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In the Name of God

How to teach English  literature to Iranian students or non-native English speaking students?

Introduction:

 What is Literature?

 In English ,”literature” has two vastly different meanings,one very broad and the other rather specific.”literature “ in the broad sense of the word refers to anything that is written,and this includes all writings which have a factual or informative nature.In this broad sense a newspaper account of a fire which broke out in a factory last weekend,for instance ,is regarded as literature.Such a report would include factual information about the details of this incident:when and where the fire broke out,how the fire brigade got informed of the fire,how much damage was done to the factory,when the fire was put out,etc.Needless to say that we do not read literature in this sense for information broadly.Literary works-stories,poems and plays-are not written to give us such kind of factual information;rather,they are written to familiarize us with life.And this is the second and real meaning of the word “literature”:in its specific sense,literature refers to writings which communicate life experiences or thoughts and feelings about life.

 

Why do we study literature?

 

For some fundamental reasons we devote a good deal of our precious time to literature:

1)Our personal experience of life is so limited that we can only have a small knowledge of the different aspects of life.One can widen one’s experiences and thus deepen one’s understanding of life’s complexity through literature.

 

2)Literature enables us to understand our own nature as well as that of the people around us.

 

3)Literature helps us develop sensibility and compassion for fellow human beings.

 

4)Literature provides the opportunity for comparing and contrasting the admirable and the sinister models of human behaviour.One can thus arrive at certain criteria for evaluating the subtleties of human behaviour.

 

5)Last but not least ,by acquainting us with situations in life that we have not personally experienced ,literature helps our intellectual growth and enables us to tackle our troubles in a more effective way.

  

History of teaching English literature to non-native English speaking people :

 

The issue of teaching English literature in a non-native context dates back from the early years of this century when literature was considered of high prestige in language study and acces to literey works was assumed part of the purpose of language learning (Widdowson 1984).This was characterised by a concentration on the classics assuming that if the students were continually exposed to the best uses of the English language,it would in some sense' rub off' on their own performance in the language.(Short and Cadlin 1989:91).However ,on the one hand the difficulty and the inaccessibility of many literary texts to non-native English speaking students and on the other ,the lack of a consistant and suitable methodology for the the teaching of literature brought about rather the opposite effect than the expected one.The literature class consisted often of an enthusiastic teacher-orator and passive students being 'too busy writing in translations of unfamiliar words to respond to the text'(Long 1986:42).

The gradual disappearance of literature teaching from the language classroom was an expected consequence.Surrogate literature replaced authentic texts in the form of situational textbook dialogues and short tales that were devised to carry structure only but none of the literary effect that characterizes a genuine text.(Short an Candlin 1984:91)

The place and the role of literature in the language classroom was questioned furthermore by the ELT approaches during the period 1960-1980,which didn’t encourage students to develop a ‘feeling for language ,of response to texts’(Long 1986:42-45).Structuralism on the one hand ,with the emphasis on correctness in grammatical form and repetition of a restricted lexis was incompatible with the teaching of literature.As Widdowson commented:

Literature ,and poetry in particular ,has a way of exploiting resources in a language which have not been codified as correct usage .It is therefore misleadind as a model…………it has no place in an approach to teaching that insists on the gradual accumulation of correct linguistic forms.(Widdwson 1984:162)

On the other hand ,the Communicative approach to language teaching during the 1970’s and early 1980’s emphasized the study of the language for practical purposes and since literature has no obvious practical uses it contributed nothing to the utilitarian objectives of language teaching thus,it had no place in the language classroom.The inclusion of literature was ‘a potentially disruptive influence in the well-ordered world of the carefully controlled language courses’ (Widdowson 1984:161).Widdoson,among the most dedicated supporters to the return of literature in the language classroom argues:

There is more to life than safe investment of effort.Language learning is surely not simply a part of training,an element in actuarial estimates and the calculation of manpower needs.Surely ‘we might murmur wistfully ,it should also have something to do with education as well?(Widdowson 1981/1984:161).

However ,during the 1980s there was a strong reawakening of interest in literature and language teaching .Linguists and ELT scholars (Widdowson 1984, Brumfit 1985 ,Long 1986, Long and Carter 1991 among others)argued not only for the value of teaching literature in the language classroom but for the necessity as well of re-inventing a different pedagogical approach for non-native speakers of English.The pedagogical interface of literature and language teaching should become the students’ responces to the text for the reason that:

……..the teaching of literature is an arid business unless there is a response ,and even negative responses can create an interesting classroom situation.(Long 1986:42)

 

In recent years the reawakening of interest in the teaching of literature to non –native students was a major motive for the design and publication of several books.Acorrding to the aims of these course books,emphasis is rather given on students’language development through the presentation of extraats of novels and short stories than on their literary development .In addition ,the potential that literary texts carry for the students’critical ability development and personal growth seem to be underestimated or totally neglected.

