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Teaching American Literature to Non-native Speakers


There can be few doubts as to the fact that when compared to what is being the case with teaching American literature to native speakers, teaching this literature to non-native speakers poses several different challenges. This is because, it is not only that many non-native speakers often lack the linguistic proficiency of their native peers, but on many occasions, they prove themselves rather unaware of the taught literary works’ socio-cultural context.

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In its turn, this creates objective preconditions for the non-native students’ ability to ‘digest’ literary texts to be significantly undermined. Nevertheless, once teachers chose in favor of methodologically appropriate strategies of how to overcome dialectically predetermined obstacles in teaching American literature to this type of student; these obstacles cease to appear quite as unovercomable. In this paper, we will aim to explore the earlier outlined thesis at length.


One of the major obstacles to the way literature teachers strive to ensure the effective understanding of themes and motifs, contained in the taught materials, on the part of non-native students, is the fact that the level of these students’ linguistic proficiency often turns out rather inadequate. This could not be otherwise – given the fact that non-native learners of American literature come from different linguistic environments, they naturally experience a number of problems, while trying to cope with academic assignments, presented to them in the class. In their turn, these problems can be classified alongside three linguistic concepts: intelligibility -word/utterance recognition, comprehensibility – word/utterance meaning, and interpretability – meaning behind word/utterance. (Smith & Nelson 429).

For example, unlike what is being the case with native speakers, many non-native speakers cannot grasp the actual meaning of a particular English word when this word is being uttered in a highly casual manner. The reason for this is quite apparent – for just about anyone to be able to become fully proficient in recognizing words’ spatial semiotics, he would have to spend a considerable time, while socializing with this language’s native carriers informally.

This is because, as time goes on, the English language’s terminology is becoming increasingly ambivalent, in the semantic sense of this word. As it was pointed out by Holmes, Rutledge and Gauthier: “Topics have their specialized background knowledge and vocabulary. Consider the topic of baseball with its specialized vocabulary. The words ‘steal,’ ‘plate,’ ‘out,’ ‘strike,’ and ‘foul,’ have multiple meanings and nuances that can lead the reader to misinterpret the text” (287). It is needless to mention, of course, that non-native speakers are being often sparred of such an opportunity, especially if their stay in a particular English-speaking country is being limited, because of visa requirements.

Therefore, it does not come as a particular surprise that, when it comes to teaching American literature to non-native students, educators often face the challenge of ensuring linguistic compliance, on the part of these students. This challenge becomes even more acute in situations when a particular literary piece that is being taught to non-native students, features a fair amount of Southern African-American slang.

For example, as practice indicates, non-native speakers often experience difficulties while trying to comprehend the meaning of Southern dialect words in William Faulkner’s short stories. Yet, no one can expect to gain proficiency in American literature, without becoming thoroughly aware of the significance of themes and motifs, contained in this particular American author’s literary works.

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Nevertheless, it would be quite inappropriate to think that the earlier mentioned challenge can be well remedied by the mean of prompting non-native speakers to memorize more specifically ‘American’ words. Apparently, in many cases, the non-native speakers’ lessened linguistic proficiency does not simply derive out of the fact that they consider English their second language, but out of the fact that the very cognitive workings of their psyche appear to be inconsistent with the rationale-driven ‘Faustian’ (Western) spirit of American literature. This especially appears to be the case with non-native speakers of East Asian descent.

According to Bower: “In a variety of reasoning tasks, East Asians take a ‘holistic’ approach. They make little use of categories and formal logic and instead focus on relations among objects and the context in which they interact… (Westerners) on the other hand, adopt an ‘analytic’ perspective. They look for the traits of objects while largely ignoring their context” (57). In its turn, this partially explains why non-native students often experience a hard time, when asked to identify the main theme of a particular work of American literature – apparently, due to the specifics of their mentality’s functioning, many of these students do not quite comprehend the meaning of the ‘main theme’ concept, in the first place.

Therefore, while teaching American literature to non-native speakers, educators may never cease being observant of the fact that, even though the English language is an essentially communicational medium, which presupposes that it can be well be discussed in terms of a ‘thing in itself’, it is specifically the understanding of spoken/written sentences’ cultural context, on the part of non-native speakers, which establishes objective prerequisites for them to be able to reach their educational goals.

