Use of Lliterature in the Language Classroom

What is literature? 

Literature is a term used to describe written or spoken material. Broadly speaking, "literature" is used to describe anything from creative writing to more technical or scientific works, but the term is most commonly used to refer to works of the creative imagination, including works of poetry, drama, fiction, and nonfiction. Literature represents a language or a people: culture and tradition. But, literature is more important than just a historical or cultural artifact. Literature introduces us to new worlds of experience. We learn about books and literature; we enjoy the comedies and the tragedies of poems, stories, and plays; and we may even grow and evolve through our literary journey with books. 

Why use Literature in classroom?

Motivating material: Literature exposes students to complex themes and fresh, unexpected uses of language. A good novel or short story can take the students to foreign countries and fantastic worlds. A play or a poem can bring up certain dilemmas and powerful emotional responses. All this can be transposed to their real lives. 

Access to cultural background: Literature can provide students with access to the culture of the people whose language they are studying. 

Encouraging language acquisition: Obviously, at lower levels, students may be unable to cope on their own with an authentic novel or short story in English. Any extensive reading we encourage them to do outside the classroom would probably need to be of graded material, such as graded readers. But at higher levels, students may be so absorbed in the plot and characters of an authentic novel or short story, that they acquire a great deal of new language almost in passing. *If recorded literary material is available (audio-books), then students can practice their listening skills.

Expanding students’ language awareness: One of the debates centre around literature teaching in the language classroom is whether literature language is somehow different from other forms of discourse in that it breaks the more usual rules of syntax, collocation and even cohesion. Using literature with students can help them to become more sensitive to some of the overall features of English. Some examples of different uses of English in literature are: - Bubbles gargled delicately, bluebottles/Wove a strong gauze of sound around the smell. (‘Death of a Naturalist’, by Seamus Heaney). - Who died, Daddy?"/"Nothing, Lisa," Jane told the child. "It's just big people's talk. Now eat your egg up, sweetie." (An Answer from Limbo, by Brian Moore). - Unthrifty loveliness, why dost thou spend/Upon thyself they beauty's legacy? (‘Sonnet 4’, by William Shakespeare) - I was out one night on the strict teetote, /Cause I couldn't afford a drain;/I was wearing a leaky I'm afloat,/ And it started to France and Spain. (‘The Rhyme of the Rusher Doss Chiderdoss’, by A R Marshall). 

Developing students’ interpretative abilities: Literary texts are often rich in multiple levels of meaning, and demand that the reader/learner is actively involved in ‘teasing out’ the unstated implications and assumptions of the text. Thus, by encouraging our students to grapple with the multiple ambiguities of the literary text, we are helping to develop their overall capacity to infer the meaning, and this can beapplied in real life. 

Educating the whole person: Apart from all the linguistic benefits, we cannot forget the wider educational function of literature. It can help to stimulate the imagination of our students, to develop their critical abilities and to increase their emotional awareness. If we ask the students to respond personally to the texts we give them, they will become increasingly confident about expressing their own ideas and emotions in English.