Teaching Ethnic Minority Cultures in the EFL Classroom. A Proposition of a New Focus on Contemporary Coming-of-Age Novels

Examination Thesis, 2016
72 Pages, Grade: 2,0



1. Introduction

2. Culture in the EFL Classroom: Landeskunde, Cultural Studies and Intercultural Learning
2.1 Culture – A Definition
2.2 The Early Beginnings: Landeskunde
2.3 Cultural Studies and Intercultural Learning

3. Literature in the EFL Classroom
3.1 Basics
3.2 The Meaning of Teaching Literature
3.2.1 Selection
3.2.2 Arguments for Teaching Literature
3.2.3 How to Teach Literature in The EFL Classroom
3.2.4 Teaching Goals: Knowledge, Skills and Attitudes
3.3 Literature and Landeskunde
3.4 The Genre of Novels and the Literary Canon
3.4.1 Novels and the Literary Canon
3.4.2 Postcolonial and Ethnic Minority Readings
3.5 Coming-of-Age: More than a Sub-Genre

4. An Alternative Canon of Contemporary Coming-of-Age-Novels
4.1 Sandra Cisneros: The House on Mango Street
4.1.1 Mexican-American Literature: An Excursus
4.1.2 Cisneros as a Representative of Chicana Fiction
4.1.3 Content Synopsis and Narrative Structure
4.1.4 The Language in the Novel
4.1.5 Teaching The House on Mango Street
4.2 Junot Díaz: The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao
4.2.1 Junot Díaz: a Representative for Caribbean Writing
4.2.2 Content Synopsis and Narrative Structure
4.2.3 Language Analysis
4.2.4 Teaching Possibilities & Intercultural Understanding
4.3 Witi Ihimaera: Whale Rider
4.3.1 The Māori Writer Witi Ihimaera
4.3.2 Māori Culture and Literature
4.3.3 The Whale Rider: Content Synopsis
4.3.4 Narrative Structure & Intercultural Understanding
4.3.5 Teaching The Whale Rider
4.4 Alternative Readings

5. Conclusion

6. Bibliography
6.1 Primary Sources
6.2 Secondary Sources
6.3 Internet Sources
6.4 Songs

7. Appendix

1. Introduction

“Studying English and American literatures gives you access to a wealth of numerous cultures around the world.” (Meyer 2008: 2)

21st century teachers are faced with a huge amount of various challenges in their classrooms concerning the teaching of the English language in a contemporary manner. And it is the little adjective contemporary that is crucial in this context. When one thinks back to English lessons at school, the first things that probably come into one’s mind are he, she, it – das ‘s’ muss mit, if-clauses, numerous past-tenses and Shakespeare. Undoubtedly, these are grammatical phenomena which are directly linked to the teaching of English grammar and have (necessarily) to be taught. And then there is Shakespeare. But why is Shakespeare the author who is best remembered by former students? There exist numerous suggestions why he is always present in people’s minds. Most likely every German student who is or was attending the higher level of education has been confronted with the author of British literature par excellence. For many decades, teaching the works of William Shakespeare has been one of the core elements within the literary education in the EFL classroom. And, to be more precise, Shakespeare and his oeuvre are part of the so-called literary canon which is a collection of works that have been considered as highly valuable and of particular significance during a certain period of time. It includes primarily the works of dead white European male (DWEM) as well as white Anglo-Saxon protestants (WASP) authors. Noteworthy are the writings of Arthur Miller, F. Scott Fitzgerald, William Golding and many others that are still part of the literary canon discussed at (German) schools. It is recognized that the works of the preceding authors are definitely not contemporary writers in the sense of “having published anything since 2005”. However, it is not the aim of this paper to criticize the works of the common literary canon since all of them offer manifold approaches to classic and valuable English literature and represent high cultural artefacts of Anglophone culture(s).

