Teaching Literature: Language and Cultural Awareness Using the Example of "Hills Like White Elephants"

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2007

28 Pages, Grade: 1,7


Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. Definition of ‘Literature, Language and Cultural Awareness’
2.1. Literature
2.2. Language Awareness
2.3. Cultural Awareness

3. Consequences for the EFL Classroom

4. What can be done with the Short Story?
4.1. Pre-Reading Activities
4.2. While-Reading Activities
4.3. Post-Reading Activities

5. Possible Tasks
5.1. Possible Answers
5.2. The Relation of the Story to Language and Cultural Awareness

6. Outlook

7. References

8. Appendix


This term paper will take several questions into account by starting off with a general definition of the terms ‘Literature, Language and Cultural Awareness’ as they are the basis for talking about literature and literary texts. Afterwards, a precise definition of the terms will follow before the consequences for the EFL classroom will be mentioned which lead to a text example that shows how one can teach the aspects that have been mentioned before and why it is important to teach students literature at all. The text shows that students need to understand other cultural backgrounds in order to understand the whole text since we do not have the expression ‘hills like white elephants’ in Germany. As a result, this text is a good example for showing how important language and cultural awareness are in order to understand literary texts in the EFL classroom.

1. Introduction

When we talk about literature in the EFL classroom, we should first of all ask ourselves what we need to take into consideration in general when we want to deal with literary texts in the EFL classroom. Some questions arise like why one should teach literature in the EFL classroom and what kind of literature needs to be taught. It is important to read literary texts in the EFL classroom because the curriculum says that teachers should deal with different countries and cultures by presenting people in real life situations. Therefore, they should mostly use authentic material in order to build a connection to the student’s world. The teacher should be careful in choosing texts for the EFL classroom because the texts need to be suitable for the class in order to let the students work with them.

2. Definition of ´Literature, Language and Cultural Awareness`

In order to be able to deal with the topic ´Literature, Language and Cultural Awareness` one has to define what these terms actually mean and how one can teach them in the EFL classroom.

Firstly, ´Literature` is “[t]he body of written works of a language, period, or culture, written material such as poetry, novels, or essays.”[1] So ´Literature Awareness` means that you need to be aware of any piece of literature, that you know how to distinguish between certain texts and genres literature deals with and that you are interested in literature overall.[2]

Secondly, we will come across the term ´Language Awareness` which includes that students are aware of their own language, so to speak, knowing how to use it properly and how to articulate themselves. In addition to that, students need to be aware that there is not only their native language but there are other languages which need to be accepted and tolerated, as well. ´Language Awareness` is a cognitive, effective part or a state of mind which focuses systematically on language.[3] The students need to draw a connection between the target and the foreign language.

Thirdly, one should talk about ´Cultural Awareness` in the EFL classroom. There are some questions which need to be answered. For example, what culture means and why there are different countries with different cultures. “Cultural awareness entails an understanding of how a person’s culture may inform their values, behaviour, beliefs and basic assumptions. [It] recognises that we are all shaped by our cultural background, which influences how we interpret the world around us, perceive ourselves and relate to other people.”[4] Students need to become aware of their own culture, rituals and structures. They need to learn that there is not one right culture but a diversity of many different cultures which are all of certain importance to people. Culture is a complex, ambiguous and highly dynamic system of beliefs and behaviours which are steadily changing. ´Cultural Awareness` is the basis for developing intercultural competence which means to get to know, understand and connect different cultures with each other and therefore change your own behaviour into an appropriate behaviour to make sure that intercultural interaction is taking place.

2.1. Literature

‘Literature’ is an important aspect in studying and learning about a language and its culture. One of the teaching goals should be the teaching of literary competences which means understanding texts as well as the interaction with literary texts. Students need to be able to read and understand texts, focus on special parts of a text and analyse it. In addition to that, students have to be able to write about texts because literature “demonstrates how interaction between the text and the reader can occur”[5]. Therefore, texts need to be easily understood and the teacher should provide creative tasks like writing a dialogue or a short story. In order to work with texts students also need special knowledge about different literary genres as a basis for literary competence. There are some other important competences which are emotional, imaginative, social, narrative and text analysis and creative competence.[6]

The emotional competence provides identification whereas the imaginative competence means to broaden the personal horizon. Social competence means to talk with others about texts and the narrative competence stands for writing and telling own stories.[7]

The curriculum says that reading should be a pleasure and the students need to be able to comment on, analyse and criticize any piece of literature.[8] When getting to know different literary genres, the students have to develop the ability to write own short stories or endings to stories. They need to be aware of literature and its meaning. Literature is “a means of teaching language.”[9] On the whole, the teaching aims of literature should be empathy, adoption of perspectives and understanding and exploring the unknown.

The “creative approach”[10] includes three different phases involved in the reading process when teaching literature which are the pre-reading, while-reading and the post-reading phase. The pre-reading phase leads the reader into the topic, activates schemata in the brain and prepares the reader for the following topic. In the while-reading phase the reader gets in touch with the text and in the post-reading phase evaluation, interpretation and analysis of the text usually take place.[11]

When students read literary texts, they first of all learn how to talk about a text and interpret it by writing about the text using not their mother tongue but the target language which leads to ‘Language Awareness’.