The third major issue, experienced by educators who teach American literature to non-native speakers, is the fact that, as of today, much of American literature’s classical works grow increasingly deprived of their former discursive validity. In its turn, this makes it harder for the learners to understand the actual motivations behind classical literary characters’ acts. For example, from today’s perspective, the behavior of many female characters in Kate Chopin’s feminist novels does not make much sense, because unlike what used to be the case a century ago (when Chopin worked on her novels), contemporary Western women do not have to deal with the truly extreme forms of patriarchal oppression.

This, of course, undermines the effectiveness of educational strategies, aimed at helping non-native speakers to become thoroughly acquainted with not only the formal significance of American literature’s most famous masterpieces but also with what used to serve their authors as artistic inspiration.

Methodological approaches to teaching American literature to non-native speakers

The earlier outlined challenges of teaching American literature to non-native speakers provide us with a number of insights as to how educators may go about addressing these challenges. These insights can be conceptualized in the form of the following principles/guidelines:

Ensuring speech’s clarity. While exposing non-native students to the works of American literature and while encouraging these students to reflect upon what they have learned, teachers must always use clear speech. Moreover, they must also be willing to slow down this speech’s rate; to make sure that the members of non-native English-speaking audiences never cease remaining thoroughly focused on the subject of discussion.

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For that purpose, while discussing a particular literary work in the class, educators should pay attention to listeners’ facial expressions, as the observation of these facial expressions, on educators’ part, does help them to adjust the rate of their speech – hence, making it more likely for this audience’s members to be able to benefit from their presence in the class.

Providing necessary paraphrases. One of the major factors that impede non-native speakers’ ability to succeed with learning American literature is the fact that many literary works that are being taught in the classroom contain several idiomatic expressions, known to only native language carriers. For example, for native speakers, it would be absolutely clear that the expression ‘to shoot the breeze’ means – to have an informal chit-chat.

The same, however, cannot be assumed in regards to non-native speakers, because unless they have succeeded in memorizing this idiom’s actual meaning, it would prove quite impossible for them to figure it out by the mean of combining the meanings of this sentence’s words. Therefore, teachers need to apply an additional effort into making sure that non-native speakers understand literary idiom’s semiotics.

The most logical approach towards addressing this particular issue would be concerned with teachers’ willingness to paraphrase the meaning of the English language’s most commonly used idioms to non-native students. In other words, idioms’ implicit connotations must be made explicit. As it was advised by Dastjerdi and A’lipour: “It seems that the fact that idiomatic language and proverbs are so semantically opaque can be taken into account by having them included in a problem-solving approach which would call for the explicit attention of the students” (73). Once, educators succeed in ensuring that the meaning of a concerned idiom is being thoroughly understood by non-native speakers, they can move on to explaining the meaning of the next one.

Increasing the extent of learners’ cultural competence. As it was mentioned earlier, many non-native speakers are assumed to lack the historic/cultural awareness of a particular literary context. This, of course, can only result in undermining the rate of their academic success, because for just about anyone to be able to ‘digest’ a particular work of literature, he or she would have to relate to this work emotionally. In its turn, this could only be achieved if the concerned student attains an adequate level of cultural competence. Therefore, it represents the matter of foremost importance for literature teachers to never cease applying an additional effort into informing non-native students about what was the qualitative essence of socio-political and cultural circumstances, associated with a particular work of American literature.

Encouraging students to comment on their reading. One of the foremost methods of increasing the effectiveness of a learning process is prompting students to critically engage with texts, assigned for reading. This is because, by being required to formulate their own opinions about what they have read, students become thoroughly aware of the texts’ literary, historical and aesthetic significance, which has traditionally been considered the actual objective of learning strategies’ practical implementation.

Non-native learners of American literature will especially benefit from being required to critically engage with literary works, taught in the class because it will allow them to fill the possible gaps in their cultural understanding of a studied literary work’s themes and motifs. Therefore, teachers should never skip the opportunity of encouraging non-native speakers to provide comments as to what they perceive to be the actual significance of studied materials: “Learners’ comments indicate interest in and sensitivity to sociolinguistic phenomena” (Edstrom 343). While being provided with the opportunity to reflect upon what they consider the discursive significance of American literature’s masterpieces, studied in the classroom, non-native speakers grow progressively affiliated with this literature, as a whole.

