Academic journal article Babel

Language, Literacy, Literature: Using Storytelling in the Languages Classroom

Academic journal article Babel

Language, Literacy, Literature: Using Storytelling in the Languages Classroom

Article excerpt


Stories and storytelling have been used for millennia to entertain, challenge and educate. As a shared form of language interaction, storytelling has engaged communities in developing and perpetuating common understandings of both language and culture, as critical foundations to harmonious societies, Stories and storytelling provide a rich source of materials for languages classrooms, opening possibilities for gaining insights into cultures and language use, engaging learners with the literature and texts of the target language and culture and allowing learners to become both more engaged with the use of the target language and with expressing their own stories, using storytelling modes that are meaningful to them. This paper briefly explores the significance of storytelling to language learning and proposes a few ways to approach storytelling use in the languages classroom, using examples of stories of a young Indonesian poet, Fitri Nganthi Wani. The paper is intended to open wider discussion about the use of stories and storytelling in languages classrooms.

Key Words

stories, storytelling, language use, literature, target language literacy, Indonesian poetry, Fitri Nganthi Wani



To be a person is to have a story to tell

(Isak Dinesen, pseudonym of Karen Blixen [1885-1962], author of Out of Africa)

A powerful means of exploring language is through the use of stories. For millennia, storytelling has been used to entertain, challenge, inform and educate. The benefits of using storytelling for learning, generally and for developing language use and literacy skills, specifically, have long been recognised and documented by educators, for both first and subsequent language learning contexts (Palmer, Harshbarger & Koch, 2001; Peck, 1989; Tsou, Wang & Tzeng, 2006).

Stories and storytelling can be used in languages classrooms in many ways and for many purposes, including improving language use, increasing literacy in the target language and culture and for introducing target language literature to learners. Stories can be introduced as texts to be listened to and read aloud, for familiarising learners with the sounds, rhythms, 'feel' and forms of language, or as models for learning contextualised language use or to engage learners with the ideas and issues addressed in the stories. Closer critical engagement with stories can include considering who the storytellers and the intended audiences are, why and how the stories are told, how they are experienced, interpreted and understood by listeners and how linguistic forms and structures support the purposes of the tellers and might be similar to or different from storytelling in the learners' first or other language(s). Stories provide a rich source of cultural information, about the storyteller and the context of the story; and also provide platforms to consider how language and culture are always intertwined, with the choices of language and language forms dependent on cultural considerations and to illustrate how cultural situations are described through language and language structures.

Further considerations in relation to using storytelling in the languages classroom may extend to a range of orientations to approaching the forms and modes of storytelling: comparing 'traditional' and 'modern' or contemporary forms and modes of storytelling and stories, using recognised literature as well as alternative texts and writing forms (diaries, blogs, wikis, email, SMS texting, posters, slogans, graffiti, etc) and investigating stories told in non-text forms (in performance, artworks, songs, YouTube clips and photographs, for example). Depending on the particular teaching contexts and needs and the capabilities and readiness of learners, exposure to multiple stories and story forms from a particular culture can be used to invite learners to consider and engage with their own preferred (or disliked) ways of receiving, telling and creating stories and in engaging critically and reflexively with their own choices, as interculturally, personally aware learners. …

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