There are a number of ways to teach a foreign language such as English. Most teachers use standard textbooks, choosing to become a disgrace to the profession. Others overreach by employing unedited (and unnecessarily difficult) newspaper/magazine pieces. Neither works and both should be punishable by law.
At Bee's Knees, we do stories. Stories that I hope are enjoyable, fun to read and talk about, ones that leave you with a better grasp of English and a better understanding of life in English-speaking countries. (For the sake of a definition, by 'story' I mean any text that I consider interesting enough to be called a 'story'.)
Over the past dozen years I have introduced a number of stories, some of which are presented in this book. They may not be the most thrilling pieces of writing you'll ever come across (although they're all definitely worth reading), but they contain a huge amount of good English. And that's ultimately the point.
These stories come from various sources and yes, copyright could be an issue here. I generally try to contact the copyright holders (or authors) to get permission, but more often than not I come up empty-handed. Then I just roll the dice and use the stories anyway, simply because I can not not do that.
Each story appears in four variations here. There's the English version—with underlined bits that you need to pay extra attention to. Then there's the Czech translation (more on that below) to allow you to become familiar with every detail of the story. Then there are the fill-in exercises to make sure the whole thing is not a colossal waste of time. And finally there are the psych-outs to show you how much you good stuff you missed the first time around.
Let's cut right to the chase, shall we?
Why should I buy this book?
You already have. So.
Oh. Dammit, should have seen that one coming.
You said you had a question?
Oh yeah. Uh, so, are all these stories, like, from the same schoolyear or whatever? (Not that I care, really.)
Well, that was the original idea. I then started rethinking it, realizing that some of the stories just weren't up to scratch. Although I remember them being fun to work with in classes, for some reason or another that just didn't translate to paper.
So what did you do about that? (God, I don't even know why I'm asking this. First of all, I know the answer already—you probably just added stories from other years—and second, I don't give a damn either way.)
Funny you should ask. I kept the ones that did work on paper and added stories from other years. Pretty smart, huh? So I ended up with a collection of mighty fine stories that you now get to read.
Are they any good?
Yeah. I mean, of course they are. Why would I pick stories that suck?
Because you do that sometimes.
What?! Ah, screw you. I mean, what does that even... Gee, the nerve of some people. Damn ingrates is what you are, all of you lot.
Calm down, will you? I was just yanking your chain. I know the stories are gonna be cool.
Ok. Don't do that again.
Anyway, I was wondering—what level of students are these stories for?
That's a tough one. Some are pretty challenging and some are written in relatively simple English. Some will take weeks or months to get through, others you'll read and soak in right off the bat. My advice is to deal with each story at your own pace.
What if I skip some?
Don't. Seriously, don't.
What are you gonna do to me if I do?
I'll rip your throat out and make you choke on it.
You wish. You don't have the guts, man. You're just a big baby.
Can we change the subject, please?
You got it. So here's a good one. Do the stories contain spoken or formal English? Is there slang that I should avoid? What if I embarrass myself by using the wrong phrase in the wrong situation? Look, I'm freaking out here.
Slow down there, tiger. You're gonna be fine whatever phrase you use in whatever situation. No one's gonna rip your head off for being too formal. That said, some stories actually are more formal while other use very colloquial English. As for slang, there's very little of it here so no need to worry about that.
What's the deal with the asterisks (*) next to some vocabulary?
An asterisk next to a word/phrase indicates that this word/phrase isn't worth learning. Note the n't part in isn't.
A lot is underlined in those stories. I mean, a lot.
I'm pretty sure there's a question hidden in there somewhere that really wants out.
There is, as a matter of fact. Are all of those underlined bits important?
Yes. Not necessarily all of them for you in particular, but you really want to check out every single one of them before deciding which are worth your attention and which you feel confident about.
So what's more important, the vocabulary or the underlined bits?
I don't believe you're even asking me this.
Ok. So I guess it's the... the... uh, it's probably the... v-- [angry glare] ... the underlined bits, obviously.
Obviously. The vocab is there just so you understand what the story is about. Once it gets you there, don't go back to it. Focus on the underlined bits instead.
I couldn't help noticing that all of these stories were written by someone that's not you.
That's right. I myself don't have the imagination to write a good story. I just don't have what it takes and it's killing me but what are you gonna do, right? I'm pretty good at improving other people's stories, though.
I see. So what if whoever actually wrote one of these stories sues you?
Yeah, that'd be a bummer.
Is that all you have to say about this?
I think so.
So which story has the best English?
These intros, hands down.
Wow. Talk about patting yourself on the back.
See? That's exactly what I'm talking about.
Huh? I'm confused. Like, I'm way in over my head here.
Your honor, I rest my case.
Some other things you may be wondering about:
What if I'm not, never have been and am not planning on ever being a student at Bee's Knees—should I still get this book?
Haven't I answered this question before? I have, haven't I? So yeah, get whatever book the answer's in and stop harrassing me.
I'm a teacher of English and I'm thinking of using these stories in my classes. What do you think?
Go for it, man. But tread lightly and don't expect miracles. Not all of these stories are suitable for straightforward telling. Sure, some are, but others work better when introduced on paper or assigned for homework as fill-outs. Keep in mind that things can go wrong in a number of ways in class. Your students may not find these stories as entertaining as you or I did. Or you may be a lousy teacher who couldn't sell a candy bar to a fat kid. What I'm saying is, a good story is not a guarantee of a good lesson.
Are all these stories for the same level of students?
They are and they aren't.
They are in that you need to be reasonably familar with current American English in order to follow them. They aren't in that some are a little trickier than others. Generally speaking, if you can handle the easy ones, it'll just take you slightly longer to get through the tough cookies.
Will there be more books in this series?
Yes. A lot more, hopefully. I'd like to cover the past dozen years' worth of stories, for starters. Yes, I'm thinking big here.