Providing non-native students with additional incentives to learn American literature. One of the reasons why non-native speakers decide in favor of learning American literature, in the first place, is that they rightly consider it the pathway towards improving their bilingual proficiency. Nevertheless, as time goes on, some students lose the actual sight of the fact that studying American literature represents not only an academic but also a very practical value, as it naturally helps non-native speakers to attain a qualitatively new level of bilingualism, on their part.

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Therefore, while providing non-native speakers with academic assignments, literature teachers should be stressing out the sheer importance of American literature and the English language, as the concepts closely associated with the notion of scientific, social and cultural progress. As it was argued by De Mejia: “An interest in the use of international languages is often associated with positions of social prestige… English is considered by many of the governing elite as vital to the modernization of the economy and the development of science and technology” (4). In its turn, this will increase the strength of non-native speakers’ commitment to studying American literature.

Monitoring non-native speakers’ progress in learning American literature. Just as it is being the case with English language’s native speakers, non-native speakers must be subjected to the contextually appropriate success-measuring methodology. In its turn, this will require educators to design instruments for evaluating the subtleties of these individuals’ learning progress. In this respect, it represents the matter of a crucial importance for teachers to be able to ensure that non-native learners do not only comprehend the semantic content of a particular literary work, but that they also understand how this content relates to other literary works and how it is being reflective of several currently ongoing socio-cultural discourses.

The earlier mentioned principles provide teachers with general guidance as to how they may initially approach the task of teaching American literature to non-native speakers. Nevertheless, when it comes to exposing non-native learners to a particular work of American literature, teachers must ensure that:

  • Non-native students recognize what accounts for such a work’s main idea. In its turn, this presupposes these students’ ability to conduct a literary analysis. Given the fact that, due to the specifics of their linguistic aptitude, these students are assumed to be less aware of the classical (Western) conventions of how such an analysis is being properly conducted, teachers will have to make a point in providing non-native speakers with additional explanations as to what accounts for the literary analysis’s consequential phases.
  • Non-native speakers can establish dialectical links between the plot’s developments. As it was implied earlier, it is not utterly uncommon for non-native learners of American literature to experience a certain difficulty, while identifying the whole scope of causes and effects, behind a particular literary plot-related development. This is because, in many cases, these learners apply an essentially ‘holistic’ approach towards assessing the literary significance of a particular, novel, short story or poem. Yet, for them to be able to attain an understanding of a particular literary work’s discursive implications, they will need to assess this work’s semiotic connotations in the same manner with native-born Americans. That is, while critically engaging with the text, non-native speakers must be capable of perceiving the affiliated plot’s spatial developments as such that are being ‘linearly’ projected. This, however, could only be the case for as long as teachers continue to monitor the rate of non-native speakers’ progress in affiliating themselves with Western (Faustian) values.
  • Non-native speakers derive an aesthetic pleasure out of being exposed to the works of American literature. According to the basic provisions of just about every educational theory, it is specifically when students appear to derive a cognitive/aesthetic pleasure from taking an active part in the learning process, that there are might be good reasons to expect these students to be able to complete a particular academic course, in the first place (Bowen & Bowen 45). Therefore, the process of monitoring the academic progress, on the part of non-native learners of American literature, cannot be solely concerned with teachers assessing the extent of these learners’ literary comprehension, but also with assessing the measure of these learners’ emotional comfortableness with what is being taught to them.

The importance of teaching American poetry to non-native speakers

The actual reason why non-native speakers should be naturally predisposed towards studying American poetry is that one’s awareness of this poetry’s themes and motifs is the important prerequisite for him or her to be able to attain social prominence. This simply could not be otherwise, because in their poems American poets were able to reflect upon the innermost subtleties of socio-political discourses of the past. In their turn, these discourses reflect the full objectiveness of a situation that, as of today, America’s scientific, cultural and geopolitical dominance in the world simply cannot be challenged.

Therefore, it will only be logical to assume that, by becoming thoroughly knowledgeable about American poetry, non-native speakers are being provided with an additional stimulus to grow into society’s productive members – pure and simple. What it means that their interest in studying American poetry is being thoroughly objective, which in turn implies that, while faced with the challenge of teaching American poetry to non-native students, educators should assume these students’ commitment to studying as something that derives out of these students’ very ability to rationalize life’s opportunities.

