Findings in previous studies about the ways that literature can improve the language skills of ESL students
Literature has been used over the years as one of the ways of teaching English as a second language. The literature has been incorporated in modern-day technology, such as videos and audios that the students can listen to (Grellet 82). For example, students are encouraged to listen to music and watch movies that use English. This makes the whole learning experience easier and fun. It suffices to mention that there are studies that try to examine whether literature is critical in ESL. Those who support the premise explain that three factors are crucial to the proper acquisition of English as a second language. The three factors are the language used by the teacher, the environment in which the language is taught, and the props that are used during teaching. Literature is, thus, classified as one of the props that are used, especially if the literature is incorporated into technology, such as music and movies.
In the same note, studies have shown that students who studied ESL using literature that was incorporated into technology performed better than those who used traditional literature, which was books and newspapers (Grabe 380). The main reason that has been cited for this is the fun aspect that is associated with the technology-based literature. There are scholars who have argued that the literature used in technological devices and platforms is more complex than that in the newspapers and traditional teaching techniques. The argument is based on the fact that such audio-lingual and visual-lingual techniques incorporate a more complex form of communication that is mixed with cultural aspects. The ESL taught in standard classrooms involves only the formal English language. The English used in music and movies tends to have some information and culture centred aspects (Shanahan 166). This can also be said of some books. For example, a book, movie, or music about the black community living in a ghetto residence will incorporate their type of English. The black community has been known to twist English rules and make their own. For example, many black people will say: ‘What ya’ll doing?’ This question is not grammatically correct, but it is culturally acceptable as it hints at an association with the black community. The question in the correct grammar should be: ‘What are you all doing?’
Previous studies also indicate that literature can be used to improve the language skills of ESL students, as they get a first-hand experience of how to use the language (Arthur 202). Studies prove that students borrow a lot from their first languages when learning a second language. However, this makes it difficult for them to understand what they are learning. For example, the Arabic language has only one article, the definite article (Obeidat 30). Therefore, when an Arabic-speaking student borrows this concept from their language, they will only apply the use of the definite article even when it is not necessary. Using literature gives such students first-hand experience of how the language is used. Obeidat explains that the Arabic-speaking student will be able to note the situations in which articles are used and the type of article that should be used in different situations (35).
According to Ernst-Slavit, Moore and Maloney, research studies show that audio-lingual techniques help ESL students learn more about pronunciation (118). Students try to imitate the same pronunciation they heard. The audio-lingual technique also helps the students pay attention to. Visual-lingual techniques help the students read body language. To some extent, the language relies on body movement and nonverbal cues to be understood. For example, people who are talking at an arm’s length could be an employer and his employee. Harris explains that this is essential to know because it determines the vocabulary that is to be used in that particular situation (16). Watching a movie or a picture that has these different uses of space helps the ESL student understand how to apply the English language in different environments.
Additionally, research shows that traditional techniques used to improve the language skills of ESL students, like reading out loud in class, tend to focus solely on the ability to read and not the ability to apply what has been read (Ghosn 177). The purpose of learning a new language is to use it efficiently when necessary. When an individual cannot apply what has been learnt effectively, then they have wasted time in the classroom. As mentioned, literature helps the students identify different situations and how language adapts to the different environments identified. Thus, the students can read and apply the language as expected.
Moreover, research studies done in the past show that ESL students are good at reading, but they are bad at writing and speaking English (McKay 531). This proves that teachers mainly focus on reading out course materials loud, such that the students do not understand how to apply what they have learnt in class. Studies show that many ESL students can also be good at writing English, but they are not good at spoken English. This has been attributed to the way teachers emphasize that students should do written tests and not oral tests. It is only at the very basic levels that ESL students are required to take oral tests. Overall, these students are usually weak in one of the mentioned aspects. Literature tries to change this by allowing the student to both read out loud, write down their opinions on what has been read, and analyse the text. The analysis, in turn, helps the student to know how to apply what has just been learnt.
At this juncture, it is crucial to point out that improving language skills through literature alone is not enough to enable the ESL students have a tight grasp of the language (Fox 72). Scholars have acknowledged that there are other important techniques that also have to be included in the lessons in order to ensure total understanding of the use of the language. For instance, other things that can be used alongside literature include direct approach, grammar-translation, and nonverbal communication techniques.
