Graphic Novels in English Foreign Language Teaching

Master's Thesis, 2017
111 Pages, Grade: 1,5


Table of Contents


2.1.1 Definition
2.1.2 Significance of Visual Literacy in Foreign Language Teaching
2.1.3 Sample Tasks for Improving Visual Literacy in ELT
2.1.4 Multiliteracies
2.2.1 The Visual Language of Comics
2.2.2 Panel and Page Layout
2.2.3 The Panel, the Frame, and the Gutter as a Medium of Control
2.2.4 Balloons and Balloon Speech
2.3.1 Culture and Intercultural Communicative Competence
2.3.2 Acquisition of Intercultural Communicative Competence through Graphic Novels
2.4.1 Theories of Second Language Acquisition
2.4.2 Vocabulary Enhancement through Graphic Novels
2.4.3 Language Acquisition through Graphic Novels

3.1.1 Methodology
3.1.2 Observation Analysis
3.1.3 Results: Narrative Interview Conducted with the Teacher
3.1.4 Results: Focused Interview with EFL Students
3.1.5 Conclusion
3.2.1 Methodology
3.2.2 Analysis: Observation
3.2.3 Results: Focused Interview with the Teacher
3.2.4 Results: Dilemma Interview with EFL Students
3.2.5 Conclusion




Observation Sheet
Narrative Interview with the English Teacher
Focused Interviews with Four EFL Students

Observation Sheet
Focused Interview with the Teacher
Dilemma Interviews with Four EFL Students

This journey would not have been possible without the support of my family, friends, mentors, and professors.

1. Introduction

"Superman made me a reader, Dick and Jane tried their best, but they couldn't give me what The Man of Steel offered: a good reason to read" (Cary 2004: 3). In this day and age, most German school students do not see any reason to spend their free time reading novels, short stories, or dramas (cf. Elsner 2013: 56). In a recently published study of the German Reading Foundation, researchers found that current students do not read less than students at the beginning of the 1990s (Stiftung Lesen 2010). How- ever, the quality of reading has changed entirely since students tend to read on their screen rather than the page of a book. Although Researchers have tried to provide some reading materials for younger learners on screen, it was observed that the learn- ers had trouble reading them (cf. Elsner 2013: 56).

Mc Taggert suggests that reading has become too difficult for students because they have to decipher the writing into meaningful unit parts. They have to imagine what is happening and because students grow up with a TV, electronic games, video games, and graphic software, they need images to visualise the content of individual messages (cf. 2008: 42). Hence, reading simple texts is too difficult for students, but by integrating graphic novels in teaching English as a foreign language, teachers could help students find pleasure while reading (cf. Elsner: 57). Unfortunately, most German teachers are not acquainted with the medium of the graphic novel even though they can serve as an authentic and attractive support aid in reading in a foreign language (cf. ibid.: 58).

A graphic novel can be defined as "an original book-length story - either fiction or non- fiction, published in comic book style [ ] or a collection of stories that have been pub- lished previously as individual comic books" (Gorman 2003: 3-5). For a better under- standing of this definition, one should also be aware of what exactly a comic is, since the graphic novel is a sub-medium of the comic. Scott McCloud defines a comic as "juxtaposed pictorial and other images in deliberate sequence, intended to convey in- formation and/or to produce an aesthetic response in the viewer" (1993: 9). Mistakenly, many readers consider graphic novels to be a genre because of the word ‘novel,' but they are a medium that provides a plethora of genres, such as detective stories, auto- biographical accounts, Shakespeare dramas, and history novels (cf. Elsner: 60).

Erroneously, many teachers condemn graphic novels and comics as being picture books that are not helpful for education purposes and strictly reserved for toddlers and young children, however some comics and graphic novels are more authentic and more sophisticated than others (ibid.: 57). Additionally, we need to see the presence of images as an advantage that we cannot find in a prototypical novel (ibid.: 56). One of the most significant reasons for the integration of graphic novels in the classroom is the development of visual literacy, a competence that Curtiss defines as "the ability to un- derstand the communication of a visual statement in any medium and the ability to ex- press oneself with at least one visual discipline" (1987: 3). Being able to interpret im- ages is quintessential, especially in today's information society. Children and teenagers confront many different kinds of visuals, and those who are not capable of understand- ing and interpreting an image’s message "will become a victim of false information or bullying" (Elsner: 61). In conclusion, we can say that a beneficial graphic novel "offers the immediacy of the prose reading experience, with the pictures and words working simultaneously, making a graphic novel not only something one reads but something one sees as well" (Gallo/ Weinert 2004: 115).

In this thesis, I scrutinise the advantages of using graphic novels in teaching English as a foreign language, and try to answer the following research question: ‘In how far does reading and working with graphic novels improve the linguistic and cultural competence of German students in English as a foreign language (EFL)?'. This thesis consists of two parts: a theoretical part that will acquaint the reader with the notion of visual litera- cy, some basics on comic style theory, the development of intercultural communicative competence, and second language acquisition. In the second part, I look at two re- search projects dealing with the integration of graphic novels in ELT at a German grammar school. The first project is conducted in an eighth grade and investigates stu- dents' linguistic development through reading graphic novels and both students' and the teacher's appreciation of graphic novels. The second research project is conducted in an eleventh-grade and investigates students' development of intercultural communi- cative competence and both the students' and teacher's enthusiasm towards using graphic novels in language teaching. At the end, I will answer the research question in the form of a conclusion.

2. Theoretical Background

2.1 Visual Literacy

2.1.1 Definition

‘Literacy’ in the traditional sense refers to the ability to read and write "and is viewed as a physiological and cognitive process of skills acquisition" (Chik 2014: 43). The ability to read traditional texts such as dramas, novels, and poems and the capacity to write appropriately are both exceptionally valuable (ibid.).1 However, whereas the term liter- acy is appreciated, the term visual literacy has, for some people, a rather negative connotation due to prejudices towards visuals as being too simplistic, and some think that visual literacy is not a skill that can be improved (cf. Dehn 2007: 11).