One of the foremost aspects of teaching poetry to students, regardless of whether they happened to be English language native speakers or not, is the fact that they often exhibit certain unease, when asked to reflect on what they believe accounts for a particular poem’s aesthetic or discursive value. Partially, this can be explained by the fact that, as compared to what it is being the case with writers, poets often make a deliberate point in deviating from the English language’s grammatical and stylist conventions. Given the fact that non-native speakers’ mastery of the English language is assumed somewhat undermined, it does not come as much of a surprise that educators have traditionally considered teaching American/English poetry to these individuals as such that represents a particularly acute challenge.

As it was pointed out by Schultz: “Since poets often break rules of syntax and grammar and use rare or non-standard vocabulary, language teachers are often ambivalent about its value for beginning and intermediate language learners, wondering if their time would not be better spent teaching standard grammar and syntax and practical, everyday vocabulary” (920). Nevertheless, there are a number of fully objective considerations that suggest a perfect legitimacy of the practice of non-native speakers being required to read and to recite American poetry. The considerations can be outlined as follows:

  • Non-native speakers’ exposure to American poetry helps them to refine their pronunciation and their understanding of how the particulars of language sentences’ construction can be used to convey different meanings. Given the fact that one can only attain a linguistic fluency in a particular language, for as long as he or she manages to get the ‘feeling’ of this language, reading and reciting American poetry, on the part of non-native speakers, can be well considered by them a major pathway towards becoming fully fluent English speakers. The reason for this is quite apparent – by being exposed to the grammatical and stylistic variances in how American poets go about constructing their poems, non-native speakers naturally develop their linguistic proficiency.
  • Non-native speakers’ enrollment in literary courses on American poetry helps them to improve their analytical skills. Among poetry-lovers, it now became a commonplace assumption that the aesthetic pleasure, experienced by people who read poetry, derives out of the fact that, after having ‘decoded’ the semantic message of a particular poem; they confirm to themselves the sheer strength of their analytical mindedness. This simply could not be otherwise, because just about every poem can be discussed in terms of a ‘semantic puzzle’, which requires to be solved. Therefore, it is only natural for poetry readers to grow continually proficient in applying their sense of logic to address a variety of cognitive tasks. Given the fact that one’s endowment with analytical mindedness is one of the most important prerequisites of his or her academic success, there can be few doubts as to the fact that non-native students should indeed be required to learn American poetry.
  • Non-native speakers’ enrollment in poetry courses helps them to improve their reading skills. While reading a particular poem, students are being required to pay attention to how even slight variances in worldly configurations may serve the role of unique informational mediums. This, of course, improves non-speakers reading proficiency because as a result of being exposed to a particular poem, they get a better idea of how the structural form of a linguistic construct is being capable of creating an entirely new semantic context.
  • The learning of American poetry, on non-native speakers’ part, helps them to realize the full extent of their artistic creativeness and to establish emotional links between themselves and the very concept of Western civilization. It is important to understand that, while engaging with a particular poem, non-native speakers are being naturally prompted to contemplate upon how this poem’s motifs are being consistent with the essence of their existential anxieties. This, of course, increases the extent of their cultural awareness and helps them to appreciate poetry as one of the major predictors of ongoing social and cultural progress.

Methodological approaches to teaching American poetry to non-native speakers

The outlined earlier beneficiary aspects of teaching American poetry to non-native speakers provide us with the insight on what may account for proper methodological approaches to designing learning strategies, meant to be deployed in classrooms with a high percentage of non-native/foreign students. These approaches may be conceptualized as follows:

Before non-native speakers are being required to read and to reflect upon a particular American poem, they should be taught about how this poem is being consistent with the conventions of an affiliated poetic movement.

