Giving Beginning Adult Language Learners a Voice: A Case for Poetry in the Foreign Language Classroom

  • Hiram Maxim


Poetry is by no means new to the beginning foreign language classroom. In fact, for as long as literary study has been one of the primary goals of the language learning experience, poetry, because of a variety of factors such as its brevity, universality, and rhythm, has been seen as a particularly well-suited device for introducing beginning adult language learners to literary conventions. With the shift toward more contextualized language teaching practices in recent years, poetry has also been seen as an effective way to exemplify a particular lexical or grammatical topic. While both of these approaches—that is, viewing poetry either as an example of the foreign language’s literary tradition or as an exemplification of a particular lexical or grammatical topic—succeed at exposing students to poetry, they also, by holding poetry aloft as a model of exemplary language use, can inadvertently serve to highlight beginning students’ language deficiencies. In other words, presenting language in its most sophisticated form only for the purposes of interpretation or exemplification has the potential of treating native-like proficiency as the measure of students’ final achievement in the foreign language, a measure that is largely unrealistic and unattainable for the vast majority of adult foreign language users, particularly for the college-level learner who is limited by the mere four years available for foreign language study.


Foreign Language Native Speaker Word Boundary Language Competence Grammatical Topic 
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© Joan Retallack and Juliana Spahr 2006

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  • Hiram Maxim

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