 

Models of teaching literature:

 

More recently ,Cater and Long (1991)describe the main edicational ,linguists and psychological arguments put forward for the teaching of literature as three models which are associated with specific pedagogic practices :the cultural model,the language model and the personal growth model.

 

The cultural model:

 

The cultural model highlights the teaching of literature for its value in ‘incapsulating the accumulated wisdom,the best that has been thought and left within a culture.’(Carter and Long 1991:2).Works of literature are the relics of culture and through their ‘study ‘ students understand and appreciate cultures and ideologies different from their own in time and space…………..

 

The language model:

 

In the language model(Carter and Long 1991:2)the emphasis is given on language as the literary medium.Since literature is made from language ,if students are exposed systematically to works of literature they will develop their literary competence too…………………

  

The personal growth model

 

The third approach outlined by Carter and Long (1991)is an attempt to bridge the gap between the previous two models.This is the personal growth model,which highlights the need of the students’personal engagement with the reading of the literary texts.The model focuses on the use of literature as a resource and not on the study of literature,or as Carter and Long (1991:3-4)put it ‘the knowledge of and the knowledge about literature’……………

 

Making a start:

 

The first problem every student of literature faces is a feeling of blankness.I have read the text,now I am supposed to study it:how do I start ?Teachers and critics sometimes make this stage more difficult by pretending that literature is a special subject which only experts can understand.Nothing could be more misleading.Great writers and poets write because they want to communicate with ordinary readers like you and me:they don’t write for experts.They are not writing on a specialized subject,either .Literature is about the same things you and I are concerned with:life and living.Be confident,therefore.Every students finds the first step in studying literature difficult,but there is nothing mysterious or specialized about it.The difficulty you face at the beginning is simply one of choosing what to focus on out of the rich mass of details,characters,events and so on,which you have met in reading the text.You are faced with the intricate complexity of a literary work:as soon as you can decide what to study first ,and where to start,you can make  a start.

 

What do help us to understand a work of literary?

 

1)Try to understand what’s the theme

 

2)Look at the characters

 

3)Look at the structure

 

4)Look at the style

 

5)Try to think about the text

 

6)Look at the imagery,irony and other literary terms

 

7)Think about the text

 

9)Analyse the text

 

10)Relate the part you have studied to the text as a whole

 

 

High school students and literature:

 

Never just assume that high school students won’t benefit from reading literature.The best teachers are the ones who push their students to be acquainted with English literature in English classes.Make sure you get a variety of forms of literature to English classes: short stories ,poetry,dramatic texts ,novels and so on.When you are reading texts ,don’t forget to point out things like sarcasm,irony,senses of humor and other literary terms in a very simple way.Classes should be dominated by discussion,and you should resist the temptation to control it too much.Think of yourself as a facilitator instead of an instructor.Some teachers say that they have no enough time to consider literature in English classes but the fact is that when there is a will ,there will be a way.Students enjoy literature and surely it is essential to their life.Some literature selections are quite long and dry,try to avoid them.You should know which type of program to choose.For the beginning short sentences from great men and women will be a good start because students like to memorise concise beautiful English sentences:

 

In this world ,nothing is certain but death and taxes.(Benjamin Franklin)

………

 

Beautiful pictures developed from negatives in a dark room.So,if you see darkness in your life be sure that God is making a beautiful picture for you.

……….

 

Friendship is not a game to play,it isn’t a word to say,it doesn’t start on March and ends in May,it is tomorrow,yesterday,today and everyday.

 

 

 

Literary texts should appeal to the students interests ,concerns and age;only then they have the potential to bring motivation in the language classroom and instill in the students a love for reading literature which goes on beyond classroom.poetry can raise students’ interest,but it should not be difficult  or full of literary terms to bore students.On the other hand reading a poem is a process of discovery and revelation.The simplest way to respond to a poem ,comprehending what it is about without necessarily understanding it.During the first reading ,the reader should be open and lose,allowing the rhythms ,the images ;and the flow of the poem to impress themselves .Additional reading after the first will being increased  comprehension, then understandibg .

 

 

As soon as I could speak

 

As soon as I could speak-I was told to listen

As soon as I could play –They taught me to work

As soon as I found a job-I married

As soon as I married-came the children

As soon as I understood them-They left me

As soon as I had learned to live –life was gone.