This is because the actual message, conveyed by what are now considered classical American poems, cannot be discussed outside of these conventions. Let us explore the validity of this suggestion in regards to William Carlos Williams’s modernist poem So Much Depends, where the poet simply describes the set of ideas, which came about in his mind, as the result of him being exposed to the sight of a red wheelbarrow, with white chickens standing nearby. Obviously enough, this sight had triggered some powerful but elusive emotion, in the poet’s mind. However, to remain intellectually honest with his readers, Williams does not reveal to them the contextual meaning of this emotion – he simply describes how he felt, without trying to make this poem sound any more conventional:

“So much depends upon a red wheelbarrow”

There can be very few doubts as to the fact that, unless non-native students have had a chance to learn about the poetic movement of modernism, they would be highly unlikely to recognize this poem’s foremost message. Therefore, before non-native speakers being asked to read and to reflect upon this particular poem, teachers would have to explain to them the theoretical premise of modernism in poetry. Apparently, American modernist poets never ceased to think of poetry as a ‘thing in itself’, which is why they did not resort to the utilization of poetic allegories, hyperboles or metaphors while reflecting upon the surrounding reality.

The reason for this is simple – modernist poets did not aim to reflect upon this reality, in the first place. Instead, they strived to create their own ‘poetic’ reality, while believing that the linguistic simplicity, on the one hand, and the emotional intensity, on the other, are the actual keys to achieving it. Without understanding this simple fact, it would prove quite challenging for non-native speakers to define this particular poem’s significance.

Non-native speakers should be provided with the opportunity to learn American poetry in a highly interactive learning environment. As it was pointed out earlier, one of the reasons why, while being innately attracted to studying American poetry, non-native speakers nevertheless often experience difficulties, during the course of a learning process, is that their linguistic non-nativeness presupposes the lessened extent of emotional comfortableness with reading/reciting poetry, on their part.

This situation, however, can be easily remedied by the mean of teachers deploying technology-intensive and highly interactive learning strategies in the classroom. For example, after a particular poem has been read in front of non-native students, teachers may ask them to indulge in team-based discussions of as to what may be considered this poem’s foremost message. In its turn, this will lead to non-native speakers attaining a qualitatively new level of emotional comfortableness with American poetry, in general, and with academic requirements to reflect upon this poetry, in particular.

It represents a matter of crucial importance for educators to encourage non-native speakers to perceive American poetry as such that does not only represent some utterly abstract aesthetic, but also a communication-related practical value. As it was suggested by Baker: “We use a language for a specific purpose. Language is a means rather than a structural end. Effective language does not mean grammatical accuracy nor articulate fluency, but the competence lo communicate meaning effectively” (119). While being provided with academic assignments that require them to read, to recite and to reflect upon poetic pieces, non-native speakers should be able to substantially heighten the level of their linguistic and communicational competency.

Non-native speakers need to be taught how to conduct the explication de texte analysis of poetic works. One of the most commonly utilized techniques, within the context of students conducting a literary analysis of a particular poem, is the so-called explication de texte. This technique requires them to provide background information as to the analyzed poem, to identify its structural elements, and to define the poem’s main theme and motifs (Schultz 928). There are good reasons to believe those non-native speakers will especially benefit from becoming thoroughly familiar with how the explication de texte technique can be deployed in practice because this will prompt them to choose in favor of a systematic approach to analyzing poetry, which in turn should help them to remain fully observant of the literary analysis’s actual aims.

The difference between British and American poetries

Before we proceed with outlining guidelines as to how educators may approach the task of designing learning strategies for teaching American poetry, on the one hand, and British poetry, on the other, we will have to identify the foremost difference between British and American poetry.

For those, thoroughly familiar with the most prominent British and American poetic works, there can be very few doubts as to the fact that, when compared with British poetry, American poetry appears being much more psychologically and emotionally intense (Roshan 442). In its turn, this can be explained by the fact that American poetry was forming throughout the 19th century when many innovative poetic movements came to their prominence. The common feature about these movements was the fact that the affiliated poets used to make a deliberate point in paying lesser attention to maintaining poems’ structural/stylistic integrity, as the foremost instrument of increasing the extent of their poetic works’ psychological plausibility. This is because; whereas, British poets used to assess the actual quality of their poems in regards to the extent of these poems’ stylistic refinement, American poets used to do it in regards to the extent of their poems’ thematic/discursive uniqueness.

