The complex business of teaching literature and language

Teaching English language is a vast and complex field involving different perspectives, contexts and approaches. It may take some of us quite a long time before we can find a place in this vast world where we can feel at home; a niche that corresponds to our interests and matches the way we see teaching English. It may take us an even longer time to be able to devote ourselves to develop this particular interest and be able to put this into practice in our everyday work. I believe I can consider myself lucky that after so many years teaching English I can now start to gear my professional activities towards the area in ELT that makes me tick: combining the teaching language with the teaching of literature.

Both fields have been historically linked, albeit one can argue that not always in an entirely positive way (Eagleton, 2008; Howatt, 2004; Parrinder, 2008). However, a certain re-consideration of the potential benefits of using literature in English language teaching seems to have been on the way (Hall, 2005; Johnson, 2013; McGuinn, 2014) The fact that the British Council (2015) has been investing in producing materials in the field and that more presentations at IATEFL are devoted to different ways of bringing together literature and language (2015) seem to attest to such a trend that in fact started in the late 80s and early 90s (Brumfit, 1986; Collie & Slater, 1987; Cook, 1994; Gibson, 1998; Lazar, 1993; Widdowson, 1982).

Teaching literature and language in the field of English for Academic Purposes (EAP) is perhaps even more complex business that doing so in general English language education for it demands from the tutors a highly multifaceted set of knowledge and skills. It does not suffice to be keen on literature or have a BA in English; it is not enough to be an experienced teacher; it requires more than being knowledgeable on the practices and conventions in the field of literary studies. If fact, it requires all these things at the same time and at a very high level. The list below may help to illustrate the point I am trying to make.

Ideally, an English language and literature EAP tutor should have considerable knowledge of:

  • English literature in general
  • Specific literary works in the course syllabus
  • Film, theatre and popular culture
  • Philosophy and literary theory
  • Different lines of literary criticism
  • History
  • English Language Teaching
  • Teaching English for Academic Purposes
  • Academic reading in general and in the field of literary studies
  • Academic writing in general and in the field of literary studies
  • Linguistics
  • Syllabus development and materials design
  • Assessment in EAP
  • Use of learning technologies
  • Institutional values and regulations in Higher Education

Considering the lengthy list above, it is little wonder that there is considerable shortage of professionals in the field and if we want to keep improving the quality of the teaching we provide, more teachers need to be trained to do so. Learning technologies may help us by making distance learning teacher training programmes available to teachers working in different contexts all over the world. A first step was the creation of the ELT Online Reading Group (Lima, 2013), but I do feel now that we need a more focused programme and structure. I am still thinking about it, but this is certainly something I am considering putting into practice at some point in the near future.

References

  • Brumfit C.J. (1986) Literature and Language Teaching. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Carter, R. and Long, M. (1991) Teaching Literature. Harlow: Longman.
  • Collie, J. and S. Slater (1987) Literature in the Language Classroom. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Cook, G. (1994) Discourse and Literature. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Gibson, R. (1998) Teaching Shakespeare. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Eagleton, T., (2008) Literary Theory. Minneapolis. MN: University of Minnesota Press.
  • Hall, G. (2005) Literature in Language Education. Basingstoke: Palgrave.
  • Howatt, A.P.R. (2004) A History of English Language Teaching. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Johnson, K. (2013) Shakespeare’s English. Harlow: Pearson.
  • Lazar, G. (1993) Literature and Language Teaching. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Lima, C. (2013) Accounts from an Online Reading Group for English Language Teachers Worldwide. PhD. Open University, UK.
  • McGuinn, N. (2014) The English Teacher’s Drama Handbook. London: Routledge.
  • Parrinder, P. (2006) Nation & Novel. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Widdowson, H. (1982) The use of literature. Paper given as a plenary address to the TESOL Convention 1981. New York, NY: Hines and Rutherford.
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