At the end of the 1960s, researchers found that watching television affects children's literacy. A correlation between the amount of watched TV and poor outcomes in read- ing and writing led many parents and teachers to regard visuals as harmful (cf. Seppänen 2006: 89). Technological and cultural transition cause concerns about chil- dren's literacy. Instead of seeing the emergence of new media, such as comics, graph- ic novels, and the TV as competitors to stories and poems, one should instead regard them as complementary (cf. ibid.). Additionally, teachers should integrate visuals into the curriculum to train an essential skill, namely visual literacy (ibid. 89-90).

A large number of scholars have provided definitions in trying to determine the notion of visual literacy (ibid.). Visual literacy is a complex term which one needs to understand in conjunction with other forms of literacy. During the first conference of the International Visual Literacy Association (IVLA), John Debes used the following definition to provide a clear image of visual literacy:

Visual literacy refers to a group of vision-competencies a human being can develop by seeing and at the same time having and integrating other sensory experiences. The development of these competencies is fundamental to normal human learning. When developed, they enable a visually literate person to discriminate and interpret visual actions, objects and symbols natural or man-made, that he encounters in his environment. Through the creative use of these competencies, he can communicate with others. Through the appreciative use of these competencies, he can comprehend and enjoy the masterwork of visual communication (Sintara 1986: 55).

Following this definition, visual literacy is intrinsically linked with other sensory forms in addition to the development of perception. Despite Sintara's unquestionably complex and expanded explanation, Seppänen thinks that one important notion is missing. He complements Sintara's definition, claiming that "visual literacy [also] means the reflection on the meanings of the visual word, as well as their critical analysis, rather than merely adapting to the prevailing visual orders" (2006: 90-91).

At the beginning of his monograph, Sintara provides a much easier definition of visual literacy: "Visual literacy is the active reconstruction of past visual experience with in- coming visual messages to obtain meaning" (Sintara: 5). For example, the implications of a ‘do not enter’ traffic sign are always created by a previous visual experience "and connected to the specific meanings of each interpretive situation" (Seppänen: 91). I

can stress two aspects in Sentara's definition: First, he regards visual literacy as a process that creates meaning and secondly, because visual literacy "is a meaningproducing activity, it is also linked to the formation of verbal meaning" (ibid.).

Furthermore, Sintara thinks that literacy is a complex skill consisting of four incremental stages, and as human beings mature, visual literacy precedes other stages of literacy. For that model, he refers to Jean Piaget's developmental psychology studies, declaring that "since birth, a child is an assiduous explorer and observer who continuously learns by being in interaction with his/her surroundings" (ibid.).

During the first stage, infants can capture pre-verbal images and associate them with cognitive structures. For example, a child sees his/her mother and feels more secure than before. It is important to know that infants are egocentric, meaning that they per- ceive only the visible as existing. Thus, when they do not see an object, in their opinion it does not exist because they have not developed the necessary structure (cf. ibid. 92). Hence, human beings acquire a basic type of visual literacy before language com- prehension or production.

Sintara calls the ability to produce and understand verbal language our second literacy of which pre-verbal literacy is a prerequisite. When children hear the utterance ‘dog,' they link it to the prototypical image of a dog that they have in mind (cf. ibid. 92). In this stage, both listening and speaking competence are acquired.

Afterwards, children learn written literacy, the process of writing and reading one language in formal institutions. Again, the stages as mentioned earlier are necessary to attain this level. Someone who is not able to speak or to listen in one language will never write or read in that language (cf. ibid.: 93).

The last stage is pictorial literacy. "It is characterized by imagining, production and aes- thetic engagement. This dimension of visual literacy covers the areas of visual arts, media, and aesthetics. Imagining and production refer to the receptive and expressive processes of literacy" (ibid.: 93). In contrast to pre-verbal literacy, pictorial literacy al- lows the individual to have a more precise look at images and to analyse them in terms of aspects, such as cultural conventions, manipulation, et cetera (cf. ibid.). Even though the development of the literacies is incremental, the four stages do not form a hierarchy in the traditional sense, meaning that they are all intricately connected to each other and that improving one literacy improves the other. After having mentioned what exactly visual literacy is, I will now answer the question why teaching this compe- tence it is so essential.

2.1.2 Significance of Visual Literacy in Foreign Language Teaching

Many reasons underline the importance of visual literacy in foreign language education. Hecke states that teachers should focus on the advancement of this competence (cf. 2010: 158), mentioning five reasons to stress the relevance of visual literacy: First, images are omnipresent, meaning that one sees them both in one’s own country and abroad. One also crosses them in our daily life (cf. ibid.). Bamford reinforces this assertion by maintaining that "Pictures exist all around us. [ ] Understanding pictures is a vital life enriching necessity" (2008: 72).

Secondly, contemporarily, images are more important than ever before (cf. ibid.). Hence, L2 learners need to be able to express the content of a visual and to discuss it with their fellow students (cf. ibid.). Besides, if a student wants to give a presentation, using visuals is inevitable (cf. ibid.).

Cultural specificity is the third reason for the significance of visual literacy. Pictorial conventions vary amongst cultures, meaning that someone can be visually competent in the mother tongue and source culture, but not necessarily visually skilled in the tar- get language and culture (cf. ibid.). For this, Kress and van Leeuwen argue that "visual language is not - despite assumption to the contrary - transparent and universally un- derstood: it is culturally specific" (2006: 4). Hecke provides one example that illustrates this point precisely, namely the ‘swastika' and its connotation and denotation in Ger- many and India. Students need to know that this symbol represents in the former case, a sign of former Nazi Germany and in the latter, it is a manifestation of peace (cf. ibid. 160).

The fourth reason mentioned by Hecke is the fact that different media such as graphic novels, comics and visuals are frequently used in foreign language teaching (cf. ibid. 158). Since visuals play a significant role in these media, students need the capacity to solely understand pictures or images with the text that is presented (cf. ibid.). Lastly, Hecke regards visual literacy as an essential component of media literacy. She stress- es that teachers of different subjects have to cooperate to provide cross-curricular teaching (cf. ibid.).

Furthermore, Elsner points out that critical literacy is the prime objective in the teaching of visual literacy. Critical literacy is "the ability to critically interpret and assess contents, statements, authenticity, authorship and appearances of texts" (2013: 60). Anstey and "

Bull emphasise the significance of critical literacy claiming "If students are not taught to take a critical perspective with texts and practice critical literacy in all contexts, then they may be marginalized, discriminated against, or unable to take an active and informed place in life" (2006: 37).

