Literature in the University Curriculum of the Education Faculties (Part 2) [Archives:2003/653/Education]

July 24 2003

By Dr Ayid Sharyan
Department of English,
Faculty of education, Sana'a University
[email protected]

Language courses seem to be like driving lessons, metaphorically speaking. These lessons can help to train a student to drive the vehicle but literature is the highway on which they test themselves and try to drive that vehicle. If they are able to use language on that testing ground, then they are equipped with the necessary tool; if not they are bound to fail. Literature is like the sea on which untrained swimmers of the language would not be able to come safely to the shore. Thus both language and literature courses are complementary, not mutually exclusive.
To stress the role of literature, one needs to see the views of experts in the field. The importance of teaching literature, the paper assumes, emerges from the premise that literature is considered an important component of the curricula at the Departments of English of the Yemeni Universities and in most Universities around the world. It has attracted the attention of linguists who care for how English language can be taught to foreign learners (Widdowson, 1975; Hill 1986; Collie & Salter, 1987; Duff and Maley, 1991; Brumfit & Carter, 1991; Cook, 1994; Weber, 1996). Literature was viewed 'to teach and please'. It is widely accepted that the linguistic and conceptual levels of a literary text carry with it delight and wisdom for EFL learners. For this English literature was a major component in the syllabuses of Faculties of Education at Sana'a University, i.e. about 22% of the total courses (36/158×100=22%). In addition to this, the two basic aims for teaching literature here are enrichment of vocabulary and literary appreciation.
Teachers in many parts of the world feel that literature is a rich language resource which can be exploited beneficially (Ambatchew, 1997: 44). Literature is an authentic material. Teaching experience shows that learners benefit a lot from this unmodified language in the classroom because of the skills they acquire in dealing with difficult or unfamiliar structures in literary texts. Literature encourages interaction and debate in and outside the classroom which is an aim for language learners. Literary texts are often rich in language and multiple layers of meaning. It can be effectively mined for discussions and sharing feelings or opinions. Asking learners to examine sophisticated or non standard examples of language (which can occur in literary texts) makes them more aware of the norms of language use (Widdowson, 1975). Literature educates the whole person and seeks the general betterment of society through concepts of equality, non-exploitation and moral principle (Brumfit et al, 1991: 236). By examining values in literary texts, teachers encourage learners to healthy develop attitudes towards the other culture. These values and attitudes relate to the world outside the classroom. Literature provides the reader with unusual syntax, uncommon vocabulary and literary devices that are not found in other tailored texts without which a university graduate would lack proficiency in the target language for not understanding things like allusions, paradoxes, ironies, understatement, for instance, which are part the of the native speaker's competence and performance.
The flexible features of literature enable the teacher and students to contemplate and think over, or rather philosophise, the painful or beautiful aspects of life and existence. It develops the capacity for individual response to life and people through the mock reality where we can analyse the personalities and psychologies of other people, real or imaginary. In exploring the varied shades and layers of meanings, students reflect on ideas, beliefs and emotions when analysing literary texts while identifying with this character or that. Students react to a characterization of this personality or that situation which evokes some kind of response and self-involvement in the learning situation. Literature not only provides pleasure, but also develops emotional and intellectual capacity of the learners. It gives a genuine context for communication which an EFL teacher needs to motivate learners to participate and use their English.
Literature is more likely to provide the necessary stimulus to incite learners to speak and communicate effectively. The writers of literary texts communicate to us their feelings, emotions and experiences; we communicate our understanding and interpretation of the writers' experiences. In such a learning situation, students employ whatever language they have and make learning real not artificial. In addition to widening students' views, literature is used as a means to encourage effective teaching of the foreign language, encourage understanding between cultures by opening a window on the target culture and literature embodied in the target language.
Transfer of training in literature to everyday life is obvious in this situation. We read stimulating stories, for example, for entertainment, or for some linguistic considerations. Some of these linguistic considerations are acquired and transferred to everyday life. Dialogues are part of those stories; dialogues are common in our daily use of language. We talk about ourselves or about others. We relate stories and events that are real or made up. Part of our language competence, one can argue, is to be able to face story telling or comprehending in literature class or in real life (Collie and Salter, 1987). Without this our language competence is incomplete for the simple reason that the EFL learner is incapable of reporting simple events.
Stories are obviously everywhere: traditional fairy stories, films and plays, personal anecdotes, rumours, and stories from our imagination, literary stories, folk tale collections, newspaper reports, etc. We have stories from our own childhood, from the childhood of our friends, students and colleagues, etc. It is a kind of truism that telling a story is one way of learning and practising a foreign language.
These stories whether in drama, novel, or short story are used as an aid in learning and practising a foreign language by integrating all skills of language. The authenticity of the topic and material provide immediacy and life-like situations for interpersonal interaction when identifying with a character or taking a stand against undesirable behaviour or action. The conventions of the target language are clearly demonstrated in a literary text (e.g. the conventions of 'punctuations,' applications of grammatical rules and various uses of vocabulary).
To conclude, it can be said that literature is language and language is literature. They are inseparable faces of the same coin (the target language). To focus on one and marginalize the other is to deal with one side of the issue. Language and literature courses complement each other towards a balanced outcome of a well-formed personality in consonance with qualification of our graduates. This is then is a food for thought and a kind of feedback from people in the field of teaching literature at schools (Al-Bashir's article) and the university level (this article), curriculum planners and designers who attempt now to reform the existing condition of learning and teaching English at Sana'a University, Faculty of Education, Postgraduate Program, Aden University, Faculty of Education, or Science and Technology, Education and Translation Programs.

Ambatchew, M. (1997). “De-Mystifying literature.” English Teaching Forum. Vol.35, No.1, (January 1997).
Cook, G. (1994). Discourse and Literature: The Interplay of Form and Mind. OUP. Oxford.
Collie, J. and Salter, S. (1987) Literature in the Language Classroom: A resource book of ideas and activities. CUP. Cambridge.
Brumfit, C.J and Carter, R.A. (1991). Literature and Language Teaching. OUP. Hong Kong.
Duff, A. and Maley, A. (1991). Literature. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Hill, J. (1986). Using Literature in Language Teaching. Macmillan Publishers Ltd. London.
Kramsch, A. (1994). Context and Culture in Language Teaching. OUP. Hong Kong.
Widdowson, H. (1975). Stylistics And The Teaching Of Literature. London: Longman