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LITERATURE AND THE DEVELOPMENT OF LANGUAGE SKILLS AMONG USERS OF ENGLISH AS A SECOND LANGUAGE IN SECONDARY SCHOOLS IN IHIALA LOCAL GOVERNMENT AREA OF ANAMBRA STATE

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CHAPTER ONE: INTRODUCTION

1.1       Background of the Study

The study of a second language aims at a good command of the language for the purpose of communication. English is a second language in Nigeria and very important in the nation’s educational system. English appears indispensable in all aspects of Nigerian’s national development. It is the language of government and administration; the language of trade, and the language of the law. The English language in Nigeria has remained the official language, a prestigious and elitist code, and every citizen yearns to acquire it. Whether this acquisition will be successful or otherwise is to a large extent dependent upon the effectiveness and efficiency of its teaching and study. Regrettably, however, effective teaching and study of English in Nigerian schools are seriously handicapped as a result of numerous complex problems, including the methods of teaching and studying the language. From the records, the failure of this particular subject in Nigeria’s educational institutions and examinations like WASC and JAMB has shown that the methods both teachers and students have been using have not really solved the problem. There is need to find a better method or procedure which should be employed by teachers and students of the English language so as to achieve greater impact in the knowledge of English as a second language. At present, English textbooks written by renowned authors are being used and integrated into the curriculum. These texts are mostly used for exercises on reading comprehension. Using them compels the reader to concentrate on the given texts at the surface level of the texts and vocabulary and leads students to look into a dictionary each and every new word they come across and it is expected that referring to the dictionary is a habit students

should cultivate (Denka cited by Neelakshi,

Chandrasenahttp://www.novitasroyal.org/Neelakshe.pdf). However, the use of literature tends to emphasize its role in improving communicative competence and providing “a springboard for the development of critical thinking and aesthetic appreciation” (Bretz cited by Neelakshi). It also creates awareness in students of the culture and society of the relevant country. This is why the use of literature in the teaching and study of English is being recommended by different linguists.

In the words of Fries, “A thorough mastery of a language for practical communication with real understanding demands a systematic observation and recording of many features of the precise situations in which the varied sentences are used”(Verghese: 113). Also Marckwardt points out that “For many years, foreign language study has been justified on the ground that proficiency in the language constitutes a key to the understanding of the culture of a country and the psychology and personality traits of its people”(Verghese: 113). Therefore, the learning of the second language should involve, among other things, learning the forms of the language and knowledge of the culture of those who speak the language. The above two items are important because effective communication in a second language depends on how things are said as well as what is said. These can be achieved to a large extent through the use of literature in language teaching and study.

The study of English as a second language is strengthened as a result of satisfactory cultural orientation on the part of the student. Such an orientation becomes easier througha reading ofthe literature in the language; for the language in which the literature is written reflects and reinforces the cultural patterns and value system of those who speak the language. Apart from the cultural orientation, literature helps students to come to grips with the idiom of the language; enables the student to understand the subtle differences between certain words and appreciate the hidden nuances of thought and style the idiom of the language is capable of(Verghese 114).

Literature can be regarded as a rich source of ‘authentic material’ because it conveys two features in its written text: one is ‘language in use,’ that is, the employment of linguistics by those who have mastered it into a fashion intended for native speakers. The second is an aesthetic representation of the spoken language which is meant to recover or represent language within a certain cultural context. ‘Language in use’ breaks through the static nature that is established by the artificial grammar of a classroom provided by the textbooks. ‘Language in use’ provides students with an approach to the language nourished by different linguistic and rhetorical uses of the language as well as “forms and conventions of the written mode: irony, exposition, argument, narration and so on” (Collie and Slater: 4). It settles the students within a certain geopolitical context, the one the author of the text is referring to through its aesthetic representation.

What authors like Irving Welsh, Joseph Conrad or Mark Twain have in common is that their literary works reconstruct the way language is spoken in certain geopolitical context. These reconstructions provide students with a good idea of how language is used by a contemporary low class youth in Edinburgh by a native Costaguanan sailor in the early twentieth century, or by Mississippi shore inhabitants in the late nineteenth century’(Cruz. http://religuistica.azc.uam.mx/no007/no07-art09.htm).

Cruz Riwes was writing about the writers and the environment he knows very well. In our own case, what a writer like Chinua Achebe does in his works like Things Fall Apart and ‘Arrow of God’ is that these literary works reconstruct the way language is spoken in the Igbo geopolitical context. Paradoxically, literature as an aesthetic recreation (that is, as something artificial) can be considered a much more authentic source and can inspire more authority in the use and enrichment of language than English textbooks or even than direct samples of language, more so if students develop an “aesthetic reading” of the text (Larger cited by Cruz http://relinguistica.azc.uam.mx/no007/no07_art09.pdf). Through this personal and social experience, students can develop a closer relationship with language, since they are reconstructing the target language on their own for their own learning process.