In conclusion, it can be argued that the ability to critically examine texts, images, and other media is a vital skill in today's information society. Someone who cannot question or critique images will become a victim of manipulation or bullying (cf. Elsner 2013: 60).

2.1.3 Sample Tasks for Improving Visual Literacy in ELT

One can distinguish between two types of tasks for training visual literacy. First, teach- ers can conduct projects dealing with visuals over an extended period. For instance, in 2009/2010, a variety of German schools participated in a project called Francomics (cf. Morys 2014: 7). The project’s aim was to choose one comic which best represents the German-French relationship. Each course received a collection of five different comics, and the class had to read a selection of graphic narratives individually to discuss them in class (cf. ibid. 9). Moreover, teachers provided both grammar and vocabulary work- sheets so that both grammar and vocabulary learning were not neglected (cf. ibid.). Morys ascertains that reading a comic in class leads to a positive reading experience and the promotion of various skills (cf. ibid.).

However, Hecke recommends individual tasks for improving visual literacy. She affirms that teachers should focus on process orientation, referring to a process consisting of pre-, while-, and post-viewing tasks (2010: 160). Teachers can train four skills while working with visuals: visual literacy, literary aesthetic competence, intercultural communicative competence and linguistic competence (cf. Morys: 8).

Hence, teachers can focus on one of these skills and create suitable tasks for learners. For instance, an adequate pre-viewing task training intercultural communicative com- petence would be the identification of cultural conventions in the visual (cf. ibid.). An appropriate while-viewing task focusing on literary aesthetic expertise would be an analysis of the drawing style, the colouring, or the atmosphere presented in the picture (cf. ibid.). Creative writing, such as writing and drawing the end of a story or a sequel, would be an example of a post-viewing task that focuses on linguistic competence (cf. ibid.). Teachers have the freedom to be creative, and they can use this to enable stu- dents to consider pictures and art critically.

2.1.4 Multiliteracies

Having defined the term visual literacy, it is also relevant to allude to multiliteracies. As already mentioned, we live in a digitalised world, and we have to cope with immensely complex communication technologies, texts, and visual icons (Elsner et al. 2013: 7). Goodson et al. reinforce that statement, pointing out "learners inhabit a world of bur- geoning new literacies different in kind, scope, and purpose from conventional litera- cies and familiar language uses forged in pre-digital times" (2002: 126). Hence, foreign language learners need the ability to confront various kinds of texts including "mono- and multimodal, interactive, linear and nonlinear texts, texts in different languages, texts with several possible meanings, texts on paper, screens, or live, and texts that comprise one or more semiotic system" (Elsner et al.: 7). To summarise, several new media enrich our contemporary society: not only films but also comics, graphic novels and the like (cf. ibid.). The teacher can integrate all these different media into foreign language teaching, helping students to train and ameliorate their multiliteracies for con- fronting the L2 in any dimension (cf. ibid. 10).

To have a clear picture of the multiliteracies approach, it is helpful to take a look at Els- ner et al.'s definition of this concept: "A multiliteracies approach to teaching and learn- ing foreign languages aims at the development of functional, visual, multimodal, and digital literacies, transcultural competence, language awareness and critical-reflective thinking skills" (8).

Elsner and Viebrock point out that 75% of the EU-citizens use their computer for com- munication and information exchange (2013). Additionally, many people also use their smartphones to communicate. Most social media, such as WhatsApp, Facebook, or Snapchat, allow users to send photos accompanied by texts, emoticons, or sounds. In some cases, users just post photos without any texts, leading to an entirely new sort of non-verbal communication (cf. Sanfilippo 2016). As such, today's society depends on visuals whether we want it or not (cf. ibid.). However, teaching multiliteracies is para- mount in making students aware of how those media function together, how they can profit from them, and how they can be used as an instrument of manipulation (cf. ibid.).

A graphic novel serves as a great medium to teach multiliteracies because it consists of texts, images, and other semiotic features, such as cultural symbols and onomatopoeias (cf. Baetens/Frey 2015: 103-106). For that reason, I have inserted a panel that precisely shows what it needs to read a panel of a graphic novel.

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

Fig. 1. Yang, Gene Luen, and Lark Pien. "Chin-Kee from China Visits his Cousin Danny in the USA."American Born Chinese. New York: Square Fish, 2006. 48. Print.

In this panel of Yang and Pien's American Born Chinese, one can see that the image is essential to capture the initial information. However, to analyse this panel appropriately and to let students gain knowledge that they can use productively, they also have to understand the text. In this case, readers have to figure out that the character in the middle has a speech impediment since he tries to say ‘Hello America' but utters ‘Harro Amellica' instead. Besides, the writing in his speech balloon is in big letters, creating the impression that he has a loud voice whereas the other's utterance consists of standard letters making him sound less loud. Students have to understand the cultural conventions, such as the clothes and the colours in the picture, stressing the Chinese descent of the character. Additionally, this panel uses onomatopoeias to create sound patterns of the laughter in the background and the steps of the big character in the middle.

In conclusion, one needs to say that visual literacy is an important skill that teachers must not neglect. Many arguments support the fact that visual literacy is essential in our lives and there is a plethora of tasks from which teachers can profit. Lastly, teach- ers should also include multiliteracies in our teaching since a medium such as a graph- ic novel or a film sometimes make use of more than one or two semiotic systems.

2.2 Comic Style Theory

In the following part, I am going to discuss the basic terminology of comic style theory. It is quintessential to name some characteristics of the graphic novel that distinguish the medium from other media, such as ordinary novels or paintings. Nevertheless, due to lack of space, I cannot define every term in detail, but will instead focus on the important ones that elucidate the crucial edges of graphic novels as a classroom resource. For that matter, I inserted an entire page of Marjane Satrapi’s piece Persepolis to clarify all the necessary vocabulary of comic analysis.

Fig. 2. Satrapi, Marjane. "A Graphic Novel Page Depicting some Features of Comic Style Theory."Per sepolis: The Story of an Iranian Childhood. Vol. 1. London: Jonathan Cape, 2003. 68. Print.

