The Poetic Text in Teaching a Foreign Language

By Cudak, Romuald | Canadian Slavonic Papers, March-June 2004 | Go to article overview

The Poetic Text in Teaching a Foreign Language


Cudak, Romuald, Canadian Slavonic Papers


ABSTRACT:

This study describes a language teaching method that is acknowledged and successfully used in the School of Polish Language and Culture at the University of Silesia in Poland. Involving the use of poetic texts, the method is informed by cognitive linguistics and communication theory, both of which emphasize the symbolic nature of language and apply to several linguistic areas, such as phonetics, morphology, syntax, vocabulary and pragmatics. In our school, poetic texts are used in three different ways as valuable reference material in learning/teaching Polish: (1) as historical and creative documents that provide a literary education and illustrate literary conventions or movements; (2) as non-direct agents in familiarizing learners with a new cultural code; and (3) as valuable help in understanding the target language.

The purpose of teaching/learning a foreign language can be described as the shaping of skills that enable learners to participate actively in a foreign community and its sociocultural reality. Ideally, the process involves mastering the ability to use a language as native speakers do it. Fluent communication is not limited to merely the transfer of information; it must also display an understanding of language behaviour. Fluency, moreover, involves the ability to think fluently in a foreign language. Such goals may be achieved with the assistance of didactic methods informed by both communication theory and cognitive linguistics theory.

Communication theory treats language not merely as a set of rules that describe how to create correct sentences, but rather as a tool that serves interpersonal communication. Language, therefore, should be described in terms of speech acts that fulfil certain pragmatic intentions of the speaker. These speech acts have a certain structure and refer to certain topics and notions. The application of communication theory to the teaching of foreign languages has resulted in an approach that emphasizes the shaping of communicative competence. Teaching methods based on communication theory focus on covering the broadest possible range of language functions (i.e., language behaviours, illocutionary acts) and, perhaps more importantly, on the various forms of articulation that fulfill these functions.

Communication theory opposes the structural and systematic approach, which perceives language as a set of rules for building correct sentences. This results in a different understanding of the organization of teaching/learning material: "Instead of classic lessons about the accusative case or about the subjunctive mood, we have in books such lessons that [show how to] express a request or a probability. A modern teacher replaces classic teaching schemes, e.g., several noun declensions, with new schemes of several methods for expressing a request" (Martyniuk 1996: 42).

It seems, however, that well-designed communicative acting also acknowledges the fact that teaching fluency in a language should not become idealized, as with so-called communication solutions, but must take into account the whole range of possible solutions. In other words, teaching competence in a language must be viewed as the 'shaping the skills of foreign language usage, as they are used by native, authentic speakers.' It must be associated with the postulate of teaching in natural and genuine language conditions with authentic texts (Martyniuk 1996, 1997; Mazur 1996).

Cognitive linguistics theory also opposes structural theories, especially those that are transformational and generative. Cognitive linguistics views language as structured on thought. Cognitive grammar is a model of language based on people's activity, or in other words, on how people express thoughts and understand/interpret utterances. The basis of cognitive linguistics is the postulate that language is symbolic and that this symbolic nature applies to several linguistic areas, such as phonetics, morphology, syntax, vocabulary and pragmatics. …

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