2.2. Language Awareness

Most people take language for granted “unaware that [their] native tongue is not merely a ‘neutral’ communication system, but a pervasive medium that directly influences every aspect of our lives.”[12] This happens because most people do not reflect on their use of language as it has always been a part of people’s lives and will probably always be there. So this is what makes the process of learning a foreign language so special. You do not know a lot about the foreign language and have to study a new way of life which should also lead the students to the point where they can question and think about their own culture as well as the language and world view.

‘Language Awareness’ consists of 5 domains, according to Peter Garrett and Carl James, which are the affective, social, power or political, cognitive and performance domain.[13] The affective domain concerns the students’ attitude, motivation and sensitivity towards language. It should create the students’ curiosity and have an effect on their emotions. The social domain should help to build better relations between all ethnic groups and therefore argue with different types of social dialects. The power domain includes critical language awareness and deals with the question how language is used. The cognitive domain focuses on teaching strategies as well as on developing, understanding, learning and practicing grammatical structures. Classes deal with social stereotypes, genres and the process of learning. The performance domain is the interface from declarative to procedural linguistic knowledge.

One important point that ‘Language Awareness’ should include is critical language awareness which was mentioned above in context with the power domain and which is mostly an awareness, students, who study in an international environment, need to have. They are not only studying in a foreign country but they are also living in a socially and culturally different world in comparison to their own home country. Critical language awareness means “the particular understanding of how underlying ideology, beliefs and attitudes encoded in text.”[14]

People who are willing to become a member of an English-speaking community need to develop a feeling of understanding other cultural values and backgrounds without loosing ones own cultural identity. They need to study the foreign language to become a member of the community and being able to articulate oneself. “People need awareness of, and ability to operate within, all the spoken and written discourse types, or genres, of their second or adopted culture.”[15] They need to understand how the English language works in their new cultural environment and what important role it plays. There can be different ways in which people greet each other or what they say to each other. In order to understand this, one has to know the cultural context in which conversations take place.

One important task of ‘Language Awareness’ is to help “to get rid of prejudices about other people’s language, often rooted simply in fear of what is strange, is an important objective of the series.”[16] Therefore, students need to answer questions like what makes human language special or how languages are used and why language is steadily underlying the process of change. The students should make different language experiences and exchange them with their classmates in order to “promote confidence, tolerance of difference, and understanding.”[17] It is also important to be aware of differences and similarities between languages which can be the key to foreign language acquisition.

In order to help the students to become aware of and think about the uniqueness of language one can compare the human language with the communication by animals or just with non-verbal communication. Therefore, one can see that animals have a special way of communicating with each other without using language whereas the human being is civilized enough to be able to use language as a means of communication.

A person also needs to be aware of the fact that it is fairly easy to acquire the mother tongue because you can learn it during the process of growing up which means that you do not have to sit at home and study the language because you acquire it through talking to other people and living in a social environment. So acquiring the mother tongue is much easier than acquiring the second language which needs to be studied. In order to acquire a second language one needs to learn the mother tongue in an appropriate way in order to be able to learn and understand the second language at all. If you cannot speak your mother tongue fluently, using the right expressions and grammatical rules, how can you be able to learn a second language? One needs to be aware of the fact that the second language sounds different than the mother tongue which means that a “’re-education of the ear’”[18] needs to take place as a “prerequisite of successful foreign language learning.”[19] One can learn the mother tongue every day throughout the whole life whereas a student does only have four to five lessons a week to acquire the second language. This means that the students need to become aware of the fact that they have to spend time on their own to additionally study the foreign language at home because the actual learning time at school only takes around 30 minutes which is not enough to acquire the language properly and be able to speak it and communicate with others, understand texts and what they mean. This means that the students also need to study on their own if they really want to understand everything and being able to express themselves.


[1] http://www.thefreedictionary.com/literature.

[2] Compare: Ur 1996: p. 200f.

[3] Compare: Garrett and James 1992: p. 308/309.

[4] http://www.culturaldiversity.com.au/Default.aspx?tabid=81.

[5] http://elmcfly.tripod.com/article_2.htm

[6] Compare: http://www.uni-kassel.de/fb2/finkbeiner/

[7] Compare: http://www.uni-kassel.de/fb2/finkbeiner/

[8] Compare: http://www.uni-kassel.de/fb2/finkbeiner/

[9] Kramsch 1993: p. 7.

[10] http://www.hausarbeiten.de/faecher/vorschau/126866.html

[11] Compare: http://www.hausarbeiten.de/faecher/vorschau/126866.html

[12] Fantini 1997: p. 8.

[13] Compare: Garrett and James 1992: pp. 310-316.

[14] Arndt, Harvey, Nuttall 2000: p. 218.

[15] Arndt, Harvey, Nuttall 2000: p. 218.

[16] Hawkins 1987: p. xi.

[17] Hawkins 1987: p. xi.

[18] Hawkins 1987: p. 180.

[19] Hawkins 1987: p. 180.

Excerpt out of 28 pages


Teaching Literature: Language and Cultural Awareness Using the Example of "Hills Like White Elephants"
University of Kassel  (Literature: Language and Cultural Awareness)
Department of English & Romance Languages
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ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
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Teaching Literature, Language Awareness, Cultural Awareness, Literature, Language, Culture, Cultural
Quote paper
Susanne Flohr (Author), 2007, Teaching Literature: Language and Cultural Awareness Using the Example of "Hills Like White Elephants", Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/142930


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