2.2.1 The Visual Language of Comics

In his book The Visual Language of Comics, Neil Cohn equates visuals with language by referring to semiotics. In this section, I will present his suggestions which are im- portant for teaching the graphic novel. To understand his theory accurately, it is neces- sary to know what exactly semiotics is. Generally speaking, semiotics is the study of meaning-making (cf. Cohn 2013: 17). The pioneer of the discipline is undoubtedly Fer- dinand de Saussure (1887-1913); thanks to his identification of language as an arbi- & trary system of signs, linguists now have an utterly new understanding of language and communication (cf. ibid.).

Due to lack of space, I cannot elaborate on his theory, but will focus on a major aspect of semiotics developed by Charles Sanders Peirce, a student of de Saussure (cf. ibid.: 18). Peirce described “the relationship between an external stimulus (like sound or graphics) and its meaning in much more detail than de Saussure’s focus on arbitrari- ness” (ibid.). He created a typology consisting of different types of signs: icon, index, and symbol (cf. ibid. 19).

Icons can be described as signs whose meaning is derived from the resemblance of what they mean (cf. ibid.). A picture of a tree, for instance, resembles a tree. Cohen also mentions the example of a person saying, ”Luke, I am your father” as iconic to Darth Vader, but only with a deep and breathy voice (cf. ibid.). The second type, the index, is a sign whose meaning is derived “by causing or indicating meaning in some- thing else” (ibid.). One prominent example is smoke indexing fire. The smoke itself does not mean fire, but when a person sees it, he or she immediately knows that something is burning. Lastly, Peirce refers to symbols as signs that “cannot have their meaning derived from resemblance or indications, and only can be recognized as meaningful through a conventional relationship between a stimulus and its meaning” (ibid.: 19). Symbols, in Peirce’s sense, precisely capture de Saussure’s arbitrariness. To illustrate this, the word ‘dog’ does not resemble or indicate a dog, and a heart- shape does not resemble the concept of love. However, due to the conventional rela- tionship, everyone knows that the word dog refers to a particular group of animals (cf. ibid.).

The three different types of signs (icon, index, and symbol) are respectively cognitively more demanding (cf. ibid. 20). Accordingly, icons are not difficult to process, and a panel of a comic page is nothing else but an icon. The reader sees drawings or charac- ters, items, and places. The speech and thought balloons in a comic are indexes be- cause they show the reader utterances of a particular character. The language used in comics is symbolically based on a common relationship between the signifier (the word) and the signified (the meaning). Frames, gutters, and other aspects of the layout are also symbolic because a particular frame influences the setting as per the cultural conventions. For example, “a cloudlike enclosure defines a picture as being a thought” (Eisner 1985: 47).

Onomatopoeias are phonetic or graphic imitations of sounds, and they occur virtually in every graphic novel (Forceville et al. 2013: 495). Since onomatopoeias are frequently a part of the drawing itself, it makes them technically harder to translate. In spite of the fact that one thinks that the picture of sounds should be equal in all languages, this is not always the case (cf. ibid.). Forceville et al. maintain that two types of onomatopoeias occur in comics. The first group refers to sounds that are conceptualised differently in every language (cf. ibid.). To illustrate this matter, one may see how different languages reproduce the crowing of the cock.

1. English: cock-a-doodle-doo
2. French: cocorico
3. German: ki·ke·ri·ki

Even though it is one single sound, different languages reproduce it differently. The second group refers to conventionalised sounds that are standardised, such as paw (gunshot) or bang (hit) (cf. ibid.).

Onomatopoeias are important to understanding media in the foreign language alto- gether, and the same goes for emanata (lines drawn on the characters to illustrate a character’s emotions). Textbooks in EFL teaching neglect these two aspects, although they are quite important in the identification of the core meaning of a visual. As such, students have the possibility to acquire some onomatopoeias and emanata while read- ing comics.

2.2.2 Panel and Page Layout

The first term that I need to define is panel. A graphic narrative aims at communicating ideas and stories through words and pictures by moving individual images through space (cf. Eisner 1985:38). To cope with the capture and encapsulation of these epi- sodes, the narrative "must be broken up into sequenced segments (cf. ibid.). It is the layers of the narrative that include a part of the story what one calls panel. Usually, panels are surrounded by frames or borders. However, occasionally, panels do not have any frames at all (cf. ibid.).

Panels are most often a part of a comic page, but some graphic authors draw splash panels meaning that she or he realises an entire page as one single panel (cf. Eisner: 62). Splash panels arouse the readers' attention tremendously, and it may also be the case that graphic authors use spread panels, where a panel spans more than one page. Most commonly, one encounters two-page spreads which have the effect of dramatising cliff-hangers (cf. ibid.).

Some graphic narratives, such as Dennis the Menace, are frame narratives, where one single panel illustrates an entire episode (cf. Baetens & Frey 2015: 104). However, I will focus in this paper mainly on multi-frame narratives, that is, narratives consisting of more than one single panel. Baetens and Frey identify three primary levels or layers of panel organisation:

1. The strip or trier is the most common panel organisation. Certain images are either placed vertically or horizontally in juxtaposition to each other and narrate a story. The crucial element is that it is only one single strip on the page (cf. ibid. 105).

2. The page is another type of panel organisation. In this case, only one page contains panels that illustrate a narrative. One encounters such a single comic page most often in newspapers where the graphic author creates a series that the readers can follow weekly or monthly (cf. ibid.)

3. The book is the last common type of panel organisation. It is either a single volume or a collection of volumes that consists of multiple pages containing panels that narrate a storyline (cf. ibid.)

The different panel organisations emphasise the appropriateness of graphic narratives as an ELT classroom resource since teachers can integrate different kinds of visual narratives in their teaching. For instance, a class can simply read and analyse a frame narrative or a comic strip which is not time-consuming. Comic pages of British or Amer- ican magazines or newspapers can serve as an authentic reading resource for low- level learners who are not capable of engaging with entire newspaper articles, et cetera. Furthermore, teachers can let their students read a complete graphic novel which takes probably more time, but an ELT class can analyse and work on it as if reading a traditional novel.