On the contrary, this thesis takes a closer look at the importance of postcolonial and minority literature in the EFL classroom as minorities within a culture become more and more omnipresent in a 21st century society. Given that the amount of diverse minorities as well as people with a migratory background in Germany has increased within the last couple years and English has become more and more a ‘bridge language’ that is used to link different cultures and enables non-Anglophone speakers to communicate with each other, the status quo of migrants and minorities has to be mirrored in German EFL classrooms as well. Teaching foreign languages and foreign literature in particular should therefore be regarded as a tool for a non-stereotypic and open-minded world-wide communication. The insight into foreign cultures, coupled with curiosity, tolerance and a change of perspective aims at reducing prejudices, indifferences and stereotypes towards the target culture(s).

The theoretical framework of this thesis is divided into two parts building on each other. Chapter 2 examines the concepts of Landeskunde, Cultural Studies and Intercultural Learning whereas chapter 3 takes up the theoretical basis and embeds it in the context of literary didactics in the EFL classroom. Chapter 4 presents an alternative and contemporary canon that forms a symbiotic relationship between ethnic minority cultures and contemporary coming-of-age novels and functions as the practical part of this thesis. Within this chapter, literary analyses as well as teaching opportunities of each novel are given. As it is the aim of the author to highlight the omnipresence of minority cultures within a specific Anglophone country, three novels that display both ethnic minority cultures and coming-of-age novels are chosen. Two coming-of-age novels concentrate on Hispanic minorities (Mexican and Dominican) in the United States of America whereas the third one examines the Māori culture as a minority in New Zealand. With these novels, the author focuses on powerful Anglophone books that do not exclusively represent the United States or the United Kingdom. The three coming-of-age novels The House on Mango Street, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao and The Whale Rider represent an alternative canon that is teachable at German secondary schools. Moreover, it will be demonstrated in how far these writings are suitable in regard to the teaching goal of intercultural competence since these novels rather focus on the interaction between an Anglophone core country and the minority culture(s) that inhabit for example the United States or New Zealand.

2.Culture in the EFL Classroom: Landeskunde, Cultural Studies and Intercultural Learning

The today’s EFL classroom has to respond to three major challenges that have profound influence on language teaching: globalization, the presence of New Media and the fact that English is an established lingua franca (cf. Volkmann 2010: 4). The world is constantly networking on different levels, especially via the Internet. And it is the English language that functions as a key element into an increasingly interlinked world. Nevertheless, the early beginnings of teaching English as a foreign language in German schools have to be explained in order to understand the changes that last until today and highly influence our everyday life as well as teaching scenarios. Since both language and communication skills are firmly anchored in language teaching, it is indispensable to include the concepts of Landeskunde and Cultural Studies into the observations. Language teaching in general cannot be separated from teaching culture as those elements are firmly connected. Therefore, a brief characterization of those concepts is necessary to understand the need of the inclusion of ethnic minority cultures and literatures in the EFL classroom. Moreover, the concept of Intercultural Learning is explained regarding its position as a teaching goal in TEFL. Consequently, this chapter provides profound background knowledge on cultural concepts as well as teaching goals in a 21st century intercultural EFL classroom.

2.1 Culture – A Definition

It is evident that the omnipresent term ‘culture’ has a diverse meaning and there is no definition which covers all aspects. From a more universal perspective ‘culture’ in general deals with values, traditions and the development of a society. It shows how a society defines itself. Following a static definition, ‘culture’ means the lifestyles of people living together in a nation and having the same background, an environment sharing the same standards, norms and values. Thus, ‘culture’ is a dynamic and complex system and can have both abstract and concrete use. Moreover, people identify themselves in culture terms.

