TeachingEnglish
The Role of Literature in ELT - Part One

The relationship between Literature and English Language Teaching has been rather a difficult marriage throughout all these years. There have been moments of unfortunate separation and attempted reconciliations skilfully planned (Carter, 1988a, 1988b; Carter, 1989; Lazar, 1993; Cook, 1994; Short, 1996) which seem to foretell they will live happily for a while. Yet, one should not be oblivious of the years they have been through under the scrutiny of contemporary scholars and have a general picture of this relationship (Parkinson and Reid Thomas, 2000; Hall, 2005; Carter and Stockwell, 2008; Paran, 2008).

However, all the controversies and different stances taken by linguists, literary critics and practitioners have not been able to hide the reasons for incorporating Literature into the English Language classroom.

Collie and Slater (1987: 3-6) support the inclusion of literature in the language classroom as it provides valuable authentic material, develops personal involvement and help contribute to readers’ cultural as well as language enrichment. These advantages, they move on to assert, can be achieved provided teachers use relevant and appealing material to learners through the use of activities that promote involvement, reader response and a solid integration between language and literature.

Practitioners, that is, teachers in the “battlefield” (though I do not mean a conceptual metaphor like TEACHING IS WAR), indicate that they use Literature in their English teaching practices

a. to broaden students' horizons by giving them a knowledge of the classics of literature;

b. to improve student's general cultural awareness;

c. to stimulate students' creative and literary imagination and to develop their appreciation of literature;

d. to introduce students to masterpieces in British and American literature as an educative experience, and to add to students' knowledge of the world at large.

(Akyel and Yalçin, 1990: 175)

Following this trend, Carter and Long (1991:2-3) propose three models to justify the use of Literature. The first model in their discussion is the CULTURAL MODEL which represents the possibility Literature brings into the picture as regards the understanding and appreciation of different cultures and ideologies together with the developing of one’s perception of feelings and artistic forms. Their second model is the LANGUAGE MODEL. This model emphasises the fact that language is the literary medium and that literature could be seen as an instrument to teach specific vocabulary and structures. Last, their PERSONAL GROWTH MODEL entails students engaging with the reading of literary texts, appreciating and evaluating cultural artefacts and, in broad terms, the understanding of our society, culture and ourselves as we function within that social matrix. With regards to this last model, I personally interpret this aspect as one which covers the previous two since cultural understanding presupposes some cultural knowledge and in order to engage with a text and evaluate it one must resort to language to achieve such a purpose.

Even though no general categories are put forward, Lazar (1993: 11) asserts that literature should be seen as an invaluable resource of motivating material and as a bridge to provide access to cultural background. Literature, she moves on to say, encourages language acquisition, expands students’ language awareness and interpretation abilities, claims which might be connected to the role of stylistics in the study of literary texts (Alderson and Short, 1988; Short, 1988; Lazar, 1993; Cook, 1994; Short, 1996), and last, it educates the whole person, position which resembles the personal growth model described above.

Building on previous reasons for the teaching of literature in a second language, Parkinson and Reid Thomas (2000; 9-11) add that it provides a good model for good writing; it is memorable, non-trivial and challenging, and it also helps assimilate the rhythms of a language; therefore facilitating intelligence and sensibility training.

Last, it is further claimed that literature helps enhance the psycholinguistic aspect of language learning as it focuses on form and discourse processing skills and improves vocabulary expansion and reading skills. Literature, in addition, has experienced a revival with the advent of communicative approach in language teaching as it provides learners with authentic, pleasurable and cultural material (Hall, 2005:47-57).

The same justifications outlined above could be also used to justify the incorporation of a novel as one type of literary text in our syllabus o course plan. According to Lazar (1990: 204-205), when using a novel, teachers should look at both possible drawbacks and educational as well as linguistic opportunities. I will briefly mention the reasons behind the latter. First, a novel provides a more involving motivational source for pedagogic activities, and it also engages learners intellectually, emotionally and linguistically. Furthermore, it provides a picture of another culture, though some cultural background is deemed essential. Last, the act of reading a novel enhances meaning making processes and language capacity (Widdowson, 1984:246) in our learners.

Why do I use Literature in English Language Teaching? First, because I am a reader and I would love to share with my learners this enthusiasm and pleasure in reading fiction. Second, because I believe it can help students engage in the learning of English and at the same time improve their communicative competence. Third, because I believe that Literature enables us to grow personally and socially raising cultural awareness. Last, but not least, because I believe that English should also let learners know that they can build bridges between their backgrounds in Spanish Literature by revisiting literary terminology together with other aspects involved in the study of/about Literature.

References:

Akyel, A. and E. Yalçin (1990) “Literature in the EFL class: a study of goal-achievement incongruence.” ELT Journal 44/3: 174-180.

Alderson, J. and M. Short (1988) “Reading literature”, in Short, M. (ed.) Reading, Analysing and Teaching Literature. Harlow: Longman.