Benoît Peeters mentions in his essay ‘The Four Conceptions of a Page’ presumably one of the most vital theoretical contributions to the topic of page layout in graphic nar- ratives (cf. ibid.: 108). He "rejects any purely formalist analysis of the division of the page." Besides, he creates a taxonomy based on the different relationships between two fundamental elements: the narrative (the graphic narrative as a storytelling device) and the composition (the graphic novel as a collection of images and visuals) (cf. ibid.). As regards this, Baetens and Frey claim that "the more we follow the story, the less we notice the visual components of the panels and vice versa" (ibid.). Additionally, Peeters states that the relationship between narrative and composition can either be autono- mous (meaning that the two dimensions do interact) or interdependent (cf. ibid.) and distinguishes four modes of panel utilisation: conventional use, declarative use, rhetori- cal use, and the productive use. Figure 3 shows Peeters’ arrangement of the four modes depending on the mentioned factors.

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Fig. 3. Peeters, Benoît. “Four Conceptions of a Page Depending on the Narrative and the Composition.” Digital image. Interdisciplinary Comic Studies. Department of English: The University of Florida, 2007. Web. 13 July 2017.

The conventional use "is based on the systematic repetition of the same structure and form of tiers and panels, independent of any content style, or author" (cf. ibid.). This use is also often referred to as regular use because the same panel layout is repeated over and over again. In the end, the narrative consists of a parallel representation of "tier after tier, page after page, book after book." The aim of the conventional mode is to tell a story and has almost no visual or pictorial ambition. Nevertheless, two facts demonstrate that this method is not primitive. First, graphic authors have used it in the past and contemporarily, and secondly, the established regularity is no lack of sophisti- cation. On the contrary, it advocates its appropriateness for foreign language readers because they can fully concentrate on the narrative aspect of the graphic novel and more importantly, the conventional use is a stylistic device enabling readers to become a part of the represented world of the characters (cf. ibid. 110). Examples of the con- ventional mode are numerous, but a prototypical one is Moore and Gibbon's Watch- men (2008). However, the two authors do not employ the mode in some pages of their graphic novel (cf. ibid. 109).

The declarative mode of the page "emphasizes the visual properties of the layout" (cf. ibid.: 110). The artist creates each page by using an individual and idiosyncratic page organisation, and adds the content afterwards. The aim is for readers to focus on the panel structure rather than on the content (cf. ibid.). Teachers can use graphic narratives with this mode to discuss the form and function of the panel layout and formulate hypotheses of why one panel is bigger or smaller than the other. Just as the conventional use, the declarative mode can be found in all periods and the best-known example for this would be Bill Griffith's Thickens (1980), "in which each new row shrinks (vertically) while adding a supplementary panel" (ibid.).

The rhetorical panel structure is the most widespread. For this, Peeters notes that "[the] panel and the page are no longer autonomous elements; they are subordinated to a narrative where their primary function is to serve. The size of the images, their dis- tribution, the general pace of the page, all must come to support the narration" (ibid.:112). Moreover, the rhetorical mode does not only focus on the size and the form of the panels but also on their place on the page (cf. ibid.). With this panel structure, students of English as a foreign language can analyse the influence of the panel structure of the narrative, or they could ask themselves whether the effect would change if one altered the panel organisation. Finally, the rhetorical panel organisations support students in reading graphic novels critically, meaning that they identify certain effects created by the panel structure, such as the use of a spread or splash panel, to create cliff-hangers to make the readers buy the next volume (cf. ibid.).

Lastly, the productive use is the counterpart of the rhetorical one. The narration and the composition are interrelated, but the images and visuals are more vital than the story telling. Graphic novels employing the productive use often do not need much text. Oc- casionally, there is no text included at all. The panels arouse the readers' attention, and by scrutinising the page of a graphic novel, the reader creates the story in their mind (cf. ibid.: 113). An excellent example of the productive panel organisation is Kyle Baker's Nat Turner (2008). The story contains little text, and most pages include only visuals that are sufficient to create the story in our mind. This sort of panel organisation is an excellent resource for low-level language learners because they do not have to cope with foreign language text. The teacher can use this as an opportunity to sharpen visual literacy or as a motivational device to demonstrate that they can understand a narrative in the target language even though little or no text is included.

To summarise, panels are a vital part of comics and graphic novels and they are or- ganised in different ways. Peeters’ taxonomy is very helpful to distinguish the four main modes of panel organisation, and EFL teachers can use each of them in the class- room.

2.2.3 The Panel, the Frame, and the Gutter as a Medium of Control

After having defined what exactly panels are and how the graphic author arranges them on a page, it is necessary to define their function as a medium of control. It is the artist’s task “to capture or ‘freeze’ one segment of what is, in reality, an uninterrupted flow of action” (Eisner 1985: 39). This segmentation is an arbitrary process, and an essential element of the created narrative (cf. ibid.). It is evident that the human eye is limited, meaning that what it sees is restricted purely to what is visible. Therefore, the encapsulation is necessary. However, the artist shows a panel’s content “as it may be seen from the reader’s eyes (ibid.). He or she does so by arbitrarily placing panels in a fixed order. Hence, it is the reader’s task to interrelate the various panels with each other, which Eisner refers to as “the basic grammar from which the narrative is constructed (ibid.).

The major drawback of the panel layout is the fact that it allows the reader to see the last panel of the page before having seen the first one (cf. ibid.: 40). Whereas a film exerts absolute control of its reading, the graphic novel does not prevent the reader from peaking at the last panel of the page which either increases or decreases suspense (cf. ibid.) Additionally, it is entirely natural that the curious human eye scans an entire page before focusing on one part of the page. The graphic author also needs to consider the development of the readers’ visual literacy. Eisner illustrates this matter by depicting three different encapsulations of a character.

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

Fig. 4. : Eisner, Will. "Creating the Panel."Comics and Sequential Art. Tamarac: Poorhouse Press, 1985. 42. Print.

Figure A does not request any sophistication or additional knowledge to have a clear idea of the character meaning that a basic level of visual literacy is sufficient (cf. ibid. 42). Figure B invites the reader to imagine the rest of the character’s body, but the generous hint of the torso helps them to do so. Therefore, a more advanced level of visual literacy is necessary (cf. ibid.). In figure C, the reader has to deduce the rest of the character’s body independently, and this requires a high level of visual literacy (cf. ibid.). The examples show us that each image requires a different degree of implica- tion.

However, misreadings are also possible in that the reader can deduce the rest of the character’s body in figure C as slim and long, but this does not necessarily need to be the case. Sometimes, looking solely at one particular part of a complete picture changes everything, and this is an instrument of manipulation. The teacher can make students aware of that while reading graphic novels and discuss this effect with them, thus training critical visual literacy.

