The Importance of TeachingEnglish Literature in Schools [Archives:2003/649/Education]

July 10 2003

By Mohammed Aziem Al-Bashir
M. A. in English

English is an international language, as we all know. Therefore, the role it plays is very significant. For this reason, all efforts should be made in order to enable the students master this language. In my opinion, as a teacher of English language at schools for more than two decades, English language is easy to master. But, what I see now is something different. Nowadays, a majority of the students refrain from using this language.
Many of my students at school tell me with frustration that they find English a difficult language to learn. I do know, that they sincerely want to master the language, use it and eventually make a suitable, beneficial career out of it. Even after attending summer courses in English, they voice the same complaint. I look at them with sorrow and pity. I feel sympathetic towards them. I know the real cause leading to their ignorance, although they are clever enough to master any language. The crux of their problem is that they are never taught English literature. Most of what they have been taught is communicative English, tenses and grammar with their dull and dry drills. English literature is undeniably the essence, the core. Moreover, an assimilative study of English literature increases their vocabulary, enlightens their minds through reading of literary texts and enables them to speak fluently. Above all, English literature instills into them the love of the English language.
What stimulated me to initiate a further discussion on this topic is the report by Dr. Ayid Sharyan in Yemen Times on the symposium held at Ibb University, 'English Literature Teaching in Yemen: Problems and Prospects.” Before this, I had already read the articles delivered by Professor Thakur in Yemen Times, “Teaching Language through literature: Problems and Principles.” In my view, the problem begins at the school level. Since we do not teach literature in schools; how can we expect the students to master the language and in the end appreciate its literature? The futility that Professor Thakur talks about, marked by an escape from the text, springs from here.
When the British colonized a country, they planned in the first place, to teach the natives their language to assist them with the administration of that country. They realized that learning the English language would be futile if not accompanied by teaching English literature. For this reason, English literature had been taught from the beginning. In my opinion, the British would not have been interested in the teaching of their literature unless they considered it a means of learning the language. Those countries which were once colonized by Britain, after they won their freedom rejected the English literature and stuck to the language teaching, those countries in fact, made a grave error of judgment. Ironically, proficiency in the English language which they aimed at deteriorated when they dropped out the English literature, defeating their basic goal.
To return to the point, it is time to teach our students English literature in schools in order to set them free from the agony and enigma of the problem of learning English. Dr. Thakur rightly recommends, children's literature. We can bring into the syllabus simplified English stories. Also, the syllabus can include simple lyrical poems such as 'Lyrical Ballads' by William Wordsworth. In addition to this, we can teach the students plays in simple English to understand and act out. In this way, we can, to a considerable extent, solve the problems students face in mastering the English language.
I hope Professor Thakur with his glorious contributions to teaching English language through literature, Dr. Ayid Sharyan with his great efforts to facilitate the learning process through 'Literature Textbook Series' and those who are engaged in this field, will help to see this project implemented. All this is for the sake of our students at school who are in dire need of help to master the English language, and who will, eventually, make the future students of the university.