Carter, R. (1988a) “Directions in the teaching and study of English stylistics”, in

Short, M. (ed.) Reading, Analysing and Teaching Literature. Harlow: Longman.

Carter, R. (1988b) “What is stylistics and why can we teach it in different ways?”, in Short, M. (ed.) Reading, Analysing and Teaching Literature. Harlow: Longman.

Carter, R. and M. Long (1991) Teaching Literature. Harlow: Longman.

Collie, J. and S. Slater (1987) Literature in the Language Classroom. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Cook, G. (1994) Discourse and Literature. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Hall, G. (2005) Literature in Language Education. New York: Palgrave.

Lazar, G. (1990) “Using novels in the language-learning classroom.” ELT 44/3: 204-214.

Lazar, G. (1993) Literature and Language Teaching. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Paran, A. (2008) “The role of literature in instructed foreign language learning and teaching: An evidence-based survey.” Language Teaching 41/4: 465-496.

Parkinson, B. and H. Reid Thomas (2000) Teaching Literature in a Second Language. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

Short, M. (1996) Exploring the Language of Poems, Plays and Prose. Harlow: Longman.

Widdowson, H. (1984) Explorations in Applied Linguistics 2. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Average: 3.9 (14 votes)

Comments

Katherina_Chile's picture
Katherina_Chile

Dear Dario,I can't put into words how I felt reading your post. I am a teacher of English (NQT), I have just graduated from Uni a couple of months ago, and for my Graduate Research Paper I undertook a similar research than what you have explored above. (I focused on the use of literary texts and/with drama techniques to teach English as a Foreign Language.)I completely agree with you on the grounds for the use of literature when teaching English, and would like to add the fact that this methodology (complemented with drama techniques or by itself) can enhance the stages of grammar (language) acquisition.Those that are still reluctant to leave the grammar aside should not put off trying this methodology; furthermore, drama techniques provide a wide new range of approaches to language teaching that fit even better the stages of learning/ For example, the different approaches to drama - open, controlled, semi-controlled, process drama, etc., can be used when progressing along the learning path.I haven't read your other posts yet, but will do so immediately, let's see what else I can find! *grin*Best regards,Kathy

Dario Banegas's picture
Dario Banegas

Hi Kathy!
It's nice to know that we pursue the same interests. Overall, I believe that depending on how much we can do or allowed to do we can explore drama, novels, and poetry to increase grammar noticing and language awareness as a whole allowing our students, at the same time, to play and be creative with language learning.
Best,
Darío

shekynyba's picture
shekynyba

Literature involves a special or unusual use of language. Many linguists and language teachers have pointed  out that there are a number of features of literary language which can be isolated. Many of these features occur in other genres of discourse as well, but in many literary texts they combine to form a highly unified and consistent effect, which is strongly reinforces the message of the text.
     Some of these linguistic features are metaphor, simile assonance, alliteration, repetition of words or phrases, unusual syntactic pattern, double or multiple meaning of a word, poeticisms, and mixing styles and registers.
Literary language is relative rather than absolute, in that certain texts or parts of a text may exhibit more or less of those linguistic features associated with literature than with others. Literary language is therefore not completely separate from other forms of language this has some implications for the use of literature in the classroom. There are few factors which may be important in influencing or even determining the interpretation that the reader makes of a literary text.
1. the period in which the reader lives.
2. the class or social position of the reader.
3. reader’s background and knowledge of literature
4. reader’s awareness and openness towards the different culture aspects and to what extent can accept the cultural diversity.
According to the last point some learners refuse to accept to study literary texts that includes some values that may think versus to their own values this happened to one of my colleague when students insisted to refuse to study a literary book  although it is written by a native writer. Lado in his book ( Linguistics across Cultures) states that ‘’ individuals tend to transfer the forms and meanings and the distribution of forms and meanings of their native language and culture …’’   

Dario Banegas's picture
Dario Banegas

Thank you for your contribution. Much is said about literary and non-literary language. The linguistic features that your valid contribution assigns to literary language can also be found in everyday language. We may think of puns, idiomatic expressions, metaphors and other figures to obscure meaning or to play with double meaning as well.
Your reference to the context of the reader reminds me of Lecercle who speaks about Literature as Pragmatics in which he hopes educators can help readers start a relationship with the text they're approaching as the text will talk to them personally, as it were, and the text in turn will be transformed by the reader.
Thank you again for posting!
Darío

Marwan Abdeh's picture
Marwan Abdeh

I'm keen on exlporing the subject of drama in the ELT class. I appreciate any suggestions or comments. kind rgds Marwan

achogeorge76's picture
achogeorge76

Thanks Mr.Dario for this inspiring article on the role of Literature in ELT.It is really resourceful.

alda english's picture
alda english

Hello,I need informations about Shakespeare's life (personal and professional) and whatever info. which belongs to him. But i should take the info from this page, not google, or youtube. Any article of British Council about this topic? Do you know?THx. :)