Studiu de specialitate – Should we be teaching Literature in the foreign language classroom?


Autor: prof. Decianu Cristina
Școala Gimnazială Nr. 17 Galați

The controversial question whether we should teach literature to foreign language learners is still unresolved and generates strong reactions on both sides. Critics believe that literary texts employ complex and figurative language, which daily communication does not use (Collie and Slater 1987: 2). Teachers should teach neutral and functional English, which will help students to acquire the necessary competencies. Supporters of teaching literature in schools argue that literary texts enhance learning, develop all skills and foster creativity. Literary texts depict reality; employ a meaningful and disciplined language and note what counts. They arouse feelings and describe what happens in the world. They appeal to the reader who judges the text; explores it and relate to the writing.
The issue of teaching literature to foreign language learners concerned many writers. We examined various arguments and selected what we consider some of the strongest opinions who support teaching literature to language learners. We also agree that literature enhances learning. Literary texts provide learners with authentic materials, cultural variety and active participation. Why should we teach literature to language learners?
Duff and Maley (1990: 5) mention linguistic, methodological and motivational justifications for using literary texts in language teaching. The authors emphasize the variety of texts in terms of style, register and tone, level of difficulty, arguing that readers can interpret them in different ways. A literary text offers an author’s opinion on things.
Besides the linguistic and motivational reasons, some consider the role of literature as a promoter of academic literacy and thinking skills and as a powerful change agent, which develops empathy, tolerance for diversity, intercultural awareness and emotional intelligence. Literature facilitates a gradual development of understanding of self and the world. Carter and Long (1991: 2) bring up three main models for teaching literature: the cultural model, the language model and the personal growth model. The authors connect them with certain pedagogical practices.
Collie and Slater (1987: 3-6) highlight the valuable, authentic material, the cultural and language enrichment, and the personal involvement that literary texts pass on to its readers. Lazar (1993: 18-21) points to the fact that literature offers students motivating material; access to cultural background; it encourages language acquisition; expands students’ language awareness; develops their interpretative abilities, and educates the whole person.
To all of the above, Van (2009: 2-9) adds that it is in line with the Communicative Language Teaching principles. He elaborates by specifying the ways in which literature can go hand in hand with CLT.
-The reader interacts with the text and its language. This generates meaning. Literature is meaning.
-Authentic communication and active involvement facilitate learning. Literature provides both.
-Literary texts facilitate students’ learning and develop active and critical thinking. Learners are active participants in learning and teachers are facilitators and guides. (fragment)