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I have a KJV Bible and considering to use it to improve my English vocabulary, reading and writing skills. But, I'm not a Christian and also not so familiar with Western culture. I'm afraid that there may be some issues during learning, such as the difficulty in understanding its content and the some Bible vocabulary words or sentences may be ancient English.

Any suggestions for me to take advantage of the Bible when learning English?

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    Very interesting, but considering the King James Version is four centuries old, I'd recommend one of the newer versions. English has changed a lot since then.
    – Glorfindel
    Commented Oct 9, 2015 at 19:02
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    It is not a bad choice overall, because the Bible discusses a very wide variety of topics, so you will learn a lot of different words. Regardless of how devout of a Christian you are, however, you shouldn't make any assumptions about Western culture overall based on it -- Christianity is not as widespread as it used to be.
    – Crazy Eyes
    Commented Oct 9, 2015 at 19:17
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    I'd suggest Harry Potter, instead... very well written, but with much more modern writing. It also has a great mix of formal and informal, and is a cultural icon in most English speaking countries...
    – Jon Story
    Commented Oct 9, 2015 at 21:33
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    Verily, verily, I say unto thee learn not the tongue of the KJV lest ye be dismayed.
    – AllInOne
    Commented Oct 9, 2015 at 22:03
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    For example, if you are reading an English Bible that is more literal or word for word and using a non-English Bible in your native language that is more thought for thought, it will be difficult to understand as your "master" reference will be different enough that it's confusing.
    – enderland
    Commented Oct 10, 2015 at 21:39

4 Answers 4

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It's not a bad idea, and in fact there are some real advantages to learning from the KJV specifically, but there are some pitfalls too.

First, the advantages.

  • Bible translators (especially in English) generally are some of the most careful formal users of the language; it is very rare to find any errors or usages that could have been considered dubious at the time. So you won't be led astray by careless writers.
  • The Bible, especially the KJV, has shaped English culture and language for centuries in profound ways. Many idioms and patterns have become popular based on that, so in a real way, you'd be learning the basics of how the language developed.
  • As a Christian, I certainly can't discount the potential for spiritual learning as well.
  • Most of the specialized language in the KJV has made it out into the wider culture and kept much the same meaning, although there are exceptions, and not all of it is very widely-known these days.

Now, the problems. There's really only one big one.

  • The KJV is old. It's been four centuries since it was first written, and the revisions since then have mostly been relatively minor. (There are exceptions that have made larger changes, but those aren't called the KJV anymore.) So the language it uses has been kind of left behind. In particular, some very basic things like personal pronouns have been radically changed since it was written.

Instead, I'd suggest an alternative: the New King James Version. This version keeps nearly all of the cultural artifacts of the KJV — the turns of phrase, terminology, and rhythms — while updating the rest to fit modern English patterns better. (It's also a more accurate translation, but that's another story.)

As long as you keep two things in mind, you should be able to learn a good deal from it:

  • The formality of the Bible. This isn't exactly the sort of language used at the beach or the mall.
  • One of the hallmarks of great literature is that you gain a lot from re-reading. Don't expect to get it all on the first read through, by any means.
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    Great answer, going to post an answer to compliment this which I believe will address the valid "cons" you list.
    – user20827
    Commented Oct 9, 2015 at 19:38
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    @G.Ann-SonarSourceTeam: That's a pretty sketchy thing to ask about >_>. But yes, it does. Commented Oct 9, 2015 at 19:44
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    @G.Ann-SonarSourceTeam: Well, yes, if you're discussing whether Jeff and Sally have banged yet, no version of the Bible (or most other literature) will help much. For that, you'd turn to novels or magazines, possibly of the trashy romance variety. Commented Oct 9, 2015 at 19:57
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    Actually @TechnikEmpire it last came up for me when I was playing Boggle. So not conversation. But it still resulted in odd looks when I had to defend my word list. But imagine that you've correctly deduced the KJV meaning, and an acquaintance refers to someone as "a girl he knows"... Without context or a broader exposure to colloquial English, it could be... confusing. Commented Oct 9, 2015 at 20:00
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    For a more advanced learner I would add as a "pro" that the KJV was written about the same time as Shakespeare's plays, so learning one will help with understanding the other.
    – Readin
    Commented Oct 10, 2015 at 4:58
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Nathan posted a great answer, I just wanted to post a complementary answer with a photo (to illustrate) to address the valid points he's made about the possible downsides to using a KJV Bible alone. There are types of Bibles called Comparative Study Bibles which will have multiple translations side-by-side. These are great because many of the other translations are written in a modernized form, some of them are "paraphrased" translations which means they've changed the dialog to how it would be spoken today.

The paraphrased translations aren't well received by many Christians (in my experience) because as Nathan briefly touches on, we Christians are pretty serious about wanting to make sure things are translated correctly. However, to an ELL, they would be a fantastic resource for learning from old English, new English and paraphrased modern English side-by-side.

