Recently, some concerned parents brought their daughter, aged 14, to me for a consultation.

What can they do during a long summer break to maintain and develop her English? They did not know any English, and her teacher, it turned out, conducted all the lessons in Russian. Should they hire a tutor, or send her to a summer language camp? I asked the girl what she wanted, and if she was doing anything herself. This is the amazing answer she gave me: “I have got a TV show which I like. So first, I watch it dubbed; then I watch the same episode again, in the original, but with sub-titles. Finally, I watch it in the original, without the subtitles. If I cannot understand a phrase, I listen to it again, click on the subtitles or translation if necessary. And I check the new words in a dictionary”. Wow. I inquired if she was interested in reading, and gave her a book from the “Just 17” series. The number used on the cover, 17, made her blush excitedly. We all remember how important it seems to be more mature than your 14 or 15! I assured the parents that the whole series was orientated towards teenagers and contained nothing X-rated in it. I also advised them to let her be, since she was already doing a lot of real work, and a private tutor might inadvertently put a stop to it.
Naturally a lot of children will not do much if left to their own devices for the whole summer. Many parents choose a language camp because it fulfills the double role of having their children under adult supervision, and their receiving some linguistic instruction. I would say the most important thing is to introduce a good measure of variety into whatever can be done.
This is what I suggest both to school pupils, to university students, and to my colleagues at teacher refresher courses. Let us all take at least one book for our special summer read. Each person chooses a book to their liking, be it romance, fantasy, science fiction, thriller, mystery, travel or encyclopedia. We may read this book “with a difference”.
• We can write out every word which we cannot translate, or are unsure of its pronunciation, or which seems quaint, unique, obsolete et cetera.
• We may choose not more than a dozen such words to share with the class or group in September. That is to say, we do not retell the plot or analyze the characters, but rather make a linguistic presentation.
• We can mark several untranslatables which we can explain, but which we do not have an analogue for in our own language. For me, the simplest case in point is the word “spell”, as in my example, “spelled as it sounds”. When a native speaker of English asks a Russian to spell their name, it may cause consternation, since in our language, “spelled as it sounds” is more or less the rule, and there is no specific word for “spelling”.
• Compile a group of words and expressions which the reader could not quite understand or translate without using more than one dictionary plus the internet, and share the list with the class.
• Choose a common word and look out for word clusters, or unusual collocations. We may give a few pointers to our students, showing them how it is possible to work with the derivatives, and with the word combinations. For instance, the same word “spell” when used as a noun is vastly different from the verb “to spell” and the verbal noun “spelling”.
• A common word like “run”, learned at the beginner level, may be a great choice for working with word clusters and collocations. “She ran off a copy for him”. What does it mean? A good run, also rans, what runs in the family, to run out of, run with it, runny nose, run a temperature, in the long/short run, et cetera.
• A student of mine once wrote a whole course paper, paying a special attention to words beginning with “gl~” and meaning a look or a shine: glimmer, gloaming, glitter, glow, glimpse, glance, glamour et cetera. Through them, she found several connections to the groups like “flash/flicker” and “shine/shimmer”. This type of reading invariably fascinates children and adults alike. It is even possible to arrange a small game or competition on the subject. The winner is the student who finds more words stemming from the same roots for a given lexical cluster.
• If there are pupils who are not attracted by any special kind of work but agree to read or watch something, we may give them the usual task of reviewing or retelling their chosen book or show. Today, we may also introduce variety into this activity by suggesting that they formulate several arguments for and against using paper books and e-books.
• A surprisingly powerful stimulus is our own promise that we teachers shall also read and watch something in summer, and share our impressions with the students. Thus, my book of choice this season is “The Silkworm” by Robert Galbraith, a.k.a. J.K. Rowling. No, I will not tell my classes that I read it at one sitting. Yes, I will tell them that the author’s language is very rich, and the extensive vocabulary presents many wonderful topics for discussion.

Nina MK, Ph.D.

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