Bringing literature back into the language classroom is not an attempt to go back in time. Rather, knowledge of literary texts helps students become better language learners, and provides them with skills that are increasingly necessary in the contemporary globalised world.
We propose the following classification of the primary benefits of bringing literature into the language class, as supported by the research and policy documents consulted:
- Literature enhances foreign language learning: research has shown that when appropriate student-centred exercises on literature are put into practice in the language classroom, students make more progress in their language learning:
It is clear that literature does have something very special to offer to language learning. (…) It combines attention to meaning with attention to form. (…) It is motivating and engaging (Paran 2008: 70).
- Authentic materials increase student engagement with language learning: literature fosters motivation because ‘literature provides not only a genuine context for communication; it also gives pleasure by engaging the emotions’ (Hill 1986: 9). Also, ‘literature’s contents may well be truer to life and more relevant to learners than the typical textbook topics’ (Sell 2005: 15).
- It provokes discussion of difficult ethical issues: literature presents the student with human relationships, challenges and dilemmas to be explored and analysed. The study of literature in the language class ‘serves many more educational purposes – intellectual, moral and emotional, linguistic and cultural– than the purely aesthetic’ (Council of Europe 2014: 65).
- It links with internationalisation, fosters intercultural awareness and provides reflection on diversity and inclusion: literature offers opportunities to experience different cultures in context. Thus, language classes take on their full potential in the project of cultural mediation: ‘Language learning helps learners to avoid stereotyping individuals, to develop curiosity and openness to otherness and to discover other cultures’ (Council of Europe 2008: 29).
- It develops important employability skills: as the job market becomes more and more internationalised, students need to be prepared to engage with different cultural contexts:
At present, students who are extensive travellers demand a different approach to the cultural dimension, which should prepare them to meet and interact with otherness taken in its changing multiplicity (Matos 2012: 7).
An approach to language learning that enriches students’ intercultural awareness will develop important employability skills, preparing students who are enthusiastic and perceptive travellers to engage with cultural diversity:
Literature written in the target language (…) may give learners insight into other cultures, thus preparing them to act competently and appropriately in future dealings with representatives from those cultures (Sell 2005: 92).
Literature is an ideal instrument to provide the context to engage with the cultures of the countries where a language is spoken, at the same time as it fosters important skills such as intercultural awareness, problem-solving abilities and critical thinking. These are essential skills for the formation of the ideal transnational graduate of the future, as defined by Born Global, a recent British Academy report (2016).
Excerpt from Almeida, Ana Bela and Puig, Idoya, «Enhacing employability skills by bringing literature back in the foreign language class», in Innovative Language Teaching and Learning at University: Enhancing Employability, edited by Carmen Álvarez-Mayo, Angela Gallagher-Brett and Franck Michel, 2016InnoConf University of York 2016, www.research-publishing.net, 2017.