Teaching Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s "Americanah" in an English Foreign Language Classroom

Essay, 2019

14 Pages, Grade: 12



Table of contents

1.. Introduction

2 Teaching Literature in an EFLC
2.1 Why We Should Teach Literature in School
2.2 Raising Awareness of Identities
2.3 Conclusion

3 Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

4. Subjects to Discuss in The Classroom
4.1 Discrimination

5. A Teaching Proposal
5.1 A Fictional Teaching Unit
5.2 Detailed Teaching Grid
5.3 Reasoning

6. Reflection

Work citied

1. Introduction

Literature has always played an essential role in the EFLC. Students have al­ways had to deal with complicated and challenging works of literature. And not only in their native language, but also in their second language. It is considered that in this way they can improve their competences and language skills. But it is also believed to raise intercultural awareness by reading, for example, African literature. Most of the literature that is chosen for being read in school consists of known classic literature such as Shakespeare, Goethe or other white and male writers.

All you see in today's world is literature about love, about science fiction, and so on. African literature was not about that, of course there are a bunch of writings about that. But that's not the main theme of the literature. African literature is dealing mostly with situations or themes that occurred or are occurring in their culture. The first writings from that time were about slavery and especially about its suffering and the pain that slaves had to go through. It is mostly about the experience of living in a segregated society. This paper will examine how important African literature is. It has to be mentioned that African literature is not the only, but one of many possibilities of literature that can be used.

Since it is not easy to discuss African literature in general, this essay will focus mainly on the novel Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. This book is meant to be representative for the African Literature. My teacher recommended this novel to us in my school days when we read Mother to Mother by Sindiwe Magona. This term paper will investigate the potential of this book.

2. Teaching Literature in an EFLC

Before talking about African literature and the novel Americanah, this term paper will investigate the reason of the importance of reading and teaching literature in the classroom.

2.1 Why We Should Teach Literature in School

Every teacher has to ask him- or herself “What can my students learn from it?”, while choosing the material they are going to work with in class. Literature can help students to learn and to develop their understanding of other cultures. Literature teaches awareness of ‘difference' and helps to develop tolerance and understanding. Literature helps improve the process of language learning and is also culturally hori­zon-expanding. It gives the reader in the second language classroom the opportunity to take a real glimpse at a society. This makes it easier for them to absorb and process information. It is much easier to learn about culture and a language when it has a “pretty package” like an interesting storyline. Books transport students into stories. According to Collie and Slater, students "inhabit" the text. As literature provides a wide range of possible texts while offering authentic content and texts, it has become an important component of English language teaching (Collie and Slater 1987: 3). This allows them to concentrate on and engage with the development of the story most effectively. They can often empathize with one or more characters. In this way, they deepen their understanding of the story. Literature that is read is often real-world cen­tred and puts students in problem situations that they can relate with. When learners put themselves in the characters' position, they use their power of imagination and try to solve the conflicts and problems on their own. Learning goals such as understanding others or empathy can be achieved very well through literature, as students can often identify with the protagonists of the stories (Nünning and Suhrkamp 2009: 148). In novels, for example, students empathize with the characters and use language to learn how the story ends (Collie and Slater, 1987: 6). Since the learners always put them­selves in the place of the fictional characters, personal life experience inevitably flows into the process. They have to deal with unfamiliar and atypical topics that they don't have to deal with in everyday life. In addition, they think more intensively about eve­ryday things: Love, friendship, prejudice and hatred, etc. There are so many motifs and themes in literary works that make learners think and discuss. Because literature in second language classrooms is more focused on language, it increases the reader's vocabulary through reading. Books provide students with a wide range of new vocab­ulary.

We will never be able to understand what it must have been like to have lived in a certain time. It is difficult to understand something like that if you have never experienced it yourself. At this point, literature from a bygone era can help us by taking us back to that time. But we must not forget that it is not the same to read about some­thing as to have experienced it ourselves. Literature can help with this kind of problem. The literature that was written in that period helps to get a deeper understanding of that time.

Thanks to literature we come to understand other traditions and other cultures. But most importantly, we also learn to respect other beliefs and customs. This work aims to highlight the fact that African literature by African authors gives students the opportunity to learn more about this unique culture. One can thus expand one's lan­guage level and knowledge of the world.

Using literature in the classroom motivates students to interpret the book in their own way and to think about tolerance and empathy. What do these two things mean to them? They begin to think and reflect on their deeply held beliefs and values. In the end, it doesn't matter what kind of literature you work with in school. The most important thing is to have a view of the different types of literature.

