Using English Literature Written by Asian Authors in EFL/ESL Classrooms in Asia

By Floris, Flora Debora | K@ta, June 2005 | Go to article overview

Using English Literature Written by Asian Authors in EFL/ESL Classrooms in Asia


Floris, Flora Debora, K@ta


Abstract: This paper proposes an argument that literary texts in English which are written by Asian authors should be more extensively used as language teaching materials designed for EFL/ESL classrooms in Asian countries. The use of these texts can overcome the cultural stumbling blocks experienced by students. In addition, the texts can be utilized to promote cultural awareness and the role of English as an international language. To support this point of view, various issues in using what is often called non-native English literature are examined in the essay.

Key words: non-native English literature, Asian literature, literary text, teaching resource, English language learning.

Literary works have been subsequently brought back into serious consideration in the English Language Teaching syllabus. They have a significant place in many language classrooms because they offer various advantages and benefits to assist students' linguistics, cognitive and social development.

Nowadays, most of the literary texts used in EFL (English as a Foreign Language) and ESL (English as a Second Language) classrooms in Asia are "native" English literature written by nationals from - usually - the United States or United Kingdom. The need to know the origin of the language and its cultural aspects is one of the reasons often cited by those who support the use of content from native English-speaking (McKay, 2003, p. 143). Others mention that native speakers (and their works) should be highly respected because of their language expertise (see Quirk 1990 and Freudenstein, 1991 for details). Some also mention the need to get exposed to the "standard" English. These assumptions seem reasonable and incontrovertible.

However, studies show that many EFL/ESL students in Asian countries struggle so much with these kinds of literary texts. A study by Jayakaran (1993) revealed that students often face problems in comprehending native literary texts because they are loaded with unfamiliar foreign culture. A small-scale survey conducted in a Singaporean Secondary School pointed out similar result, i.e. students had to deal with problems in comprehending the "alien cultural settings" (Teo, 1994). Another study carried out in a Thai university also indicated that certain texts are full of lexico-grammatical complexities, so that students struggle to have a full understanding of the events narrated (Cheavinchai, 2002). Students are not motivated to read literature because of these stumbling blocks. In the end, they might not be able to obtain the benefits offered by the use of literary texts.

As the research findings indicate that while native (English) literary texts are often too difficult for the EFL/ESL learners, something needs to be done as far as the selection of the text is concerned.

Literary works in English written by Asian authors may serve as an alternative means to gain the most from the use of literature in EFL/ESL classes. To support my point of view, in this essay, I will further examine 3 major pedagogical issues often proposed by those who support the use of native literature in EFL/ESL classrooms.

EVALUATING THE NATIVE SPEAKER/AUTHOR FALLACY

One of the common reasons for using native English literature is that because the texts were written by native speakers. These speakers/authors are always associated with higher degree of language proficiency and particular models of English, e.g. British and/or American.

Such perception is not tenable. English has grown to be a world language. As a universal language, it is not only used to communicate with people from other nations (international) but even within EFL and ESL countries (Pennycook, 1994, p.7).

Graddol (1997, p. 2) observes that one out of five of the world's population speaks English. In addition, there are 375 million speakers of English living in ESL countries and 750 million in EFL countries speak the language. …

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