Literary Texts: Authentic Resources for English Language Learning
In this post I discuss about the teaching and learning of English language and literature in higher education in Nepal, how it has been changed, and significance of English literature in English language teaching in my understanding.
In the past, some ELT practitioners thought that there is no relation between English literature and English language teaching. They discovered no roles of literary texts for the comprehension of English language. They taught their students about language ignoring the literary texts in the language-teaching classrooms. On the other hand, facilitators of teaching literature thought that English education is only limited in how to teach English in classroom. They never looked for the syntactical and semantic significance of language used in the literary texts like poetry, essay, play, and story. There was a hot debate between them regarding the issues of language and literature in the canteen of colleges. They had had their own interpretation and understanding about the English literature and English education. Their main concern was to highlight their own subjects. There was a situation of rivalry between them.
I think the dichotomy between English education and English literature has created by the west that creates two hostile camps between its practitioners in our country. The tendency of western intellectual world regarding the issue of literature and linguistic made us to involve in the quarrel. The separate texts composed by the western intellectuals regarding the linguistic and literature that are prescribed in our syllabus are taught in our classroom as a different discipline. This kind of practices had been functioning in our universities regarding teaching literature and language. The department of language and linguistics never smelled the literary texts in their syllabus. Our curriculum designers were also influenced by the western tendency. So, they designed the curriculum of English language and literature separately. They never tried for meaning and harmonious combination in the curriculum for teaching language and literature hand in hand. Then, the practitioners of teaching language and literature moved ahead parallel like the two sides of a river learning the English language itself from the two extremes.
The ELT practitioners thought that the language of literature is not exactly appropriate for language teaching because it is idealized and figurative. They only focused on significance of linguistic norms which creates the proficiency in the language and important for language teaching. Their concern was in the linguistic norms and values. Moreover, they never thought the value of literature for teaching language. Its significance to provide the real situation how people can communicate the idea was ignored. It was not realized that literary texts are also made with the certain structure of linguistic phenomena that is supportive for teaching language. This idea was introduced by scholars in designing syllabus of language teaching classroom. Linguistics became like a hard rock with its own certain structure and values. The curriculum of our subject made us rigid in our area.
The tendency of teaching the English language in Nepal has been changed now. Literature is no more untouchable in a language classroom. The curriculum of language teaching has selected some of the literary texts in English language classroom. Some of the texts of linguistics and literature have mismatched with each other; the curriculum of both subjects has been merged somewhere a little bit. The time has changed; new generation has known this reality better than the past. The curriculum of ELT has used literature and literary texts in its syllabuses. The usefulness of the style of language used in literary texts has been focused on the English language teaching classrooms. Likewise, the classroom of literature teaching has also acknowledged the value of linguistics and language teaching to teach the literary texts. The teachers and students are familiar with language and literature in their classrooms either it be literature or language teaching classroom.
Now, the curriculums of English language and literature have created friendly environment between ELT practitioners and English literature facilitators. People think that linguistics and literature are not two separate subjects, and there is inseparable relationship between them in term of learning language. The distance, which was created by them, has been reduced. The practitioners of language and literature are not rivals at all now. There is the situation of drinking water at each other’s cup between teachers of English literature and ELT practitioners unlike in the past. Literature has also entered into the language classrooms. The literary texts have also been placed in the syllabus of linguistics classroom, and the study of language is also included in the syllabus of literature. The current practices of universities of Nepal have changed the old scenario of English teaching programs. What is the relationship between language and literature? What is the role of literary texts to learn the English language in EFL classroom? Regarding these questions, I try to write up of my experiences about the effective relationship between literature and linguistics to learn the language.
