare is an example for ESL; Hugo for FSL). Texts from such authors offer a rich and yet familiar conceptual framework for language learning and a natural transition to immersion in a foreign language and culture.

On the other hand, texts by well know authors are often difficult to read in the original, even for native speakers. Thus though "Hamlet" is extremely well known, its archaic language and syntax are such that it would make little sense to suggest this text as introductory reading for an ESL student, however motivating and useful prior knowledge of the plot might be.

One solution to that dilemma is to rely on scaled down versions of classic stories that are hand-crafted for language learners. Instead of the original "Hamlet", one could imagine any number of simplified Hamlets written at different levels of linguistic complexity. In fact, these derivative Hamlets could serve as useful stepping stones towards a mature reading the original. The student would start by first reading a simple but complete version of Hamlet at the appropriate level, with a simple syntax and lexicon, and then reread the entire story, but in a more complex version. By reading several times the same story at increasing levels of complexity, the student should be able to gain in a systematic manner the linguistic expertise needed to read the original.

In this talk we will consider these "Russian doll" texts. Some of the questions, among others, we would like to discuss are: What computer tools might help in the delivery of such a reading environment? What tools can assist the management and generation of version series? How does one measure linguistic complexity for language learners?