The Role of Literature in Teaching ESL: Still Viable in the 21st Century

  • James R. DeJong


Despite much opinion to the contrary, literature, whether drama, narrative, or poetry, can be used effectively in the ESL classroom. Even in a world where increasing importance is placed on communicative competence, the use of literature in ESL has not been outdated. If one argued that it has become outdated, one would have to say that the use of dialogs (which dates from Plato and Aristotle’s day) is also outdated. But the discriminating teacher knows that, in the great majority of cases, it is the use to which the material is put and the way in which it is dealt with that makes it either useful, or boring and outdated. Just because goals and objectives change then, does not mean that we should throw literature or any tool of the trade out, even if we think of them as so much extra baggage left over from the old-fashioned Grammar-Translation classes in which Homer’s Iliad was used in translation exercises. Obviously, teachers today stress word for word translation less, and yet the possibilities for culture learning and empathy building through exposure to literature abound for those teachers who are willing to use the same well tried tools for a different purpose.


Foreign Language Native Speaker Target Language Communicative Approach Culture Learning 
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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 1990

Authors and Affiliations

  • James R. DeJong
    • 1
  1. 1.Terry BranchDelaware Technical & Community CollegeDover, DEUK

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