Gwendolyn Brooks’s poem We Real Cool exemplifies the validity of this suggestion perfectly well. Just as it is being the case with the earlier mentioned Williams’ poem, this particular poem is being concerned with author’s strive to reveal to readers its emotional attitude towards ‘life fast, die young’ existential ideal, which appears being especially attractive to young people:

“We real cool. We

Left school. We

Lurk late. We

Strike straight”

The reading of this poem reveals the unmistakable fact that it can be best described as ‘psychologically genuine’. This is because, to provide readers with insight into the very essence of pool players’ existential anxieties, Brooks had to adopt their identity. This, however, could only be done at the expense of making this poem stylistically primitive – hence, the poem’s grammatical simplicity, thematic straight-forwardness and moralizing undertones.

As it was pointed out by Taylor: “Brooks’s poetry has depended not only on fresh and unusual language, but on the varying degrees of surface difficulty that such wordplay often creates. Her attempts at a more accessible style have sometimes resulted in oversimplified moralizing” (130). Evidently enough, while working on We Real Cool, Brooks was primarily concerned with ensuring that her poem would be able to convey a certain rationale-based message, rather than with ensuring this poem’s stylistic refinement.

Unlike what it has traditionally been the case with British poets, most American poets never bothered to contemplate what qualifies them to be considered poets, in the first place. Partially, this can be explained by the democratic realities of American living. In America, there can be no obstacles in the way of an individual striving to explore their creative potential. This is why; whereas, in Britain, one’s claim to possess a poetic talent never ceased being scrutinized from a variety of different perspectives, in America – just about anyone can be considered a legitimate poet, for as long as his or her poetic works feature certain uniqueness – even if this uniqueness reflects poet’s intellectual primitiveness.

To put it – whereas; British poets are essentially professionals, American poets are essentially amateurs. This is the reason why, unlike what is being the case with British most prominent poetic masterpieces, the ones created by American poets often suggest their authors’ unawareness of even the basic conventions of poetic writing.

This, however, should not be discussed as an indication of American poetry’s inferiority. On the contrary – given the fact that people’s poetic creativeness has always been augmented by their ability to enjoy unrestricted civil liberties, it comes as not a particular surprise that American poets were not only able to create a number of particularly memorable poetic masterpieces but that during the course of 20th century, they also were able to dictate world’s poets their own ‘poetic fashion’, associated with the tradition of artistic modernism. In its turn, this can be explained by the fact that; whereas British poetry was initially meant to serve as the one among many instruments of courtly entertainment, from the time of its very inception, American poetry never ceased serving as the instrument of people’s intellectual liberation.

How teachers may go about encouraging non-native speakers to study British and American poetries

What has been said earlier is being suggestive of what may account for proper approaches to teaching American and British poetry to non-native speakers. For as long as the teaching of British poetry is being concerned, educators should focus on the following:

