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Did it seem to you that The Great Gatsby was especially difficult to read? It's a book that most American students encounter in high school. When I read it the first time, I certainly missed some of the nuances, but I didn't stumble over any of the words.

For the longest time it was thought that humans and some whales were the only species that use syntactical language - that is, a defined set of grammatical rules - to communicate, but recent research published in the journal Nature Neuroscience suggests that birds too, specifically domestic Society Finches, the domesticated form of the White-rumped Munia (Lonchura striata) of south Asia, have a strict syntax that is not only learned, but its incorrect use is not tolerated well:


 

Comments

Does Roger Ebert realize the the adaptation of The Great Gatsby he is critiquing is meant primarily for people learning English as a second language? I can't stand the guy so I quit reading a half a dozen paragraphs into the piece.

The end of the post contains this update:

Note 11 a.m. 7/6: Some readers say this is an edition for students of English as a second language. The web site didn't't make that clear. If it is, my question would be: Why not have ESL learners begin with Young Adult novels? Why not write books with a simplified vocabulary? Why eviscerate Fitzgerald? Why give a false impression of Jay Gatsby?

And Ebert has a point. Also, if you read only the first half dozen paragraphs of this article, you read mostly Fitzgerald, not Ebert.

"Why not have ESL learners begin with Young Adult novels?"

Because even young adult novels may be linguistically out of reach for people learning English. The book Ebert is attacking is for students of English; it's not a version of Gatsby for morons. I have read watered-down additions of Dumas and Zola when I was starting out in French.
Critiquing this book is like making fun of special education.

P.S. I read more than enough of the Ebert part.

Because even young adult novels may be linguistically out of reach for people learning English.

Yeah, but which is worse, teaching them a butchered version of the Great Gatsby or the Hardy Boys?

Why not take all the fancy words out of Shakespear?

Is it better to teach them with molested art or molested entertainment? I think I might be with Roger on this one.

Religious tourism has many flaws

Its amazing that people can go live in a culture with completely contradictory beliefs to their own, see that it is as internally consistant as their own, and then return to their own system.

It really says something about people's ability to ignore obvious contradictions.

It would be really interesting to see how folks would react to 21 days as an atheist.

First of all, I don’t think Fitzgerald needs a nitwit like Roger Ebert to defend his novel. Secondly, learning another language is an arduous process, to put it lightly. Anything that will encourage students to read is a good thing (I feel reading is one of the best methods for learning another language, much more effective than simply studying grammar). The goal of many students of a foreign language is to reach a level of sophistication that allows them to read original texts, but this takes time, a lot of time. Students of English are very lucky that they have these kinds of resources available to them to make the difficult journey a little more bearable (and interesting). Ebert began his crusade without even understanding that these books aren’t a substitute for the originals, they are stepping stones to those texts, the fucking idiot.

A few years ago I gave a Spanish friend who is studying English a copy of Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men which I thought would be approachable for someone at her level seeing how we read this book at 14 or 15. I soon realized as I answered her questions and translated passages into Spanish that it is a very difficult text for a non-native speaker. These graded English readers are a godsend for students as they provide a lot of interesting material at different levels.

I never read a simplified text of a novel in my life

How about interpretations of the classics for children? Is Ebert against those as well? I read a children’s version of Don Quijote a couple of years ago and this year plan on tackling the original. I still look back with fondness when I read a simplified version of Le Comte de Monte Cristo. I doubt that Dumas is rolling in his grave over that adaptation.

Language isn’t just about learning new grammar and vocabulary; it also has a lot to do with learning the culture where the language is spoken. These books offer a very helpful insight into our society and provide a certain level of cultural literacy for the newly initiated. I’m sorry but anyone opposed to that is just being stupid or understands nothing about the problems of language learning.

Language isn’t just about learning new grammar and vocabulary; it also has a lot to do with learning the culture where the language is spoken.

I think you just made Ebert's point for him. The thing that makes The Great Gatsby special is that it masterfully conveys the culture of the times. The simplified version fails in that regard. Whether the book was intended for "morons" or ESL students, the MacMillan version alters and dilutes the original, rendering it useless or at least much less valuable as a means of describing our culture.

How about if ESL students learn our language and culture by reading one of the many, many, many, many books written specifically for that purpose? They could be reading The Great Brain series or Encyclopedia Brown or The Hardy Boys or any of the other books intended to convey language and culture to new readers. Why mess with Gatsby?

I'm sure Ebert isn't opposed to resources for ESL students. What he's opposed to is this unnecessary "retelling" of one of his favorite novels. You are conflating these two things.

Also, what you got against Ebert? He's a good writer and a good critic.

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