Example

Study Bible

If Finances Are A Barrier
Note that except in the U.K, the KJV Bible is public domain and you are free to download a copy of it (just google). There's also a modern version (updated version of American Standard Version I believe) called the World English Bible which was created specifically to be a free, public domain modern translation.

I would not endorse this as an "accurate" translation, but it is written in modern English. You can download it along with the KJV (wherever you find it) and compare them yourself rather than shelling out for a paperback Study Bible.

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    I don't believe the WEB is related to the NIV. I did check that out for my answer, although I'm not entirely convinced it's all that great in general; it combines contractions (good) with some odd sentence structures in e.g. John 1 (not so good). Commented Oct 9, 2015 at 20:03
  • @NathanTuggy Yeah I've never read it myself, except the odd passage where a post about it was tearing it up for removing things, which I didn't disagree with on a spiritual level. I was just posting about free copies of the Bible someone could legally get their hands on if finances were an issue.
    – user20827
    Commented Oct 9, 2015 at 20:06
  • @NathanTuggy you're right, it's based on ASV, not NIV.
    – user20827
    Commented Oct 9, 2015 at 20:07
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    While this is an interesting answer, I really feel that the mix of old and new English would be adding un-necessary complexity: English is tricky enough to learn as it is without trying to learn un-used language constructs etc
    – Jon Story
    Commented Oct 9, 2015 at 21:34
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    @Jon - I believe T.E. is saying that, if someone really wanted to study the KJV for some reason, the parallel translation would help the reader to decipher some of the harder-to-understand text.
    – J.R.
    Commented Oct 10, 2015 at 9:01
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The answers from Technik and Nathan are great covering most issues to consider, so I will not repeat what they have said.

The EasyEnglish Bible, is a translation created for people that are leaning English, it uses a very limited number of words, so someone can quickly learn enough English to understand it.

As a way of learning everyday English it is limited, but could be a great start along with a formal translation like the NIV or New King James and a paraphrase like the "Street Bible" (sometimes sold as “The Word on the Street” or The Message.

Studying the same passage from 3 such different versions will expose you to different ways of saying the same thing.

Luke’s Gospel along with the Book of Acts (also written by Luke, and often thought of as the 2nd part of his Gospel) would be a good place to start. Then look as some of the Psalms for a contrast.

The Bible Gateway is a website that allows you to look the same passage in lots of different versions.

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No, I don't think that an English language learner would benefit from reading the KJV version of the Bible any more than he or she would from reading any other 400 year old work.

Without a strong personal reason for reading the book, the combination of antiquated writing, a lack of a coherent story line from book to book, and sections that can be extremely tedious (ex: the begats) could make wanting to read it more difficult. I personally find it boring and disjointed at best. You definitely don't want educational reading to feel like punishment.

If you're interested in reading something in general to improve your English, then I would strongly suggest finding something that fits your interests. If you're interested in world religions or have always wanted to read the book for some reason, then the Bible might be a reasonable choice, and there are numerous freely available modern translations that would be more appropriate for learning English. If you're not determined to read the Bible specifically though, there are any number of other books that are written in modern English and that are much more enjoyable to read.

If cost is an issue, you might try visiting Project Gutenberg, which offers a huge range of public domain books as free downloads. Most are roughly 100 years old, but the language of 100 years ago is far closer to today's language than the KJV, and people had figured out how to write quality novels by that point as well, so the reading is very enjoyable. Have a look at their most common downloads for suggestions.

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    Good answer, except the implication that it is generally disjointed and boring is purely subjective, personal opinion. You later sort of imply that this is subjective (based on your personal interest) but fall short of making that clear, and your personal opinion on how exciting the content is is the basis of your previously stated conclusion.
    – user20827
    Commented Oct 11, 2015 at 16:07
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    @TechnikEmpire Fair enough, edited to indicate that that is my opinion. Honestly, it's difficult to argue that the Bible has anything like a coherent narrative overall though. Commented Oct 11, 2015 at 16:18
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    Well the thing to remember is that it's a collection of dozens of books, not one, spanning thousands of years of history. It's certainly not arranged in a way where it's like following a novel cover to cover, but it is possible to connect most of it together.
    – user20827
    Commented Oct 11, 2015 at 16:40
  • @TechnikEmpire Indeed, and the person asking the question is not a Christian, so unless he or she is otherwise personally motivated to read the book for some purpose beyond ELL, that lack of a continuous story (beyond the OT being a history of the Jewish people and the NT being the history of Jesus and the foundation of the early church) might well prove a substantial barrier. This is in contrast to something like the Bhagavad Gita, which would also probably be terrible for learning English, but which has a narrative path that can be followed fairly easily. Commented Oct 11, 2015 at 17:01

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