The advantages versus the disadvantages
As mentioned, the use of literature to improve the communication skills of ESL students has numerous advantages. However, it also has countable disadvantages. It is crucial to discuss each disadvantage and advantage in detail In order to determine whether the benefits outweigh the disadvantages.
The biggest advantage of using literature in teaching ESL students is the ease of application later on. Literature introduces the aspects of communication and environment (Spack 715). Thus, the student can use whatever skill they have in the right situation. For instance, a novel not only has a plot, but the author also describes the situations, the people, and characters involved and their background. English is not only used for official purposes; the use of English for official purposes only makes the language and the sender of the message appear authoritative and bossy, especially if the situation called for a more informal talk.
As mentioned, the literature also incorporates the impact of culture on the English language. Currently, there are two main versions of English; the American English and British English. However, many other forms have cropped up over the years. Many teachers try to teach either one of the two major forms of English. However, it suffices to note that the ESL students learn English not just to be seen to know English, but also to communicate effectively. Imagine a person speaking British English in a ghetto resident. The person will be out of place, and chances of miscommunication are very high. Using literature avoids this kind of a situation by giving the students different ways of using English, according to the case at hand.
Learning English using literature work is also fun. Learning a second language as an adult is not easy; it can also be very boring and at times due to its difficulty. However, as mentioned, technology has been used together with literature to create fun ways of learning (Traore and Kyei-Blankson 567). For example, a group of ESL students watching a video on the use of ‘articles’ in English will most likely remember it than a similar group that listens to a teacher in class. Additionally, a group that is encouraged to read books and novels will know other aspects of English that are not usually taught in ESL classrooms. Such students have the advantage of learning more sophisticated vocabulary and sentence construction, without being bored by the teacher.
Additionally, the literature does not only teach the students how to read and write, but it also teaches them how to add more spice to their English conversations. Books employ the use of various stylistic components. For instance, a book can use humour, irony, and sarcasm to give out its plot. Thus, the student reading it will not only learn how to read and write English, but he or she will also learn how to use sarcasm, irony, and humour in everyday talking (Mokharti and Ravi 8). Stylistics is also achieved through understanding when to write and what to write. For instance, as mentioned, the Arabs have only one article in their language; the definite article. English, on the other hand, has three articles ‘a’ ‘an’, and ‘the’. It is very common to find the Arab ESL students use only one article in their writing as they are borrowing from their culture (Vandrick 255). Stylistics in English allows the writer to drop an article in some situations; this type of article is referred to as the ‘zero article’. For example, it is correct to say: ‘Apple, a fruit so nutritious it keeps the doctor away’. However, it is also grammatically correct to say: ‘An apple, fruit so nutritious it keeps the doctor away’.
Another advantage is the many ways in which literature appears. Literature is not only found in novels, but it is also found in scripts and plays, music, and poetry. The numerous genres allow the teachers to compare and contrast how language is used in different occasions. Lazar explains that in turn, this makes the ESL students more learned about the language (14). Ideally, and as will be discussed later on, a teacher is supposed to pick the genre based on the level the student involved has reached. Additionally, the teacher can use several genres to make comparisons.
Despite the numerous advantages, there are several disadvantages of using literature for ESL students. Indeed, the English that is used can be too complex to the level of confusing the students. The stylistic components employed can confuse the learners, as some do not follow the basic rules of the English language. In addition, a student who has read a very sarcastic poem or book will try to use that sarcasm in real-life conversation. Whereas this is a good thing, he or she is only learning one aspect of English. It can get too intense such that the person overuses the sarcasm.
Moreover, learning English using literature can confuse the ESL students in terms of cultural communication. Reading a book written in a black community type of style is very different from reading a book written in the native English people’s language. The confusion can lead to minimal learning, if any at all. The student may also be unable to understand some of the words used in the book.
Another disadvantage is that literature allows the students to use coined terms (Hişmanoğlu 56). The selection of terms, especially coined terms, in the English language has been advanced by writers. Writers come up with words that are not in the English dictionary, but they are used in literary context. This is a common feature of magazine and newspaper writing, as the writing needs to be both simple and interesting to attract the readers.
