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"Why" And "How" of Literature in Language ClassroomP. Padmini, M.A., M.Phil., M.C.J., M.Phil. (Journalism)
Poor Communicative Competence in English - Is Literature Teaching Responsible for It?
The main concern of the teachers of English is to help the learners acquire communicative competence. However, students who should have developed reasonable competence in English after more than a decade of learning English and spending their four semesters fail to succeed in English language communicative skills. They have difficulties also in comprehending the nuances, and acquire some creativity and versatility. Teachers, in turn, are shocked by students' incorrect use of language revealed though their errors in spelling, grammar, and vocabulary. In many programmes, literary texts like prose, poetry, and drama are prescribed and taught in language classes. However, the failure of learners to succeed in communicative skills creates a frustration and makes people question the use English literature in developing communication skills.
A Heavy Dose of Classical Literature!
Some educationalists believe that the reason for the students' failure to improve their communicative skills is due to the heavy dose of classical literature offered for study in classes. These works are usually in a form of language which is far beyond the language ability of these students. In order to understand such difficult texts students seek the help of sub-standard commercial notes with translations. This in no way helps the students to improve their English knowledge. This raises the question, "Why should we teach literature to language students when in no way it helps them improve their performance in the language?"
Literature Is Useful in Learning Language Skills
Literature provides the students with abundant examples of the subtle and complex uses of grammar and vocabulary of English.
English is used at its idiomatic best and is used most effectively in literature. The teaching of literature would definitely help the students improve their language skills. Good introduction to literature can compensate for the deficiencies of the linguistic approach in the area of grammar, vocabulary and syntax and can augment the students' competence in English.
Literature Helps Develop Communicative Competence
The teaching of literature can also be justified on the ground that the cultural backgrounds of the literary work would broaden the views of students on other cultures by stirring up reflection, inducing feeling, and stimulating action. The teaching of literature helps learners in gaining not only communicative but also creative competence.
Specific Uses of Literature in Language Class
Literature is lovable and pleasurable. It has universal appeal and it appeals to the hearts of the learners. Because of this strong appealing quality, literature finds an everlasting place in the memory of the learner. So literature is definitely a useful medium for language teaching.
Literature has certain specific uses in the language class. For instance, the skill of guessing the meaning of an unfamiliar vocabulary item from the context can be easily developed with the help of literature. Any literary text, whether prose or poem or a play, provides the learners with rich context and adequate clues to guess the meaning of new words we encounter in a text. Register based teaching of vocabulary can also be done with literature. In a literary text words frequently occur in related groups. These groups of words which are semantically related not only contribute to a better understanding of the text but also facilitate register based teaching of vocabulary item. Literature can play a vital role in the acquisition of syntax. The four basic skills of language, namely, Listening, Speaking, Reading and Writing, can be promoted through a literary text.
What Is Lacking in Our Classes?
However what is lacking in most of our English classes is the integration between language and literature. So, what we need is not the abolition of Literature teaching but the right choice of the texts and a change in the methodology adopted.
The Role of the Text
As far as the choice of text is concerned it is the key to success in using literature in a language classroom.
A text which is extremely difficult in linguistic or cultural levels will reap very few benefits. It is always worthwhile to use simple texts. There is a vast corpus of simple texts available within the body of literature in English. In Indian contexts, texts from the large body of creative writing in English by its non-native user from former British colonies such as countries in the Indian subcontinent, in East and West Africa and in the Caribbean can be used. The works of these non-native writers are unique in the way in which the English language has been extended, modified and elaborated to serve the purposes of revealing local, national individual sensibilities. These literatures also manifest a cultural context that an ESL/EFL learner can identify with. The simplicity in their works is a positive aspect of their literary merit and makes the works apt for the language classroom.
Develop and Use Appropriate Methodology
The next key to success in using literature in a language classroom is the methodology adopted. Any literary work can be read and discussed on three levels, namely, the denotative, connotative and the evaluative. At the denotative level what is said, or what happens to whom, for what reasons, where and when in a literary text is discussed. At the connotative level, what is meant by what the characters say or do is pondered over. And at the evaluative level, how does the reader regard what is said or done is dealt with.
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P. Padmini M.A., M.Phil., M.C.J, M.Phil. (Journalism)
Department of English
The Madura College (Autonomous)