Moving away from the panel’s content, I will now focus on the effect of its border. In addition to its primary function as a frame, the panel edge serves as a non-verbal lan- guage device (cf. ibid. 44). Different shapes of the frame convey information differently (cf. ibid.). For instance, “rectangular panels with straight-edged borders [ ] usually are meant to imply that the actions contained therein are set in the present tense” (ibid.). By altering the line, such as by employing wavy edged or scalloped lines, the artist can create flashbacks (cf. ibid.). The lack of the frame, also called non-frame, implies un- limited space, and “it has the effect of encompassing unseen, but acknowledged back- ground” (Eisner: 46). One must also consider that that frames often do not exclusively surround panels, but also speech bubbles or onomatopoeias within the panel to either emphasise the mode of how something is said or to stress non-verbal sound effects, such as a bounce or a shot (cf. ibid.). All these non-verbal conventions are not univer- sal but culture-specific, and the EFL class can discuss and analyse what sort of frame the artist uses. Besides, the learners can also identify the effects created by the bor- ders.

It is also important to know that the frame can become a component of the narrative itself (cf. Eisner: 46). Eisner maintains that the frame “can be used to convey some- thing of the dimension of sound and emotional climate in which the action occurs, as well as contributing to the atmosphere of the page as a whole” (ibid). Evidently, the standard container frame creates a distance between the reader and the narrated storyline. By altering the frame, the narrative “invites the reader into the action or al- lows the action to ‘explode’ towards the reader” (ibid.). Eisner provides some examples illustrating the effect of the frame on the narrative. Teachers can make use of such artistic devices by analysing the impact the frame has on the panel.

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

Fig. 5. Eisner, Will. "The Frame as a Narrative Device."Comics and Sequential Art. Tamarac: Poorhouse Press, 1985. 46. Print.

Having discussed the panel and its border, I will now deal with “the sheer novelty of the interplay between the contained space and the non-space between the panels” which one may also call gutter (ibid: 49). Even though many readers neglect the gutter and do not see it as something important, it plays a central role within the narrative struc- ture of a graphic novel (cf. ibid.). As already mentioned, the space on a page of a graphic story equates to time on film. Hence, readers see juxtaposed panels next to each other, but they do not know what has happened in the meantime. Therefore, the gutter serves as a space of readers’ imagination so that they can deduce the actions between those two panels (cf. ibid.). Moreover, the gutter also has an emotional func- tion affecting the narrative and the reader vigorously (cf. ibid: 59). To elucidate this, Eisner refers to the graphic narrative The Octopus is Back, saying that it “is set on a subway where the rocking of the train is meant to be felt by the reader” (ibid.: 61). The artist does so by placing the panels very closely to each other so that the gutter be- comes marginalised (cf. ibid.). As a result, this style device forces the reader to read the narrative faster and evokes the feeling of a busy working day.

In the end, one can surely agree that graphic narratives are more complex and diverse than one would initially have thought. Graphic authors can employ panels, frames, and gutters to make the story more exciting, shocking, or thrilling. Instead of solely seeing the visual elements of graphic novels as a simplification for readers, one can also re- gard them as a complex and compelling narrative device. To conclude, reading one page of a serious graphic novel, such as Craig Thompson’s Blankets, is as complex as reading one page of a serious book, such as Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid ’ s Tale. This suggests that EFL teachers can also integrate graphic novels in advanced or pro- ficient classes.

2.2.4 Balloons and Balloon Speech

Speech and thought balloons (often referred to as bubbles) are fundamental features of graphic novels. A layperson often regards them as the crucial element distinguishing comics from art. Nevertheless, some graphic novels, such as Kyle Baker’s Nat Turner (2008), employ balloons very sparingly. A few visual narratives do not contain any balloons at all, such as Tom Feeling’s The Middle Passage (1995).

First and foremost, it is vital to know what precisely a balloon or bubble in comic style theory is. According to Hescher, the balloon “is a bimodal constituent of the comics medium consisting of words (the balloon script) and a conventionalised sign or symbol- ic form: the balloon outline (which in some cases may come in box form” (2016: 149). Since they function as indexes, the narrative does not require a fictional narrator (cf. ibid.). Balloon speech is both verbal (speech) and pictorial (balloon) where the verbal element is diegetic, but the pictorial component is not (cf. ibid.). Speech balloons usual- ly contain appendices pointing to the speaking character. Appendices in the form of little balloons commonly signify thoughts, dotted speech balloons frequently refer to whisper, and serrated or jagged balloons are “a voice relayed electronically or with vol- ume, which we deduce accordingly to other picture elements” (Miodrag 2013: 100).

One can compare balloon script to the scripted utterances of drama (cf. Hescher: 150). Furthermore, Hescher suggests that one can equate balloon speech to the direct speech of a verbal narrative; however, many literary theorists do not agree with that because “direct speech in comics is additionally linked to a genuinely pictorial entity (the balloon shape plus appendice) (ibid.). Moreover, it is vital to know that even though most graphic novels employ speech balloons, many use them individually. For instance, in books three and four of Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns, Batman’s and Robin’s thoughts are illustrated in box form and are additionally given an individual colour to distinguish them throughout the entire narrative (cf. Hescher: 149). In Asterios Polyp (2009), the graphic author created two different styles of balloon speech. First, male protagonists have upper case letters in their speech balloons, but female protag- onists have lower case letters. Those writing styles “are fairly arbitrary, and so could properly be termed symbols” (Miodrag 2013: 178).

As already mentioned, reading comics can help beginners start reading in the foreign language. Even though in serious graphic novels speech balloons can be quite compli- cated, an advanced EFL classroom can analyse their structure and the content, or re- late the speech balloon to the status of the character and interpret what effect it cre- ates. Since I have discussed speech and thought balloons, it is inevitable to consider the importance of colloquial language. It is well established that EFL learners world- wide learn either Standard British or American English. Consequently, many students are bewildered when they arrive in an Anglophone country and hear utterances, such as ‘What'cha doin' this aft?’ Foreign language teachers can sensitise learners to this by deliberately including colloquial speech in their teaching, and graphic novels provide that opportunity since the setting is often informal and speech and thought balloons often include everyday language (Hescher: 150).