  • Making sure that students thoroughly understand discursive conventions of the artistic movement of Romanticism. When it comes to introducing non-native speakers to British poetry, teachers need to make a point in outlining the historical context of every particular poem. For example, the significance of Lord Byron, Samuel Coleridge, or William Blake’s poems cannot be fully appreciated, without students being provided with the chance to learn about the artistic movement of Romanticism, which marked the overwhelming majority of British 19th century’s poetic masterpieces. Apparently, the earlier mentioned poets believed that relying on materialistic rationale alone, within the context of a particular individual pursuing its destiny, can hardly be beneficial to him or her, simply because people are not just physical but also spiritual/emotional beings. This is why Byron, Coleridge and Blake used to refuse to adopt a purely materialistic outlook on one’s individuality while believing that every person is something so much more than simply a bulk of organic matter, ruled by animalistic instincts. Hence, the qualitative essence of how these poets went about reflecting upon the surrounding reality. According to Morris: “In British Romanticist poetry, crime escalates into villainy; innocence is never merely virtuous but immaculate and virginal; devils and demigods, imagined or unimagined, mix with giants, ghosts, and groaning portraits” (302). In its turn, for non-native speakers to understand Romanticism’s discursive roots, they would have to be introduced to the history of British colonialism, as there are good reasons to believe that it is specifically 19th-century British poets’ fondness of prolonged sea-voyages, which naturally predisposed them towards dramatizing life’s challenges in a strongly defined Romanticist manner.
  • Explaining to students how the utilization of different poetic forms, on the part of British poets, allowed them to emphasize the significance of a conveyed semantic message. Unlike what it has commonly been the case with American poets, British poets never ceased being concerned with ensuring their poems’ aesthetic appeal by the mean of ascertaining stanzas’ stylistically refined successiveness. Nevertheless; whereas, the majority of intellectually advanced native speakers are being thoroughly capable of appreciating this particular feature of British poetry, the same cannot be said about the majority of non-native speakers. The reason for this is simple – it is not only that non-native speakers are assumed to lack the ‘feeling’ of the English language, but they also experience difficulties when trying to comprehend the meaning of a number of essentially outdated but still commonly used English idiomatic expressions. Therefore, educators must apply an additional effort while clarifying to students the contextual subtleties of the artistically refined rhyming/stanzing, commonly utilized in British poetry.
  • Encouraging students to regard British poetry as the poetic sublimation of a Western spirit. Given the nature of themes and motifs, contained in the classical works of British poetry, there can be few doubts as to the fact that this poetry provide us with a better understanding of Western (Faustian) existential values, which derive out of people’s assumption that: “Individual’s will-power must never cease combating obstacles, that the catastrophes of existence come as an inevitable culmination of past choices and experiences, and that the conflict is the essence of existence” (Greenwood 53). In other words, British poetry may well be referred to in terms of a ‘condensed guidance’ as to what it means being a Westerner, in the discursive sense of this word. After all, British poets have traditionally been concerned with promoting the virtues of courageousness, loyalty and self-sacrifice. This is exactly the reason why even today, British classical poetry continues to represent an acute philosophical value. After all, it now became a commonplace practice among particularly ‘progressive’ educators to encourage students to regard the very concept of Western civilization as ‘innately wicked’. Such practice, however, can hardly be referred thoroughly appropriate – after all, without Westerners, in general, and British, in particular, the overwhelming majority of Earth’s human inhabitants would still be living as primeval savages. Therefore, it will only be naturally, on teachers’ part, to go about introducing British poetry to non-native speakers in a discursively relevant manner – this will allow them to appreciate British poetry in the way that it truly deserves being appreciated.

The earlier outlined conceptual difference between British and American poetries, allows us to formulate the set of recommendations as to how educators may proceed with teaching American poetry to non-speakers, as well. These recommendations can be listed as follows:

  • While teaching American poetry to non-native speakers, educators should focus on encouraging students to define this poetry’s discursive motifs. As it was argued earlier, American poetry’s key features are its structural simplicity and emotional intensity. This, of course, makes American poetry much more correlative with non-native speakers’ cognitive abilities, as compared to what it is being the case with British poetry, for example. Therefore, while addressing their professional duties in the poetic classroom that consists of non-native speakers, teachers should emphasize helping students to understand American poetry’s discursive significance. That is, teachers should go into detail while explaining to students how this poetry reflects the reality of modern living, even if a particular poetic piece under discussion has been written in the early 19th century. This is because, unlike what is being the case with British poetry, American poetry always remained on the leading edge of ongoing socio-cultural progress, which in turn is being closely associated with the concept of Western civilization. By doing it, educators will be able to achieve two simultaneous objectives: to increase the extent of non-native speakers’ poetic awareness and to provide them with a better understanding of how such awareness may help them on the way to becoming socially prominent individuals.
  • Teachers should be helping non-native speakers to adopt a proper attitude towards American poetry, as the instrument of people’s intellectual liberation. Whereas, British poetry has always been fully observant of a number of poetic classical conventions (with many them having originated in the time of Greco-Roman antiquity), the same cannot be said about American poetry. This is because, unlike their British counterparts, American poets have always been a position to enjoy the unrestricted freedom of a poetic action. After all, there is nothing allegorical or metaphorical about the fact that America continues to be referred to as the freest country on Earth – this is literally being the case. Therefore, it is fully explainable why poems, written by American authors, come in different sizes, styles and forms. At the same time, however, it would be quite inappropriate to discuss this particular feature of American poetry as such that has strictly poetic implications – the American poetry’s very libertarian essence created objective preconditions for this poetry to serve the function of progress’s ‘fuel’. For example, even though the poetry of American beatniks can hardly be referred to as being particularly valuable, in the aesthetic sense of this word, it nevertheless contributed to the process of Americans liberating themselves of patriarchal/racial oppression. Given the fact that the quality of people’s living standards positively relates to the extent of their intellectual liberation, there can be few doubts as to the fact that American poetry did help to create a situation that, even today America continues to attract immigrants from all over the world. Once, non-native speakers confirm to themselves the full validity of this idea, they will be naturally committed to studying American poetry, without even being provided with additional incentives to proceed with their poetic studies.
  • Teachers should encourage students to think of their enrollment into courses on American poetry as an additional means of increasing their communicational efficiency. As it was pointed out earlier, linguistic simplicity is one of American poetry’s foremost characteristics. This simplicity, however, does not undermine American poetry’s artistic legitimacy, but on the contrary – in many cases, this simplicity appears to account for a particular poetic piece’s aesthetic value, as a ‘thing in itself’. This simply could not be otherwise, because one’s ability to express its thoughts clearly and efficiently has traditionally been regarded as an indication of him or her being an intellectually advanced individual, endowed with rather refined aesthetic tastes. Therefore, there is nothing utterly odd about the fact that, despite many American classical poems’ apparent simplicity (such as the poems by Williams and Brooks), these poems can nevertheless be described as being ‘informationally intensive’. Given the fact that the realities of post-industrial living, dialectically predetermine the continual process of world languages’ unification (to increase the extent of their efficiency, as informational mediums), non-native speakers will benefit rather substantially from getting a ‘hang’ of American conversational speech, which has traditionally been favored by American poets. Therefore, educators may never skip the opportunity of explaining to non-native students how the increased level of their awareness about American poetry may in fact help them to pursue the professional careers of their choice. After all, in today’s world, none can be considered truly ‘professional’, without understanding what the notion of the ‘American way of life’ stands for. Yet, one can never quite understand this notion, without attaining conversational fluency in American English.


