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Teaching language through literature Lector dr.

Monica Oprescu

Teaching literature is one of the most important aspects of language teaching in ESL classes because it develops language skills, language structures and it also improves the students personalities and their critical thinking. Literature is not only for advanced students. It is recommended that teachers should start using literature from the early stages of language teaching, even with young learners, literature being not only for advanced students. Beginners and young learners can be helped to acquire many language items in a pleasant way, using easy texts, stories, poems and this is also a good way of motivating students to learn the language. Teachers may impose some models through the use of literature in the ESL classes, as Ronald Carter and Michael N. Long (1991) suggest: the cultural model, the language model and the personal growth model. The cultural model enables students to acquire information about authors, cultural trends, certain periods and even about the historical background. They learn both literature and culture and they succeed to understand different cultures and value them. Literature is also a good way of teaching and learning language and this is the aspect we are going to focus on. The language model is associated with language based approaches in which language structures are imposed and reinforced. It is also an opportunity to develop skills like reading, listening, speaking and writing and also study skills, training students to work on their own. Students are shown the creative uses of language and this teaches them to be creative, too. The last model is the personal growth model, which includes the other two, and which refers to the students growth as individuals. They cultivate their imagination, creativity, critical thinking, aesthetic taste, all these being of great importance for their future development.

Besides these three models that literature develops, there are two main theoretical approaches involved in teaching (Carter, McRae, 1996): the traditional study of literature, also called product-based teaching, and the use of literature as a linguistic resource, or process-based teaching. The first one involves an aesthetical reading of texts and the use of metalanguage and critical concepts, being accessible only to advanced learners, while the second considers literature language in use which is exploited for language learning purposes. Process-based teaching or, as it has been named by other methodologists, the language based approach for teaching literature (see Carter, Long, 1991) is founded on working with language, different techniques being applied for the understanding of the texts and, afterwards, for the creation of new texts. Integrating language into teaching literature is the first stage of the process of teaching literature, as Ronald Carter and John McRae (1996) observe, which may be applied not only to advanced learners, but also to lower levels. They mention its characteristics: activity-based, student-centered, process-oriented approach. More difficult approaches that aim at interpreting the texts will follow. When discussing language based approaches for teaching literature Michael N. Long refers to the text-as-object (Long 2000:44) which contains language items to be learnt. Students learn vocabulary, grammar, so the text proves useful because it makes the students acquire certain language structures and it also reinforces them. Understanding the language of a literary text is the first step, an essential one, necessary for a following interpretation of it. Another methodologist, William T. Littlewood, referring to language based methods for teaching literature, distinguishes some levels: language as a system of structures, basically grammar and vocabulary, language in a specific stylistic variety, which gives the students a chance to learn about different language varieties, language as the expression of superficial subject matter, which refers to the situations and characters presented, and language as the symbolization of the authors vision (Littlewood 2000:178-180). This proves that learning a language is

a complex process, involving the study of language structures, the stylistic varieties of language which lead to the interpretation of language. Learning language through the use of literary texts is essential not only for learning language, but also for the future interpretation, which cannot be done without a proper understanding of the text. An aesthetic reading (McKay 2000:194) cannot be done without an examination of the text. This should be followed by its interpretation at a more subtle level, teaching the students how to understand the characters, the narrative techniques and the meanings of the text. As I have mentioned before literature is not only for advanced students, but also for children. English classes can be interesting and fun if language is taught with the help of poems and stories. Children even acquire a language better if they are motivated and stories and poem can help English teachers to achieve their goals. Objectives aimed at when teaching literature: General objectives: -to make the lessons more attractive; -to develop the students imagination; -to help students think creatively; -to create a pleasant atmosphere; -to build literary culture; -to arouse interest for literature and to encourage students to find out more about English literature; -to familiarize the students with the writing of a text/an author. Specific objectives (referring to language) -to use a variety of activities and texts; -to develop abilities in English; -to develop writing skills; -to develop speaking skills; -to develop reading skills;

-to develop prediction skills (discussing the beginnings in order to arouse interest in the text); -to introduce models of different styles of writing; -to practise creative writing; -to analyse the language used by the author in order to create the atmosphere; -to describe the characters, their attitudes, development; -to describe the story line /settings; -to write a parallel story; -to act out parts of a play/novel; -to compare the action /language in the text to that in the film which was made after the book. Language based activities having as a starting point literary texts can be divided in pre-reading activities and post-reading activities. Pre-reading activities are essential for the motivation of the students, directing their attention to the text and eliciting the cultural background, vocabulary items and predictions. In order to discuss the cultural background the teacher may refer to the author of the text, integrate him/her into a cultural trend and a period. When teaching an author, and we will take Wordsworth as an example for teaching advanced students, they should be given information about the historical period, the 18th century, they should integrate the author in the Romantic period and also learn about the Lake Poets, the group of poets to which he belonged. This can be followed by personal questions related to the topic, the aim being the introduction of the students in the theme and the atmosphere of the text. Pre-teaching vocabulary will prepare the students for a better understanding of the text, because by grasping the meanings of the language they reach to the message of the text. Difficult grammar structures should also be explained, with the