Debbie Carnegie

 

 

Money

 

Money is power:so said one

Money is a cushion:so said another

Money is the root of evil:so said still another

Money means freedom: so runs an old saying.

And money is all of these-and more.

Money pays for whatever you want-if you have the money.

Money buys food,clothes,houses,land,guns,jewels,men,women,time to be lazy and listen to music.

Money buys everything except love,personality,freedom,immortality,silence,peace.

 

Carl Sandburg

 

…………….

 

Dead Dog

 

One day I found a lost dog in the street.

The hairs about its grin were picked with blood,

And it lay still as stone.It must have been

A little dog,for though I only stood

Nine inches for each one of my four years

I picked it up and took it home.My mother

Squealed ,and later father spaded out

At bed and tucked my mongrel down in mud.

 

I can,t remember any feeling but

A moderate pity,cool not swollen –eyed;

Almost a godlike feeling now it seems.

My lump of dog was ordinary as bread.

I have no recollection of the school

Where I was taught my terror of the dead.

Vernon Scannell

 

As usual,it is better if the teacher quotes poems which are composed for the Musicality” of the line rather than enhancing the significance ,like the following:

 

وفا نکردی و کردم ، خطا ندیدی و دیدم

شکستی و نشکستم ،بریدی و نبریدم

اگر ز کرده ندامت، و گر ز خلق ملامت

کشیدم از تو کشیدم ، شنیدم از تو شنیدم

 

You were not faithful,I was;

You did not see your wrongdoing,

I did

You broke(promises),I did not;you

Severed,I did not if I rued what I did,

 if I met with people’s castigation It was

indeed you hidden behind all these.

(Mehrdad Avesta,”A Ray of Hope”)

 

The teaching of literature in an EFL context should aim to elicit the students ’responses to the text,and to guide them to ‘a personal discovery ‘thus,bringing in them the pleasure and enjoyment which comes from making the text their own’ :

 

“ We are students of words:we are shut up in schools,and colleges,and recitation-rooms,for ten or fifteen years,and come out at last with a bag of wind,a memory of words,and do not know a thing.”

 

Ralph Waldo Emerson

 

I want now to tell you ,gentlemen,weather you care to hear it or not,why I could not even become an insect.I tell you solemnly ,that I have many times tried to become an insect.But I was not equal even to that.I swear,gentlemen,that to be too conscious is an illness-a real thoroughgoing illness.For man’s everyday needs ,it would have been quite enough to have the ordinary human consciousness ,that is,half or a quarter of the amount which falls to the lot cultivated man of our unhappy nineteenth century,especially one who has fatal ill luck to inhibit the most theoretical and intentional town on the whole terrestrial globe.”

 

Literary texts in a foreign language context should be approached as a resource and not to study only for the students’ language and literary enrichment but as a motivating and a fruitful opportunity for their education and their personal growth.

 

ترسم ای مرگ نیایی تو و من پیر شوم

وین قدر زنده بمانم که ز جان سیر شوم

آسمانا ! ز ره مهر مرا زود بکش !

که اگر دیر کشی پیر و زمینگیر شوم

 

I fear ,Oh death,that you may not arrive and I get old,

And  remain alive so long that I get weary of life.

O heaven ,be kind enough to kill me swiftly,

For,if this gets late,I will be old and paralytic.

 

 

Giving the plot of a novel and discussing it briefly will help learners to be interested in understanding the novel:

 

The grapes of Wrath

 

The novel tells the story of Oklahoma farmers who are driven off their land by soil erosion.The Joad family drives to California ,hoping to take advantage of what they imagine to be a land of plenty.The Grandparents die on the way, and the Joads arrive only to be worn down by the impossibly hard life of migrant-pickers.They find a temporary respite in a government labour camp,but……………

 

 Literature in the language classroom should be explored in the light of a learner-centered pedagogy and as such it is meant a teaching which is centered on the students’communitative needs ,goals aspirations ,learning preferences.In this work the term will be seen the way Tudor (1996)sees it as:

 

A broadly –based endeavour designed to gear language teaching ,in terms of both the content and the form of instruction,around the needs and characteristics of learners(Tudor 1996:preface ix)

 

Conclusion:

However it has to be pointed out that these language –based activities should seek ways to leave considerable space for the students self-expression and to encourage critical thinking so as to foster critical awareness and enhance their political and social consciousness.This new perspective on the teaching of literature in the language classroom which aims to develop skills in critical and creative thinking contributes to the students’ personal growth and fosters their autonomy first as language learners and then as individuals.

 

Mohammad Golsanamlu

  خوی/محمد گل صنملو/ص.پ488 //mgol42@yahoo.com

 

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