According to Aleida Assmann[1], there exist six senses of culture. Three of them are biased, three are not. From a value neutral (unbiased) perspective, culture is seen as a concept which has to do with ‘care’ and implies that it deals with any degree of improvement, development and differentiation. ‘Culture’ is regarded as a geographically motivated concept distancing different groups from one another in terms of language, religion and mentalities. In addition, culture is seen as everything in the interaction between humans and everything humans do. Boundaries are dissolved and everything is considered to be culture. Thus, culture is used as an universal term. On the other hand, from a normative perspective, culture as “high culture” is seen as an elitist good to which only a limited set of people has access to. It includes people from middle and high class. Furthermore, culture is regarded as an ability to control one’s own instincts and distinct oneself from the “wild”. From an empathetic perspective, culture is a critical counterpart to reality which means that some cultural goods can contradict the expectation of mass media (cf. Assmann 2006: 9-13).

2.2 The Early Beginnings: Landeskunde

In chapter 2.1 it has been discussed that culture (both the term and the concept behind it) is constantly changing and should be observed from different perspectives. It took approximately one century to reach the goal of implementing a manifold culture concept at universities and schools. The first move was made by Landeskunde which, however, has been criticized from diverse academic fields (cf. Teske 2002, Teske 2006, Volkmann 2010, Grimm, Meyer, Volkmann 2015).

Landeskunde [2] had its heydays between 1950 and 1980 and is, in German-speaking countries, the “rational reaction to the pre-1945 approaches of Kultur- und Wesenskunde of the Hitler regime […]” (Grimm, Meyer, Volkmann 2015: 155) which aims at exploring the (Anglophone) target country on a historical, economical, geographical and social basis. However, the two terms Kulturkunde and Wesenskunde represent different approaches. One the one hand, Wesenskunde implies that foreign cultures and nations can only be understood and estimated if the national spirit of the country of question is transferred. It has been repeatedly said that the so-called national spirit of a nation can be found within established literary works and in arts, history, sciences as well as politics (cf. Baron 2002: 25, Volkmann 2002: 15). On the other hand the term Kulturkunde follows a rather contrastive concept which means that mainly the differences between one’s own culture (the German speaking countries) and the target culture(s) are highlighted. Due to the fact that both Kultur- and Wesenskunde had its origins in the late 19th century and lasted until the Weimar Republic, it is indisputable that the created image of Anglophone countries was rather one-sided and little reflected. Hence it can be argued that it was more or less a list of differences and similarities between Germany on the one hand and the United Kingdom and the United States of America on the other hand. This one-sided approach of cultural understanding is rooted in the former Nazi-German way of thinking and negating as well as criticizing everything that does not fit in the “[…] Arian model of Germany” (Grimm, Meyer, Volkmann 2015: 155).

Having a closer look into the contents of Landeskunde again it becomes visible that topics such as literature, arts, geography and history basically cover a certain ‘tourist-kit approach’ to the English-speaking world (cf. Baron 2002: 24-27, Teske 2006: 25, Volkmann 2010: 48, Grimm, Meyer, Volkmann 2015: 156). At an early stage of English learning at school every student acknowledges (yet) incoherent facts about Great Britain or the United States. Ten-year-old boys and girls who attend German schools and learn English as a foreign language are able to name the capitals and famous sights of both countries and can tell long stories about the British and/or American school system, geographical phenomena or name some of Shakespeare’s crucial works. But why is that? According to Grimm, Meyer and Volkmann a tourist-kit approach “[…] provide[s] idealized social images […]” (2015: 156) and can be equated with the game ‘I put in my suitcase’. Here, the suitcase is compared to EFL-learner’s minds which are filled progressively with big-C culture. The definition of ‘big-C culture’ is closely linked to the concept of Landeskunde in means of what is acquired about a certain target culture. The vast majority of researchers agrees that the essentials of Landeskunde should and/or must not be eliminated in the EFL classroom but undoubtedly have to expand. Popular and everyday culture, the so-called ‘small-c culture’ is nowadays an established feature within the teaching of foreign culture(s) that supports an insight into the mechanics of culture(s) (cf. Baron 2002: 39, Volkmann 2010: 48-50).