At this juncture, it is essential to answers the question of whether the advantages outweigh the disadvantages. I would agree that they do. In the end, the ESL learners are studying English in order to interact with people easily. English is the commonly used official language in various countries all over the world. It is true that the quality and form of English changes from one country to another. However, assuming that the ESL students will either interact with people in Asia because they are in Asia, or the US is wrong. Such an assumption can encourage the teacher to focus on the American English. If the person goes to Africa, instead of America, they can have a hard time communicating with people because a majority of the countries in Africa uses the British English. Literature can be used to show easily how different the two forms can be, thereby enabling the students to apply the correct English in the right context.
In the same breath, helping ESL students improve their understanding of English using literature limits their desire to translate directly from their first languages. Direct translation has been used to help ESL students learn more about vocabulary. However, it becomes difficult for the students to stop using direct translation later on. In turn, this causes miscommunication and more confusion on how to use some aspects of the English language, especially the parts of speech.
The most suitable kinds of literary texts for the ESL classroom
It is crucial that teachers of ESL students choose literature material carefully to avoid the disadvantages mentioned as Kooy and Chiu explain (83). The teachers have to ensure that the students use the books or materials that have been specified in order to avoid confusion. If the form of English being learnt is British English, then it would be best if the material picked incorporated the British English only. The teacher can use other materials to show the difference in the form of English used. Similarly, it is crucial for the teacher to use literature that depicts the different usage of the English language in different cultures. Comparison can also be made at this level to help the students understand what is being taught. This section of the essay will discuss the factors that have to be considered when picking out literature materials.
One of the most important things to consider when picking out the best literature materials is the form of English to be taught. Many forms of English have cropped up over the years due to diversity and culture (Shanahan 170). However, it is important to note that the basics of the language are the same in every form. The importance of form comes into play during oral communication, as it goes hand in hand with culture. It is a prudent thing to first discuss the issue of English and culture in order to understand fully how oral communication, form, and culture intertwine.
Shanahan explains that different cultures use English differently; for instance, the way they pronounce things, the way they frame their messages, and the way they articulate their words (174). It is impossible for the ESL student to learn how every culture has changed the English language to suit their lifestyle (Khatib, Saeed, and Ali 2005). However, the teachers have an obligation to teach the student the importance of understanding a culture in order to understand the form of English used. For example, research shows that American English is very crude, unlike British English. The American English allows a lot of curses and swearing, while the British English does not. These aspects go hand in hand with the different cultures of the two regions. Nonverbal cues are also registered according to culture. Learning English also includes learning the nonverbal cues of communication. Studies prove that teachers encourage students to use the nonverbal cues when they are not sure what they want to say, or they do not know how to say what they want to say. The nonverbal cues are also very specific, according to the form of English used because the form that is used symbolises the culture involved. In the same vein, oral communication incorporates nonverbal cues that are determined by the culture in question. How one speaks, the tone, the rate of speech, the space between the speaker and the audience, the gestures, and body language all fall into play in oral communication.
Another important factor to consider when picking out literature materials to be used by ESL students in the genre (Vardell, Hadaway and Terrell 740). Literature has a lot of genres. For example, prose stories and novels, poetry, music, and newspapers are all literature materials. The teacher has to carefully pick one genre that best suits the students. In the same vein, the teacher can choose more than one genre that complements each other. If the students are at a basic level, simple stories and novels will help them grasp some aspects of the English language. However, giving them poetry might confuse them as the genre is very sophisticated and uses complicated aspects of English. Thus, poetry can be used for ESL students who are at a much-advanced level (Block 471). Due to its complex nature, poetry will challenge the learners to think out of the box, be open to bending the rules of Basic English at some point, and learn more about stylistics in English. Music is excellent at all levels. However, the teacher has to ensure that the particular piece chosen fits the students. Indeed, there are some musical pieces that are very simple. In fact, all a teacher needs to do is tell the students to memorize the lyrics of the song. Once this is done, the students and the teacher can analyse the lyrics one sentence at a time. Music is also fun, and many students learn faster when they enjoy what they are learning.
It suffices to mention that language in newspapers can be used to enhance the stylistic attributes of the learners. Although the language is not complex, it uses a lot of stylistic aspects. Today, people reading newspapers are not after attaining prowess in English writing, but the prowess of playing around with words. Thus, headlines in the newspapers use exact words; they do not incorporate conjunctions or use writing symbols, such as question marks, colons, and so forth. This might confuse the ESL student, unless the student is at an advanced level.
Teachers also need to analyse the literature materials to ensure that they do not have too much linguistic difficulty. The only way this is possible is by the teachers familiarizing themselves with the materials before requesting the students to use them.
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