Literature in the EFL classroom
by Nelly Zafeiriadou
cultural model highlights the teaching of literature for its
value in 'encapsulating the accumulated wisdom, the best
that has been thought and felt 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. Literature preserves cultural and artistic heritage
and because it is characterised by this 'human sense' it possesses
a central place in the study of the humanities in colleges
and universities of the western world.
However, the relationship between a culture and its literature
does not always seem simple and explicit for various reasons.
First, few works of literature could claim to be a genuine
and purely factual representation of the social and historical
reality of an era (i.e Dickens' novels and 19th century novel,
but one could not argue the same about the 20th century, especially
when looking at the post-war novel.) Literature is a form
of art and as such is the language and the content of it is
deliberately and creatively modified for the needs of the
writer. (Brumfit and Carter 1986:25).
Second , the issue of how far a literary work can represent
its culture raises the question of how culture is defined.
(Lazar, 1993:16). G. Lazar argues:
our definition to be an anthropological one in which culture
is defined loosely as the values, traditions and social practices
of a particular group- which are then revealed in the literary
text? Or do we define culture as the discernment and knowledge
traditionally possessed by the well educated, enlightened
and cultivated native speaker, which is passed on 'good literature'?
What then is the place of 'popular culture', which may in
fact be of greater interest to many of our learners?'
to the teaching practices the model has been associated with
a more teacher-centred, transmissive pedagogic mode. The text
is seen as a product, a sacrosanct from and about which students
accumulate descriptions of critical schools and literary movements,
biographical facts about authors and various synopses. An
example of the model's implementation was the post-war English
teaching in the overseas context which had been marked by
a consistent 'flight from the text' (Short and Cadlin1989:
179 -180) ignoring the fact that:
literature is worth teaching qua literature, then it seems
axiomatic that it is the response to literature itself which
(Short and Cadlin 1989:179)
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. Literary texts are exploited for the teaching of vocabulary
or structures or language manipulation. The argument behind
the model is that the students will enrich and develop their
language input since literary texts offer contact with some
of the more subtle and varied creative uses of the language.
The model seems to retreat in a way into the early 20th century
view that concentration on the classics of English literature
would promote the students' linguistic development, too.
Undoubtedly, there is much to be gained in terms of language
development from such an exposure. It seems though that such
a view ignores the real nature of literature, which is above
all an expression of art created to communicate feelings,
thoughts and ideas. The readers' responses to the literary
texts are totally neglected and the approach may result instead
in mechanistic and demotivating teaching practices spoiling
any pleasure that the reading of good literature can give.
In addition, the contribution of the teaching of literature
to the students' emotional evolvement and to their personal
growth seems to be totally neglected.
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