2.2 Raising Awareness of Identities

A good way to raise awareness lies in teaching and informing about African literature in schools. It not only raises cultural awareness, but also makes students more aware of their own point of view. Which may be very limited and influenced by the education through their parents and own cultural environment. It can even be influ­enced by their way of living. One who has always lived a big house cannot imagine living on the street. Understanding your own and other cultures is important, otherwise it is easy to underestimate the impact of cultural differences even though you face them every day. Even though it may be easy to get to know do's and don'ts about diverse groups of cultures, that doesn't automatically mean that we are being really culturally aware. When you visualize culture like an iceberg, as Moran did, the things we get to see of a culture are tiny compared to what we cannot see at all. The areas that lie below the water surface are not directly visible to people who are not familiar with the culture. However, they strongly influence the visible areas of the culture. Only through knowledge of these hidden units can one understand a foreign culture. A lack of inter- cultural competence can lead to sometimes embarrassing and fatal blunders.

Above all, this kind of literature raises awareness of identity. Students learn in this way how multidimensional identities are. This comes from being with other peo­ple. Students learn to recognize that people define themselves not only by their home country. But that people define themselves by more than the place they were bom or raised. Literature teaches that it is under no circumstances alright to judge a person solely on the basis of their birthplace, accent, clothing, or skin colour.

2.3 Conclusion

To briefly recapitulate the reasons just given for teaching African literature and literature in general: It is a medium that is extremely variable in interpretation and also provides an honest look at the history as well as the present of other people, groups, societies, or civilizations.

The endless variety from backgrounds filled with migration and diasporas give the reader such a vision of the imagined world that it will be hard to not be influenced by reading African Literature (Newell 2006: 183).

3. Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

While Ifemelu, a strong Nigerian woman, sits in a hair salon in America to get her hair braided in preparation for her journey back home, she starts reminiscing about her past. It is the country where she grew up. It is the country where she got to know Obinze at school and fell for him, and where she also grew closer to her aunt. Further­more, it is where she attended university with Obinze and was sure she was going to spend the rest of her life with him. Until the day she decided to go to America. There, for the first time, she has to deal with what it means to be black in a country populated by white people. It is almost completely impossible for her to find a decent job. This issue comes with money troubles, and also the question of her own identity. Can she ever really belong to America? She has to struggle with many negative incidents, one of which affects her so much that it leads to depression and the decision to break up with Obinze. Slowly, she rebuilds her life in America, finds good friends, a loyal boyfriend, starts a very successful blog about race and later works at Princeton. In the meantime, Obinze, always dreaming of joining Ifemelu in America, has no other op­tion but going to England as the U.S. closes itself for immigrants after 9/11. Like Ifemelu in her initial time, he has to fight with problems that he could have never imagined. Being an illegal immigrant with an expired visa, he quickly gets caught and deported back to Nigeria. There though, he manages to become rich by selling immov­ables and settles down to family life with a beautiful wife and young daughter, though still thinking about Ifemelu and the life they used to have together and the future he planned for them. As Ifemelu finally comes back to Lagos, it requires a lot of time and bravery for her to reach out to Obinze. Nevertheless, they meet the same day and real­ize that even though such a long time has passed by, they both still have love for each other. Fighting with this rekindled love on the one hand and his responsibility as a father and husband on the other. He chooses to continue taking care of his child but to walk away from his wife, with whom he has never really been happy. The book ends with Obinze appearing at Ifemelu’s door and her inviting him in.

4. Subjects to Discuss in The Classroom

Ngozi Adichie managed to talk about many important subjects that come up in the life of an African person. She packed it into an interesting story of two young people in love being separated, but who never forget about each other and their home­land. The author brings across an authentic example of how the lives of two Nigerians have changed in England and America. The story is packed with many relevant sub­jects and issues that are present throughout the whole story. As for me, the novel Amer- icanah is a good choice for the EFL classroom, offering numerous possibilities of how to work with it. There are themes like love, identity, racism and race. If you dig deeper into the story you also find motifs as family or religion and education.

4.1 Discrimination

When asked if she still writes articles and blog posts about race, Ifemelu says: “No, just about life. Race doesn’t really work here. I feel like I got off the plane in Lagos and stopped being black” (Adichie 2013: 586). Both Obinze and Ifemelu pro­vide the feeling of how they have never really been aware of being black. As a reader, especially through their personal experiences of racist incidents and the blog posts, the recipient gets to know about the stereotypes, accusations and the discrimination that they have to face over and over again. Witnessing this kind of differentiation between the black and the white skin colour through the lives of the individuals in the book is a touching way of teaching awareness of another culture. The author, Adichie Ngozi, also addresses problems in Nigeria itself. White people are still considered more beau­tiful and are more privileged. In the novel it is also pointed out that even though racist thinking is still deeply rooted, people can also completely overcome it through close friendship and love, which is a very important message for young people. As they grew up in Nigeria, Obinze and Ifemelu never really had to consciously think about their identities. There has never been a need to question them. That they both have to use fake IDs to get a job is itself a big issue and motive.


Excerpt out of 14 pages


Teaching Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s "Americanah" in an English Foreign Language Classroom
Justus-Liebig-University Giessen
Culture in the EFLC
Catalog Number
ISBN (Book)
Culture, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Americanah, English Foreign Language Classroom, EFLC, TEFL, Teaching
Quote paper
Anonymous, 2019, Teaching Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s "Americanah" in an English Foreign Language Classroom, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/1244984


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