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Webinar: Reasons to use literature in English language teaching

Young woman readingGuy Cook, author of the award-winning applied linguistics book Translation in Language Teaching, considers why using literature to teach English is still worth doing. Guy will discuss this topic in more detail in his upcoming webinar on 14th and 17th January.

Let’s face it. Teaching literature to language learners can be a tough challenge!

  • The language can be difficult, unusual or just old-fashioned (you wouldn’t want your learners saying ‘Wherefore art thou Romeo?”).
  • It can demand a lot of background knowledge – from an unfamiliar time and place.
  • It deals with controversial topics, which may be very personal, embarrassing or culturally divisive.
  • It needs a close focus on written text, which may be alien to the ‘internet generation’.
  • Lastly it is supremely useless! There are not many jobs demanding an understanding of poetry!

To make matters worse, an inappropriate choice of texts may be forced upon you by an exam syllabus. Or, if you can choose your own, you may end up teaching a text that you love but the students hate – an excruciating experience.

HOWEVER, if  you still feel strongly, as I do, that despite all these problems and pitfalls, literature remains supremely worth teaching, and can be very successful in the classroom, then this is a webinar for you.

First, we shall discuss ways of presenting a poem, dealing with its difficulties and subleties, and getting learners to engage with its sound, language and meaning. Next we shall consider what kind of literature is best for the language learner, depending on age, stage, and context. Finally we shall debate some of the cultural and personal issues which arise.

Literature is inspiring, beautiful, eloquent, and memorable. It deals with the big universal experiences of human life: love, death, sexuality, sickness, religion, childhood, friendship, and so forth. As such, it is certainly more interesting than the bland inoffensive materials favoured in ELT classes and textbooks!

I hope you will leave the webinar agreeing with me that, despite its difficulties, literature in the language classroom:

  • has a unique educational value;
  • is relevant to student contemporary lives and experiences;
  • can improve English language knowledge and use;
  • is enjoyable and stimulating for both teacher and students.

In short, my webinar argues strongly for the teaching of literature in ELT, but also candidly address the problems that come with it. I look forward to seeing you there, hearing your comments and opinions, and to benefitting from your own insights and experiences, too.

To find out more about using literature in English language teaching, register for Guy’s webinar on 14th or 17th January.


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Translation in language teaching and learning

Guy Cook, author of the award-winning applied linguistics book Translation in Language Teaching, presents his arguments for re-establishing translation as an essential part of modern language teaching and learning. Guy will be hosting a Global Webinar on this topic on 26th and 31st October 2011. You can find out more information and register to attend here.

Using translation is surely a natural and obvious means of teaching someone a new language. It has lots of good effects. It can be used to aid learning, practise what has been learned, diagnose problems, and test proficiency.  In any case, teachers can’t stop students translating – it is such a fundamental basis for language learning.

Translation is also useful skill in itself. And not just for professional translators and interpreters. In multilingual societies and a globalised world, translation is all around us as an authentic act of communication: from families, schools, hospitals, courts, and clinics, to business meetings and the United Nations. We find it in notices, labels, menus, subtitles, news interviews and many other places.

In addition, it allows learners to relate new knowledge to existing knowledge (as recommended by many learning theories), promotes  noticing and language awareness, and highlights the differences and similarities between the new and existing language. Many people also find the tackling of translation problems intellectually stimulating and aesthetically satisfying. In addition, it helps create and maintain good relations between teacher and student, facilitates classroom management and control, and allows students to maintain their own sense of first language identity, while also building a new bilingual identity. It does not seem to impede efficient language use – many students who began their studies through translation go on to become fluent and accurate users of the new language.

So what is wrong with it? Given all these apparent advantages, it seems most peculiar that the mainstream literature on language pedagogy and second language acquisition, has routinely dismissed translation as a desirable component of language teaching and learning for over a hundred years – without research, reasoning or evidence. Is there perhaps some other reasons that translation has been villainised in this way?

In my webinar next week, I shall be asking what happened to translation, and why. I shall be making a case for reinstating translation as a major component of language teaching and learning. Whether you agree or disagree, I hope you will join us, tell us of your own experiences, and put forward your own views.

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