My English teaching experience to students of different colleges also reveals that literary texts are fruitful for teaching English language. Works of literature are studied worldwide, mostly for pleasure. However, for last couple of decades, it has been realized that literary texts are playing significant role in language teaching and are considered great source of authentic materials. Literary texts have become the most important source of materials in English language teaching classroom. Now the literary texts are also incorporated in their syllabus of language teaching program as they offer valuable authentic sources. In this regard, Collie and Slater (2009, pp. 3-4) mention that literature is used in language class because it is valuable authentic material; it enhances cultural and language enrichment, and it fosters personal involvement. So, it can be said that literature is an important source in language teaching because it offers varieties of texts along with culture aligned to it, that are useful in language teaching.
Different genres of literature can be useful in language teaching classroom. A poet composes a poem with the use of cohesion and coherence, which can be used in the texture of the linguistic analysis. The devices of language such as simile, metaphor, metonymy, pun, etc. are used in the poem, which can be useful tools to study of language teaching classroom. The demonstration and recitation of extract of beautiful verse of poem can create interest and develop comprehension about the language of poetry among the learners. It can help them develop their pronunciation. Therefore, the poem can be a good source for learning language. Short stories are also very useful to the English language learners as they are interesting, motivating, and amazing. In this regard, Wright (2000) mentions that making and responding to stories is only way of being creative. Stories offer new language, making it meaningful and memorable, which is a distinctive manifestation of cultural values and perceptions. It requires reflection on values and culture. He further argues that making and telling stories require the students to organize information into cohesive and coherent whole in order to communicate to other people. He also mentions that listening to the stories can develop listening skills whereas studying and learning stories contextualize language diversity in dialect and register of language, and narrative and description of speech.
Therefore, short stories are useful to learn four basic skills of language; listening, speaking, reading, and writing. They are also equally helpful to learn grammar, vocabulary, and language functions. They promote the imaginative skills and creativity as well through fun and creative activities of classroom. Teaching stories in the language-learning classroom engages and motivates learners creatively. The elements of short stories can be guidelines for creative writing. The learners can write their own stories using those elements.
Similarly, the play can be useful to promote the language skills of learners. Play is composed with use of contextual dialogue in a certain setting of it. The learner knows the contextual meaning of language after reading the play. Therefore, it is beneficial to learn the pragmatic and semantic meaning of the sentences used in the play because the dialogues are used in the conversation among the characters in the certain settings. The play is a representational art of literature, and it has a theatrical performance. The students can involve in the theatrical performance of the play. They can perform the actions and events of the play by using the dialogues. They can promote their speaking skill through the theatrical performance of play and achieve self-confidence in speaking English in front of the audience. They can develop their presentation skills and develop an understanding of cultural practices of other people through the play. They can be aware about the body language and contextual use of language. They develop their language skills watching and listening plays in the classroom.
Likewise, the essays are also beneficial for the language learners. Essays are written in different forms like persuasive, narrative, descriptive, etc. The language learner learns different forms of language and structure of sentence pattern through the essays. They get pleasure reading such essays and develop their reading habit that promotes their reading language skill.
Long fictional texts like novels also can be useful to promote the reading habit of learner with pleasure of reading. The rhetorical style of such long text can be beneficial to know the way of expression, style of writing and structure of sentences.
The role of literature in the ELT classroom has been reassessed. Now, English teachers and ELT practitioners view that literary texts provide rich linguistic input and effective stimuli for students to express themselves and a potential source of learner motivation. Those literary texts also provide an opportunity for multi-sensorial classroom experiences and can appeal to learners with different learning style. The students can develop their creativity in writing poetry, dialogues and descriptive writing after reading the masterpieces of literary texts. Likewise, literary texts engage the learners arouse interest to observe how to use figurative language, such as metaphor, metonymy, simile, pun, alliteration, assonance, hyperbole, etc. The literary texts make the learners to be aware of the pattern of sounds in language such as rhyme, rhythm, and repetition. Therefore, English language teachers and facilitators can use the literary texts for developing learners’ English language proficiency as authentic sources.
Collie, J., & Slater, S. (2009). Literature in the language Classroom. Combridge: Cambridge University Press.
Wright, P. (2011). Stories and their importance in language teaching. In Humanizing Language Teaching, Year 2; Issue 5.