same purpose. Prediction activities are also important for this stage, arousing the students interest in the text and motivating them to read. There are lots of prediction ideas proposed by methodologists. Here are a few examples: the students are given only the title or the first paragraph and they have to predict the plot. Or they are told the name and some features of the main character and they have to imagine how that character develops. These activities are vital for teaching a literary text, because they create interests and expectations and they contribute to the success of teaching literature. They are essential and they should be used in order to prepare the student for the actual reading of the text. Post-reading activities The reading of the text should be followed by different types of activities, aiming at comprehension and interpretation. To check the understanding of the plot the teacher may use comprehension questions and summaries. In order to make the activities more interesting the students may be asked to arrange some jumbled sentences, make up a summary or choose the correct summary from a given list. Understanding the characters and the point of view shows deeper levels of text interpretation. The activities used can be: character description, using adjectives which define the characters, or writing a diary/letter from the point of view of one of the characters. These types of activities can be successfully used for teaching a difficult text like Mrs. Dalloway, Virginia Woolfs novel, in order for the students to understand the narrative techniques like the subjective point of view and the stream of consciousness. Other activities may require creativity and also develop the students speaking and writing skills. They may be asked to write an essay on a certain topic related to the studied text or, something more creative, to write an interview with one of the characters or with the author. When writing they develop many levels of language (vocabulary, morphology, syntax) and their focus should be on accuracy. Their speaking skills can be practised in debates which become interesting if the topic is well chosen by the teacher. An interesting topic to debate could be based on Thomas

Hardys novel Tess of the dUrbervilles, asking the students to decide whether Tess is a victim of her destiny or not. These activities aim at communication and their point is fluency in expressing ideas, bringing arguments and using language in order to persuade. Creative writing activities are also meant to teach language through literature (Bassnett, Grundy 1993). These involve creative uses of language and they can be used for every level, from beginners to advanced, stimulating students to work on literary texts or to write literature themselves. Students can be asked to write poems, short stories, plays on their own, starting from a model of a given literary text or not. One of the language based approaches mentioned is creative writing, a method that helps students explore language, the language of famous English writers, highly skilful language usage (Bassnett, Grundy, 1993:7). It is used to stimulate the students creativity and imagination and it is a way to motivate them to learn the language through interesting activities. The language model which is essential for teaching literature and creative writing is developed, preparing the student for deeper levels of text understanding and interpretation. Creative writing involves the original uses of language and it can be used for every level, from beginners to advanced, stimulating students to improve their language. It is recommended that teachers should start using literature and creative writing from the early stages of language teaching, even with young learners, who can be helped to acquire the language in a pleasant way, by using easy texts, stories, poems. This may be a good method to motivate the students to learn the language. The students perspective over language changes when they learn literature, as they gain control of the language and their creativity and motivation increase. A classification of creative writing activities refers to activities based on literary texts and activities meant to create literary texts: students can be asked to write poems, short stories, plays on their own, starting from a model of a given literary text or not.

Here are some examples of creative writing activities (see also McRae, 1991 and Bassnett, Grundy, 1993): transforming the poem into prose; rewriting the poem; writing another poem, using the title; writing another poem, using some words from the model poem; writing their own poem, being given some words and/or the title; writing a poem starting from a personal experience; writing a poem in groups cooperative writing. These types of activities can be practised in pairs or in groups, using cooperative writing, giving the students a chance to work together and to share ideas. Bassnett and Grundy state that: there is a need for a methodology change in the teaching of foreign literature, to bring it more into line with the learner-centered collaborative approach of the communicative method (1993:1). Writing poems can be fun and challenging if the students are given text to start from, for example Edward Lears rhymes, which can be used even with beginners. These types of activities can be practised in pairs or in groups, using cooperative writing, giving the students a chance to work together and to share ideas. They can work on a given literary text and change it, writing a version of their own. Or they might be asked to alter it, changing the ending. They can write, for example, a different ending of Shakespeares Romeo and Juliet or a modern version of it. Besides confidence, enjoyment and the development of language and individuality, creative writing exercises give the students a larger perspective: that of literature and of culture. These activities are designed to promote sensitivity and to develop interpretive skills by exploring awareness of patters of language from the inside (Carter, Long, 1991: 90). Creative writing helps students explore language, the language of famous English writers, highly skilful language usage experiencing what that language

can do (Bassnett, Grundy 1993:7). It stimulates their creativity and imagination and it is a way to motivate students to learn the language through interesting activities. We can conclude by saying that teaching literature can be used in a creative way for teaching language. The language model is essential for teaching literature, preparing the student for deeper levels of text understanding and interpretation. Language based approaches focus on developing language through the use of literature, using different types of activities which can be motivating for the students and which develop their creativity and imagination. References Bassnett, S., Grundy, P. 1993. Language through Literature. London: Longman. Carter, R., Long, M. N. 1991. Teaching Literature. London: Longman Carter, Ronald and McRae, John, 1996. Language, Literature & the Learner. London and New York: Longman. Long, Michael N. 2000. A Feeling for Languages in Literature and Language Teaching, edited by Brumfit, C. J., Carter, R. A. Oxford: Oxford University Press McKay, Sandra 2000. Literature in the ESL Classroom in Literature and Language Teaching, edited by Brumfit, C. J., Carter, R. A. Oxford: Oxford University Press Littlewood, William T. 2000. Literature in the Second Foreign Language Course in Literature and Language Teaching, edited by Brumfit, C. J., Carter, R. A. Oxford: Oxford University Press McRae, John, 1991. Literature with a small I. London: MacMillan.