Additionally, most language learners wish to focus more on social interactions, chatting with friends, making small talk, or getting to know new people. Ur emphasises this aspect saying that most foreign language learners are primarily interested in learning how to speak (2015: 11). She further states that social interaction is also an aspect that is quite often neglected (ibid.: 13).

2.3 Intercultural Communicative Competence

2.3.1 Culture and Intercultural Communicative Competence

Reading graphic novels also enhances one’s intercultural communicative competence (ICC). However, teachers need to know which graphic novels are appropriate for foreign language teaching and what tasks students should complete to guarantee successful development of ICC (cf. Hecke 2011: 653-654). In the following section, I will define the key terms ‘culture’ and ‘intercultural communicative competence’ which are fundamental for the upcoming paragraph dealing with the question what opportunities graphic novels offer to promote ICC.

Etymologically, the term ‘culture’ derives from the Latin noun cultura meaning ‘cultiva- tion’ or ‘care’ (cf. Skeat 1888: 146). Edward Burnett Taylor defines culture as “that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, morals, custom, and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society” (1970: 1). Nieke’s complementary addition to this definition endorses the notion of culture, namely, that it is everything that human beings produce whilst engaging with nature whether it is ma- terial or spiritual (cf. 2000: 38-40).

When students learn a foreign language, it is necessary for them to familiarise them- selves with the target culture or more target cultures that speak that language, for ex- ample, learners of English need to gain information about countries such as the UK, the US, Australia, South Africa, and others (cf. Grünewald 2011: 66). Nevertheless, one needs to be aware that cultural knowledge is very complex and sometimes: Alt- hough students have acquired knowledge about the target culture, they still experience misunderstandings or conflicts in intercultural encounters (cf.. ibid.) Regarding this mat- ter, Samovar illustrates cultural experience with the following simile: “What you call culture is . like the moon: You observe the front, which appears flat and one- dimensional, but there are other dimensions that we cannot see” (2010: 45). Therefore, it is obligatory that teachers raise their students’ awareness to the fact that culture is too complex to comprehend it in its entirety and that those intercultural situations can be challenging (cf. Grosch & Hany 2009: 88).

It is typical that learners have some stereotypes towards other nations since stereo- types initially avail students not being overwhelmed with the intricacy of cultures (cf. Grünewald: 65). The teacher can benefit from cultural knowledge in various ways. For instance, he or she observes some traditional paintings, symbols or pictures that carry cultural importance for an ethnic group or a nationality (cf. ibid.: 70-74). Furthermore, the teacher can provide some knowledge relating to the geography, history, and institu- tions of a country, such as significant events in the past or politics (Rössler 2010: 118- 119). In addition to that, literature is a convenient aid to acquire new information about the target culture (cf. Caspari & Schinschke 2009: 279). Graphic novels have the ad- vantage that they include both text and images. Hence, the learner can both read about and see illustrations that make engagement with the target culture more authen- tic (cf. Morys 2014: 8).

Based on the notion of culture, intercultural communicative competence is a paramount competence in foreign language teaching. Bennet and Bennet define ICC as “the ability to communicate effectively in cross-cultural situations and to relate appropriately to a variety of cultural contexts” (2003: 149). Moreover, one needs to keep in mind that ICC aims at encouraging specific attributes such as candour, inquisitiveness, empathy, and tolerance. The last term refers to the idea that an individual can accept another cul- ture’s actions or beliefs even though they contradict one’s own opinions (cf. Rössler 2009: 117-118).

More importantly, with his model, Bayram shows that ICC is not a simple, but a dynam- ic and complex ensemble consisting of five aspects that he names savoirs (cf. 1997: 34). First, he mentions attitudes or savoir ê tre meaning that a person needs to be open minded to acquire knowledge about another nation. Additionally, a learner should not have prejudices towards a particular nationality because they can hinder mutual under- standing (cf. ibid.).

The second aspect is knowledge or savoir, and Byram distinguishes between declara- tive cultural knowledge and procedural cultural knowledge. The former includes know- ing about the geography, history, and institutions of a country and the latter refers to behaviour and communication strategies (cf. ibid.: 35). The third and fourth aspects are connected since both include skills. Byram differentiates between receptive and pro- ductive skills. He refers to the first as savoir comprendre, meaning that the learner is capable of understanding and discovering cultural heritage, such as literature, art, or history. The second one, savoir faire, means that the student can use the information from the cultural heritage to behave and communicate appropriately in the culture (cf. ibid.: 37). Lastly, he mentions education or savoir s ’ engager where the learner is curi- ous and wants to know more about the target culture. Hence, the student independent- ly seeks for additional information about the target culture (cf. ibid.: 34).

These five aspects interact and create what one calls ICC. Most scholars agree that ICC follows a dynamic and complex development that cannot be easily measured since the processes involved are complicated. However, Grosch and Hany’s study from 2009 shows that ICC develops with human cognition, meaning that the older learners are, the more competent they are with regard to ICC. Furthermore, they state that some learners reach stages that others do not, depending on their social environment and other factors. (cf. 100-103). Witte suggests a progression of ICC consisting of nine stages. Some of them are universal and some optional, meaning that not everybody reaches the higher stages (cf. 2009: 50).

In conclusion, one can see that culture is a complex term that must not be underestimated and that ICC is a complex and dynamic competence that EFL teachers need to integrate in their courses. In the following subsection, I will discuss the opportunities that graphic novels offer concerning ICC.

2.3.2 Acquisition of Intercultural Communicative Competence through Graphic Novels

A prerequisite for learning a foreign language is the willingness to engage with another culture (cf. Byram 1997: 7). Reading graphic novels in the EFL classroom promotes students’ development of ICC. In addition to that, it enables students to regard different nations from another perspective, since “comic art speaks in a language that is acces- sible to a wide audience, transcending many of the national, cultural, and linguistic boundaries imposed by others” (Royal 2010: 10). This simplicity that facilitates the ap- preciation of an individual statement is mainly due to the images. Even though a graph- ic novel does not consist exclusively of images, the visuals are its strongest power of representation (cf. ibid.: 9). Hence, “attitudes and prejudices of a culture can be greatly shaped by its caricatures, cartoons, and other forms of manipulated iconography” (ibid.). Several arguments approve the appropriateness of employing graphic novels in the EFL classroom.