2.3 Cultural Studies and Intercultural Learning

In post-war Germany, during the glory days of teaching Landeskunde in the EFL classroom, researchers as well as teachers already pursued the goal of implementing Cultural Studies approaches in the EFL classroom. Following Grimm, Meyer and Volkmann “[…] there was a growing sense of discontent, culminating in various suggestions to conceptualize a Landeskunde plus that would go beyond the mere teaching of facts and figures” (2015:156). Although it appears that the complex and highly academic concept of Cultural Studies is not transferrable into the EFL classroom Doris Teske argues that “[…] Cultural Studies can provide answers to problems arising out of a redefinition of the factional Landeskunde/Area Studies or the ‘tourist kit’ approach that has long defined FL classrooms and schoolbooks” (2006: 25).

Within this chapter the early beginnings of Cultural Studies will be outlined in order to understand the importance and necessity of Cultural Studies as an academic field in general and within teaching English as a foreign language in particular.

Cultural Studies emerged out of a crisis in the humanities in the 1950s in the United Kingdom which means that a social and cultural change in postwar Britain happened. Scholars like Raymond Williams, Richard Hoggart and E.P. Thompson could not identify with the elitist concept of culture which excluded members of the working class as well as immigrants. Williams, Hoggart and Thompson were familiar with Marxism and belonged to the “New Left”. In 1964, the Center for Contemporary Cultural Studies (CCCS) was founded in Birmingham by William Hoggart and is nowadays regarded as the cradle of British Cultural Studies. Their view regarding a redefined concept of culture was not accepted from the humanities. Hence, they united the basics of sociology, humanities and anthropology and ‘constructed’ a concept which was named ‘Cultural Studies’. The task was to understand the cultural changes in postwar Britain, demystification of humanities and to unmask what was considered to be the unstated presuppositions of humanities (cf. Teske 2002: 20-21, Teske 2006: 25).

“Both concepts - Cultural Studies and intercultural learning - introduced far-reaching changes in the perception of what culture is and how cultures or individuals interact” (Grimm, Meyer, Volkmann 2015). However, Cultural Studies and intercultural learning are two different concepts. They agree in the fact that culture as a construct is constantly changing and must not be regarded as something fixed (cf. Teske 2006, Grimm, Meyer, Volkmann 2015: 156f.). In this case, an overlap with Aleida Assmann’s definition of culture is visible (see chapter 2.1). According to Teske (2006) Landeskunde and Cultural Studies resemble only in a superficial manner. They have different approaches in the means of cultural topics dealt with in the EFL classroom. One the one hand,

“[…] Landeskunde tend[s] to simplify complex situations by reducing facts or by presenting idealized pictures […]” whereas on the other hand, Cultural Studies “[…] use individual case stories in order to analyse the complexity of current (and past) cultures and the individual’s position in it” (Teske 2006: 25).

In contrast to Landeskunde, a Cultural Studies approach ranks for example popular culture and everyday culture as valuable and regard them as important elements of a culture and are referred to as “small-c culture” (Grimm, Meyer, Volkmann 2015: 157, Volkmann 2007: 141, Volkmann 2005: 277, Müller-Hartmann 2006: 141, Baron 2002: 39-40).

In addition, the Cultural Studies approach criticizes that mainly the ‘inner circle’ countries of the English language are fundamental for cultural learning in the EFL classroom. It is not surprising that the United Kingdom and the United States of America are labeled as the English speaking countries par excellence. In both countries English is the mother tongue of approximately 400 million people (cf. Crystal 2006: 424). To better understand the concept of different Englishes spoken around the world, Braj Kachru’s idea of concentric circles of English has to be taken into account. It has already been said that countries such as the United Kingdom and the United States of America are representatives for the inner circle of English. Besides, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand and Australia belong to the inner circle as well since English is the native tongue of the biggest part of the population. Due to the fact that the United Kingdom was a former colonial power, English was adapted in numerous countries all over the world. These countries with English either as a first or second language represent the outer circle that “[…] was conceived as representing postcolonial Anglophonic contexts, a numerically large and diverse speech community including such African and Asian societies as Nigeria, Zambia, India, and Singapore” (Bolton 2009: 292). In the expanding circle English is spoken on an everyday basis and is used for international communication. Moreover, countries that belong to the expanding circle (e.g. Russia, Japan, China, Greece and many more) “[…] are regarded as societies learning English as a foreign language” (ibid.). Following the concept of Cultural Studies Englishes from the outer and expanding circle should be of importance in the EFL classroom as well.

