Reading Frankenstein: Volume I

Sometimes what we expect to find in a novel clouds our judgment, so that we only see what we expect to see. This is true for most people who read Frankenstein for the first time.

After captain Walton’s four-letter introduction to the novel we know we are about to hear Victor Frankenstein’s story when we begin to read volume I. We don’t know exactly what to expect, but since we were kids we have had some preconceived notion of what is going to happen.

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Science, lightning, electricity – and then the monster comes to life!

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But the creation of the Monster (or Creature?) is only a small part of volume I. So what does volume I actually tell us? What events are the most important ones? Or perhaps the events aren’t the most important things, but something else is, such as a feeling, a setting, an object or something else.

Here’s a challenge! Summarize volume I in a Top 5 list in a comment below.

How I teach English pronunciation

It is often said that to improve your pronunciation, you need to live in the country where the language is spoken; it can’t be done in the classroom. Well, I tried to change that and this is how.

The students I have are 16–19 years old and almost all have Swedish as their first language. When they come to me, their pronunciation is usually really good. Most of them speak American English, some British, but you can hear that they are not native speakers. They get high to very high grades on the spoken part of the national tests. Improving from this high level has been difficult.

What I do now is to base the pronunciation work on the International Dialects of English Archive (IDEA). IDEA collects English from all over the world by having people read a sample text, Comma Gets a Cure. The pronunciation work is done in three steps.

The first step is for each student to read the sample text Comma Gets a Cure to me. When they do, I listen for three things: difficult sounds, where the sounds are produced and the intonation (melody). I take notes and afterwards I describe their pronunciation to them and tell them what they should focus on to improve their pronunciation. I also post this feedback to them so they have it in writing.

  For Swedes, the most common sounds to have problems with are /z/, /dʒ/, /tʃ/, /θ/ and /ð/. Most of my students are from Stockholm and they speak Swedish at the front of the mouth, which means that most of them need to move their sounds back – a little bit for British English, a lot for American and even more for a Texan dialect (try saying “howdy, how are y’all doing” and you’ll see!). Working on intonation (melody) is something that almost everyone needs, but it is especially fruitful for those whose pronunciation is almost perfect.

The next step is for the students to find a favorite accent at IDEA. I tell them that the more time they spend on finding an accent that they want to emulate, the better the results will be. When they have found a favorite it is time to start working. They plug their headphones into their ipads and start to listen and repeat, with their feedback next to them. I let them spend perhaps an hour doing this divided on two or three lessons.

The last step is to read the the sample text Comma Gets a Cure to me again. This is the fun part, for now I get to see how they have improved! And almost all of them do, and it lasts as well, for some students I have tested again a year later.

Instruktionsfilmer för engelsk grammatik

Jag laddade upp en del av mina instruktionsfilmer för engelsk grammatik på Youtube. Bakgrunden till att jag gjorde filmerna är att jag blev less på att om och om igen förklara samma grammatik. Ibland hände det att jag förklarade subject-verb agreement (kongruens) flera gånger på en och samma lektion. Under ett par år har de enbart legat på min wikispaces-sida som eleverna har tillgång till. Kolla och dela dem gärna, om du vill!

Filmerna är gjorda i tre steg. Först har jag gjort en presentation i Keynote. Därefter har jag importerat den till Ipad-appen Explain Everything och där spelat in filmen. Jag använder vanliga hörlurar som mikrofon. Det dröjde innan jag lade ut dem på Youtube, för jag kände ett starkt motstånd mot att ha dem helt offentligt och sökbart. De är ju inte perfekta, jag stakar mig lite och så, men nu tänker jag att om jag tycker att de duger till mina elever så duger de också för offentligheten.

Reading Frankenstein: Walton’s letters

The structure of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is like the layers of an onion; step by step we come closer to the core of the story. The novel begins with captain Walton’s letters to his sister, then Victor Frankenstein tells his story to captain Walton. At the core is the Creature’s own narrative. After that we return to Victor Frankenstein’s story and finally we are back with captain Walton who began the story.

The beginning with captain Walton’s four letters to his sister, which precede volume I in the 1818 edition, is notoriously difficult to get through for a first time reader. On a re-reading they are an important part of the novel because they set the tone (perhaps in the same way that an intro to a song is important, even if it lacks melody and rhythm).

Captain Walton’s letters describe how he travels north via St. Petersburg, Arkhangelsk (Archangel) and out into “the land of mist and snow“, looking for the Magnetic North Pole. This scientific exploration shows Enlightenment ideas. Captain Walton’s description of love and friendship, on the other hand, is very Romantic. He is impressed with the master of the ship who gives up farm and future to a young couple in love and his highest wish is to find a good and close friend.

Once you have read the novel, it is interesting to go back and read Walton’s letters again. Do they give us any hints about what is to come? Does Walton parallel any of the other characters in the novel? Is the theme presented in these letters?

What did you discover after a first reading of Walton’s letters?