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.
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.