Language enrichment, whether it is through an aesthetic reading or an efferent reading of a literary text, provides a “rich context in which individual or lexical items are made more memorable” (Collie and Slater: 5). A literary text provides students with a much clearer idea about the syntactic structure of a written text and to what extent written language differs from spoken language. By getting used to the formation and function of sentences, to the structure of a paragraph, a section or a chapter, their writing skill improves and their speech skill can gain eloquence. Of course, students considerably expand their vocabulary by being exposed to a literary text. Looking up words, however, is quickly followed by looking up cultural references and this process leads to cultural enrichment. In an efferent reading, the text can offer a variety of information regarding the cultural context of the geographical location that it portrays. As they read, students get ideas of the contemporary or historical way of life where the story is taking place and thus develop insight into the people of the country that speak the language they are learning. An efferent reading focuses on descriptions of landscape, weather, architecture, decoration, dress, customs and traditions, among other things, which enhance vocabulary, language, and a cultural insight.

This approach, however, presents two major disadvantages. On the one hand, an efferent reading keeps the students alienated from the text and language, as it presents what Scholes describes as an active environment of creative experimentation at a personal and collective level (Zoreda 59 cited by Cruz). On the other hand, cultural insight is very superficial due to the nature of efferent reading, since readers only follow the leads provided by the text itself, thus missing the intertextual references the literary work may offer. In order to avoid these deficiencies in the classroom, the efferent reading must be supported with the virtues aesthetic reading offers. In an efferent reading, the text is regarded as a closed and finished object that a student can only contemplate passively from the perspective established by the teacher (which in many cases is an institutional perspective). An aesthetic reading helps students make connections between the text and their own cultural context, as well as consider the influence that the literary and the target language have on their own identity. Intertextual references not only make reference to another literary text, but also to an entire cultural experience determined by the socio-historical context. Exploring these connections and reflecting on them lead students to develop a major understanding of the way of life of the context the target language comes from. These references open the door for students to visualize how the literary text overflows to other cultural disciplines, establishing a symbiotic, nourishing relationship. By exploring these other parts offered by the target culture, a universe of possibilities is opened for the study of a foreign language where students can weave their own experience and life with these disciplines (arts, politics, sports), accomplishing a close empathy between language and their way of life.

However, all the controversies and different stances taken by linguists, literary critics and practitioners have not been able to hide the reasons for incorporating literature into the English language classroom. Collie and Slater (3) support the inclusion of literature in the language classroom as it provides valuable authentic material, develops personal involvement and helps to contribute to the readers’ cultural as well as language enrichment. These advantages, they move on to assert, can be achieved provided teachers use relevant and appealing material on the learners through the use of activities that promote involvement, reader response, and a solid integration between language and literature.

1.2       Aim and Objectives of the Study

The aim of this study is to create awareness towards the best methods teachers would employ in the development of the four language skills using literature, among the users of English as a second language in secondary schools in Ihiala Local Government Area of Anambra State.

The objectives of this study include:

1)         To determine the attitudes of English language teachers at the secondary school in Ihiala L. G.A towards using literary texts in their language classes.

2)         To demonstrate how to develop the language skills- listening, speaking, reading, and writing skills using a literary text in the language classroom.

3)         To make recommendations that would help in achieving greater impact in the learning of these skills using literature.

1.3       Statement of the Problem

Memorizing language forms and words is an ineffective strategy for learning English as a second language. This situation has led to the fallen standard of English being spoken and written in Nigeria today. It is evident in failures recorded in the GCE and JAMB examinations. The failure could be attributed to wrong methods of teaching English as a second language and neglect of the teaching of the language skills in the language classrooms. There is the need to look for another method or methods which resemble the natural way through which language is acquired and as well address the issue of communicative competence by focusing on the teaching of the language skills. The use of literature in the teaching and study of English as a second language comes to mind. The questions that need to be answered are how literature should be used in the language classroom to develop the language skills. So many linguists have explored different areas like how literature can be used to teach vocabulary, grammar, culture but the area of the language skills is being neglected. Since the teaching of a second language is geared towards communicative competence, it is believed that the development of the language skills through the literary text will achieve greater impact on the learning of English language among the learners of English. Nigerian educational planners have realized the importance of including literature in the language classroom and so merged the two subjects as English studies in the junior secondary classes. But one thing is to create a policy, another is to implement it. Most teachers have not started implementing it because they may not know how to go about it or the rationale behind the merging. There is need to continue creating awareness for its importance and then provide insights on some of the possible ways of achieving the academic planners’ objectives.  The researcher believes that using literary texts can improve ESL students’ interest in learning a second language. She also believes that if teachers use a variety of literary texts in the ESL classroom, it can help students to strengthen and reinforce what they have learned and trigger students’ motivation in listening, speaking, reading, and writing in the English language.

1.4       Significance of the Study

This study is very important in so many ways. The essence of the research is to find out the attitudes of English language teachers at the secondary school towards the use of literary texts in their classes and to demonstrate using a literary text to give insight on how literature can be used to develop listening, speaking, reading, and writing skills. The findings of this research will be of immense importance to the educational sector. It will help the teacher in the area of teaching methodology. The students will start to appreciate the language of literature. The research will go a long way to guiding curriculum designers to create a better and workable curriculum for English language learning as a second language, a curriculum that bears in mind the participatory aspect of the learner. It will go a long way to providing data for educational policy, especially as it concerns teachers’ recruitment, training, and teachers’ motivational techniques.

Research Questions:

The following are the research questions for this study

  • What are the attitudes of teachers in Ihiala Local Government Area towards the use of literature in the language classroom?
  • What methods will teachers in Ihiala Local Government Area employ to develop the language skills- Listening, Speaking, Reading, and Writing- using a literary text?
  • What are the things that need to be done in order to achieve greater impacts in the use of literature in the language classrooms?

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