Initially, I need to stress the historical knowledge that graphic novels convey to the readers. As already mentioned, students need to familiarise themselves with the histo- ry of a nation to understand their current state and learners can learn the history of a nation through a graphic novel (cf. Aldama/Royal 2010: 105-107). Everybody is aware that reading an autobiography or a novel also enlarges students’ knowledge of a na- tion’s history, but comic strips include images that both facilitate the reading process and, especially nowadays, are more appealing for novices than simple texts (Elsner 2013: 57). Teachers can integrate a surfeit of different graphic novels that transmit par- ticular historical background, such as the French graphic novel Persepolis (2000- 2003). In this series, Marjane Satrapi narrates the process and the consequences of the Shiite Revolution in Iran. This graphic novel also enables a class to discuss some delicate issues in Iranian society and to compare them to its past. In addition to Per- sepolis, another suitable graphic novel in this regard is Joe Sacco’s two-part series, Palestine published in 1991-1992, which depicts the anxious and apprehensive life of Palestinians in the Gaza-Strip and the West Bank. This graphic novel allows students to have a clearer picture of the Israel-Palestine conflict including its long and compli- cated history.

Another argument that emphasises the assets of gaining ICC through reading graphic novels is politics. Authors or artists often exploit visuals, comics, or graphic novels to convey a particular political ideology or to question or attack certain beliefs (cf. Royal 2010: 9). Everyone remembers the violent outcry in 2005 over the Mohammad carica- ture and knows what happened in 2015 in Paris after Charlie Hebdo had published a weekly newspaper satirising Islam (cf. Martinez 2015.). In this paper, I do not want to discuss the ethics of such satirical work, but Stein claims that is necessary for students to have the capacity to talk about and reflect upon such delicate publications or events, such as 9/11 (2012: 26-27). He also states that teachers should not only employ ‘safe’ examples of political humour. Additionally, "provocative claims and radical ideas must be part of the educational discourse” (32) because the idea is that students understand the conflicts per se and learn how to handle certain misunderstandings between cul- tures, such as the West and the Arab World. For this, teachers can consult various periodicals, and newspapers that contain comic strips with a delicate political statement (cf. Royal 2010: 10).

The third reason justifying the suitability of graphic novels for ICC is intercultural inter- action. The goal of developing ICC is that learners can interact appropriately with peo- ple from different cultures and try using the foreign language in cross-cultural encoun- ters (cf. Byram 1997: 17). Sometimes, graphic novels contain cross-cultural interac- tions that become clearer to the reader because of the pictures. If teachers select a graphic novel according to this aspect, students can acquire procedural knowledge concerning ICC (cf. ibid.). Yang and Pien’s American Born Chinese contains three dif- ferent storylines, two of which narrate the story of Americans whose parents originate from China and who have to struggle with their lives because of the clash of the two completely different cultures. The protagonists want to live a normal American life, but due to their outward appearances, they are never considered Americans (Kimes- Link/Steinninger 2012: 28). Additionally, students can put themselves in the protago- nists’ shoes to experience the difficulty of living in two different cultures (cf. ibid.: 29).

The last reason that underlines the importance of ICC through graphic novels is the cultural conventions in the pictures. Learners can analyse single panels with regard to cultural conventions or analyse intercultural aspects by combining both the texts in the speech bubbles and the pictures (Hecke 2010: 158). As already mentioned in the sec- tion on visual literacy, images play a significant role in cultures and even if someone is familiar with the visual conventions of his/her culture, he or she will not be automatical- ly acquainted with conventions of another nation (cf. ibid.). Therefore, teachers can utilise graphic novels to improve students’ intercultural visual competence.

2.4 Second Language Acquisition

2.4.1 Theories of Second Language Acquisition

Second language acquisition (SLA) is a subdiscipline of linguistics dealing with the process of how human beings learn a foreign language. SLA is also a scientific field devoted to the study of such learning processes (cf. Braidi 1999: 7-8). When SLA was still in its infancy, Stephen Krashen, a prominent scholar of SLA, distinguished between language acquisition and language learning (cf. 1981). The former describes a sub- conscious process in an informal setting and "is very similar to the process children use in acquiring first and second languages" (ibid. 1). The latter refers to a conscious pro- cess in a formal setting, such as a student in England attending a French class (cf. ibid. 2). However, in the last decades, linguists around the world have argued about the role of consciousness in second language learning and acquisition that both terms are used as synonyms (cf. Schmidt: 1990: 129).

Since I want to investigate in how far reading graphic novels contribute to one's linguistic competence, it is indispensable to name at least two noteworthy theories of SLA. Krashen claims that second language acquisition is too complex to understand it in its entirety (cf. 1982: 10), and posits that one can describe the process of SLA with the following five hypptheses:

1. The Acquisition-Learning Hypothesis
2. The Monitor Hypothesis
3. The Natural Order Hypothesis
4. The Input Hypothesis
5. The Affective Filter Hypothesis (ibid.)

I cannot elaborate on all the five hypotheses due to space constraints, but will instead focus on the last two. The input hypothesis is of paramount importance for our first re- search project in the second part of this paper because it affirms that an individual can acquire new language material only when he or she is exposed to comprehensible in- put (ibid. 21). Krashen explains this as follows: "We acquire, in other words, only when we understand language that contains structure that is ‘a little beyond’ where we are now" (ibid.). Concerning the term ‘comprehensible input’, he develops the formula ‘i-1’ (cf. ibid.). The ‘i’ is the prior linguistic knowledge of the learner, and the ‘+1' refers to the newly acquired semantic information that is not too complicated (cf. ibid.). Conse- quently, students can solely acquire new linguistic knowledge when the unknown in- formation or exposed input is not too high (cf. ibid.).


1 Nowadays, the term ‚literacy’ is also frequently employed to refer to education so that we can describe a literate person as educated (cf. ibid.).

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Graphic Novels in English Foreign Language Teaching
University of Siegen
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Comics, Graphic Novels, Linguistics, Literature, BD, Processability Theory, Pienemann, Vocabulary Acquisition, Visual Language, ICC, Culture, Cultural Competence, Eisner, Visual Literacy, Visuelle Kompetenz
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Ibrahim Kaddoura (Author), 2017, Graphic Novels in English Foreign Language Teaching, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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