According to Grimm, Meyer and Volkmann Cultural Studies follow theoretical principles and are “[…] frequently linked to concepts of emancipation, egalitarianism, and cultural thinking or carries ideological implications […]” (2015: 157). On the contrary, intercultural learning does not feature all of them. It was conceptualized in the 1960s in multicultural societies as intracultural learning and provides guidelines of how diverse cultures should live together in one society in order to avoid misunderstandings and prevent prejudices. The main aim of intercultural learning was to acquire knowledge about other societies’ values and norms (cf. ibid.). In this context, it should be noted that the intercultural approach in foreign language teaching (and learning) is deeply anchored within the national curricula as well as in the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CER).

Intercultural competence is nowadays noticed as one of the main teaching goals of German speaking EFL classrooms and is defined as “[…] Fähigkeit und Fertigkeit von Fremdsprachenlernen […], über Differenzen zwischen der eigenen und der Zielkultur zu wissen, diese in konkreten Situationen zu erkennen und Strategien zu entwickeln, einfühlsam auf die Gepflogenheiten der anderen Kultur einzugehen” (Volkmann 2002: 12).

However, the importance and necessity of intercultural competence has first been recognized in the field of economics in order to be able to communicate adequately with international business partners. Moreover, it is not exclusively a faultless and smoothly conversation which is focused. In an educational context, intercultural competence aims at student’s willingness to communicate with people from other cultures. This goes hand in hand with openness and tolerance towards a foreign culture and also assumes that learners are prepared to question their own culture. Byram (1997) stresses the importance of the “communicative act in intercultural exchanges” (Grimm, Meyer, Volkmann 2015: 159). Consequently, language is a tool for communication and is closely linked to culture as well. Intercultural communicative competence focuses on parameters such as the critical awareness and reflexivity towards target cultures, the openness and respect towards members of other cultures, the readiness to meet with people belonging to different cultures and the development of intercultural communicative action competence (cf. Grimm, Meyer, Volkmann 2015: 159, Freese 2002: 17, Volkmann 2002: 43).

Generally, it is distinguished between two concepts of intercultural learning/competence. The first one is a semiotic concept which depicts the concept of culture as an iceberg. As with real icebergs, a ‘cultural iceberg’ hides its greatest parts under the surface. Only approximately 10% are easy to see. For example customs, courtesies, language and literature are easy to access whereas values, norms, gender roles, religious beliefs as well as priorities of a target culture(s) are situated under the surface and are thus difficult to access.

Following Michael Byram’s (1997) concept of intercultural communicative competence the interaction of four elements (skills of interpreting and relating, skills of discovery and interaction, attitudes and knowledge) contribute to a critical cultural awareness. The five elements that form Byram’s model are also named ‘savoirs[3] ’: ‘savoir’ means the general knowledge of how different social groups and cultures function, ‘savoir comprendre’ comprises the learner’s ability to interpret cultural documents and facts, ‘savoir être’ focuses on the intercultural speakers’ own attitudes towards a target culture (curiosity, tolerance, openness) and, ‘savoir apprendre’ means the learner’s ability to acquire knowledge about a culture and to apply that knowledge adequately. The critical cultural awareness (‘savoir s’engager’) is the result of the four ‘savoirs’ explained above. Intercultural speakers are able to critical reflect on their own and other culture(s) and objectively evaluate cultural differences (cf. Byram 1997: 49-55).

