Connecting Language to Content: Second Language Literature Instruction at the Intermediate Level

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Abtract:

Meaningfully integrating multidimensional approaches with learner-centered, workshop-style second language (L2) literature instruction at intermediate-level proficiency can help students increase their linguistic competence and further both their cultural understanding and analytical thinking skills. Moreover, the utilization of drama techniques and enactment strategies encourages students to form an interpretive community, to become more creative, and to apply their social, physical, and intellectual selves to L2 literature analysis. Concurrently, cross-cultural training exercises increase their understanding of the target culture. A carefully conceived literature-based curriculum takes students' linguistic development into consideration at all levels and, in view of a language department's financial viability in the corporate university environment, invariably leads to higher levels of student retention.

Key words: bridge between language and literature, critical thinking, experiential language learning, intercultural communication, second language (L2) reading

Languages: Relevant to all languages

Why Teach L2 Literature at the Intermediate Level?

Post 9/11, both the necessity for more widespread foreign language proficiency and the notion that "the humanities become credos that confront us with real choices and decisions on how to act" in times of personal or collective tragedy (Showalter, 2003, p. 131) seem to go undisputed. Within the general context of foreign language education, the assertion that "literature teaches us to be human" (p. 135) therefore warrants renewed scrutiny of curricula and instructional methodology in second language (L2) undergraduate programs. If it is true that teaching literature helps students understand subtle differences in language use, recognize figurative language, appreciate metaphors and symbolism, identify underlying cultural assumptions, and, above all, learn how to think creatively and critically, why do so many language programs continue to lack institutional, and, indeed, public support? This paradox is especially puzzling when one considers that acquiring the ability to analyze literature in a foreign language would not only help develop critical thought but also enable graduates to provide deeper insights into the inner workings of other cultures.

By integrating language with literature, L2 instructors can aspire to bridge the divide between the L2 language and literature curricula that continues to plague undergraduate and, by extension, graduate language programs (see Bernhardt, 1995; Davis, 2000; James, 2000; Murti, 1993). After succeeding in traditionally organized, textbook-based second year curricula, language students tend to find themselves unprepared to succeed in upper-level literature courses in which, according to Weist (2004), language is all too often relegated to the role of a mere tool, and where reading instruction and the teaching of literature are mutually exclusive. While Donato and Brooks (2004) conceded that several restructured programs exist that make use of language-based pedagogy in literature classes, they have identified the lack of pedagogical language training for professors of literature as one of the main reasons for the continuing language and literature (dis)connection. Since students analyzing L2 literature are still language learners lacking L2 vocabularies, achieving higher levels of proficiency and in-depth comprehension of literature is more easily said than done. Intermediate-level language students can describe and, as they progress, begin to make more complex statements, state opinions, and formulate hypotheses, but they cannot yet sustain communication at that level. Donato and Brooks (2004) therefore have called for greater articulation of the entire undergraduate program with a meaningful connection of language goals and literature instruction which would require both the language acquisition and the literature specialists within one department to share their knowledge. …