The deployed earlier line of argumentation, in support of this paper’s initial thesis, points out the fact that – whereas there are a number of different technical approaches that can be used by educators, in order to ensure non-native speakers’ commitment to studying American literature/poetry, it is specifically when non-native students grow to recognize the practically-immediate value of gaining a literary proficiency, in this respect, which will guarantee the successfulness of a learning process. In its turn, this allows us to formulate the overall set of recommendations, as to how educators should address the task of teaching American literature/poetry to non-native audiences:

  1. While exposing non-native speakers to the works of American literature/poetry, teachers should always strive to instill audience’s members with the thought that their active participation in literature courses will not only allow them to get good grades but that it will also help them to expand their intellectual horizons.
  2. Contrary to the conventions of political correctness, while teaching American literature/poetry to foreign students, educators should never strive to avoid discussing controversial issues. This is because students’ indulgence in such discussions will help them to attain a situational awareness of what accounts for the essence of ongoing socio-cultural debates. Moreover, by adopting an intellectually honest stance towards the members of the non-native speaking audience, teachers will be able to establish trust with them, which in turn will facilitate the effectiveness of the learning process even further.
  3. One of the most effective methods of increasing the appeal of American literary/poetic works to non-native students is requiring these students to indulge in informal socialization with their native-born peers. This is because, while socializing with their native-born peers, non-native students grow progressively aware of what accounts for their native classmates’ existential anxieties. In its turn, this will help them to emotionally relate to the themes and motifs, contained in the studied American novels, short stories, and poems, and consequently – to succeed academically.
  4. While teaching American literature/poetry to non-native speakers, educators should never cease stressing out how the discussed literary/poetic pieces are being discursively relevant or irrelevant. This is because, as it was mentioned earlier, many non-native students are being endowed with a ‘holistically’ functioning psyche, which in turn makes it harder for them to identify the taught literary/poetic work’s foremost theme/motif on their own. However, once they are being told how a particular novel, short story, or poem correlates with the realities of contemporary living, these students will be much more likely to regard it as a part of their own cultural legacy.
  5. Teachers should always see to it that non-native speakers derive aesthetic pleasure from learning American literature/poetry. In this respect, teachers’ task is being concerned with eliminating objective and subjective prerequisites for non-native speakers to remain mentally/emotionally alienated from what they study.

We believe that these final recommendations are being thoroughly consistent with the paper’s initial thesis. Once, educators chose in favor of a proper methodological approach towards introducing the members of non-native speaking audiences to the classical works of American literature/poetry, there should be no reasons for them to fail at this particular undertaking. After all, even today, people’s awareness of American literature/poetry’s foremost themes and motifs serves as the most objective indication of their intellectual adequacy.


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