In the preceding chapter the concepts of Cultural Studies and intercultural learning have been discussed in terms of their development in academia and their importance in foreign language teaching. The theoretical background given in this chapter aims at highlighting the main teaching goal of the novels presented in chapter 4: the student’s intercultural competence regarding various Anglophone (minority) cultures. As in Cultural Studies, intercultural learning focuses on cultures as constructs that are constantly changing. Moreover, a turn towards various target cultures is recognized since the focus is no longer on one single (Anglophone) culture (cf. “The New English Cultures and Literatures”[4] ). However, today’s cultural concepts cannot be described in terms of isolated spaces. Welsch (1999) argues that cultures are no longer regarded as homogenous constructs that are separated from each other. Thus, the new form of cultures is described as transcultural since the “[c]ultural conditions today are largely characterized by mixes and permeations. The concept of transculturality […] seeks to articulate this altered cultural constitution” (Welsch 1999: 198). These findings can be transferred to the teaching goal of transcultural competence as well. It is no longer spoken of nation states and target cultures. Instead, both cultures and individuals are depicted as hybrid; the former focus on single and isolated target cultures has been taken off from a focus on global issues, the acceptance of globalization and the awareness of lingua franca tendencies (cf. Grimm, Meyer, Volkmann 2015: 163-164, Volkmann 2005: 284).

Numerous scholars agree on the fact that literature as a cultural artefact holds a prominent role in intercultural learning as it encourages readers to experience foreign culture(s) (cf. Stierstorfer 2002: 138). Furthermore, learners automatically broaden their personal horizon by reading literature of all kinds as “[l]iterary texts demand from their readers that they cope with irritations and learn to reflect on the concepts which they bring to the text” (Bredella, Delanoy 1996: xiv). Volkmann (2002) argues that “[a]nhand von literarischen Texten lassen sich auch in besonderem Maße die Schlüsselbegriffe des Projekts „Fremdverstehen“ erarbeiten und diskutieren, wie Perspektivenübernahme, Perspektivenkoordination, Anerkennung von pluralen Bedeutungen […]“ (2002: 18). Consequently, teaching literature is inseparable from teaching cultures since literary works are touchable cultural artefacts that allow the readers an insight in a (yet) foreign world.

3. Literature in the EFL Classroom

In general, this chapter focuses on literature in the EFL classroom; including a definition of the term literature and a clarification of concepts that are related to teaching narrative texts. Landeskunde as well as intercultural learning have been portrayed in chapter 2 since those concepts are firmly linked to the teaching of literature. It is also the aim to build brick on brick in this thesis: to understand the importance of literary education in the EFL classroom, the synopsis of intercultural learning in all its facets has to be considered in order to present a academic characterization. Moreover, explanations concerning the selection of literature and arguments ‘pro literature’ will be given. Given that the practical part of this thesis focuses on ethnic minority coming-of-age novels, both the genre of novels as well as the sub-genre coming-of-age novels in particular will be contextualized and examined concerning its teaching possibilities in the EFL classroom.

3.1 Basics

In a common sense, mainly (printed) books are considered as real literature. However, over the past years the understanding of what literature is and what exactly is included has been aggrandized. This means that not exclusively written (hence printed) texts belong to the rather fuzzy term literature. Combinations of both images and texts such as comics, advertisement and diagrams are considered as literature, too (cf. Weisshaar 2013: 147).

In the following, basic definitions as well as classifications refer to Engelbert Thaler’s (2008) examinations on the field of literature. He presents two different concepts of how literature is definable. In a broader sense literature includes “[…] all forms of written communication, i.e. written, printed works” (2008: 16). On the other hand, “[n]arrower definitions reduce the scope by focusing on various criteria, very often referring to the poetic and imaginative quality of literary texts” (Thaler 2008: 16). In contrast to literature in both a broad and a narrow sense, scholars differentiate between literature with a capital L and literature with a small l. While the latter includes “jokes, puns, graffiti, advertisement, newspaper headlines and other short forms” (ibid.) Literature with a capital L comprises mostly great (English) literary works such as the oeuvres of William Shakespeare, Charles Dickens or the Brontë sisters. This differentiation between two different kinds of literature has been made by John McRae in 1994.

Since the main topic of this thesis is coming-of-age novel(s), it is inevitable to contextualize the genre of novels in a broader context. In general, literary texts are subdivided into three main genres: lyric texts, narrative texts and dramatic texts. Examples for narrative texts are short stories, fables, anecdotes, tales, and, most notably, novels. The category of novels will be discussed further in chapter 3.5. However, the category of literary genres is only one possibility of classifying literary texts. Additionally, they can be analyzed in terms of their nation (English, American, Canadian, African…), historical period (Medieval, Victorian, Postmodern…), sociological (women’s literature, minority literature…), age (children’s literature, young adult fiction), aesthetic evaluation, sense of production, mode of writing, media, relation to reality and conventionality (cf. Thaler 2008: 17, Grimm, Meyer, Volkmann 2015: 176-177).

3.2 The Meaning of Teaching Literature

For many decades, literature has been regarded as an elitist good that was not supposed to be included in foreign language teaching. It was assumed that literature as a cultural artefact does not contribute to the students’ communicative competences. However, in recent times (in the late 20th century) a recollection of literature in the EFL classroom has been made. Volkmann points out that nowadays literature is no longer an exclusively elitist good but rather a tool for understanding the present. Moreover, literature contributes to a holistic understanding of one or more target culture(s) and takes a prominent position in intercultural learning (cf. Volkmann 2010: 248).

3.2.1 Selection

Probably the most important question EFL teachers have to ask themselves is which literary work is suitable for the learners. Texts used in the EFL classroom have to fulfil a large number of criteria in order to motivate the students and create a pleasant reading atmosphere. To fulfil these aims, Thaler provides the three C’s which are designed to support EFL teachers in the choice of literature. The three C’s which include “catalogue, canon, criteria” (2008: 18) have to be considered beforehand. Publishers compile catalogues in order to present all books available and valuate them in concerns of their “reading ability” (ibid.). The literary canon is another established value on which an EFL teacher can rely on but it will be portrayed in greater detail in chapter 3.4.1. The last source that simplifies the choice of literature in the EFL classroom is a bunch of criteria that all focus on different elements: school, learner, teacher and texts. Respectively, they reinforce each other. But since the reader (and/or learner) should be in focus of literary lessons, it has to be taken into account that the EFL classroom at German speaking schools is a heterogeneous group of young people. Therefore, “[…] different interests call for the selection of books that straddle – or question – the gendered gap: books selected should offer protagonists of either sex, plots of general interest, male and female characters who may comply with or resist gender boundaries” (Grimm, Meyer, Volkmann 2015: 175).

3.2.2 Arguments for Teaching Literature

On account on the fact that today’s children and young adults are surrounded and influenced by numerous diverse digital media 21st century students tend to read less than their predecessors thirty years ago. Moreover, books are sometimes ranked as an old-school and not up-to-date medium, especially in educationally disadvantaged stratums. A large number of teenagers rather take their smartphone and check on their social media than going to a local bookstore, a public library or bury themselves in the family library. Both teachers as well as parents have to work hand in hand in order to avoid such tendencies. Especially teachers have an effect on their students: choosing literature that is thrilling, contemporary, exciting and covers the student’s interest encourages learners to read outside school as well. The best examples are, among others, the “Twilight” series by U.S. American writer Stephanie Meyer which are devoured by thousands of (female) teenagers, “Harry Potter” by British writer Joanne K. Rowling or John Green’s coming-of-age novels “The fault in Our Stars” or “Looking for Alaska”. In fact, children and young adults do read, as long as the reading is thrilling (cf. Volkmann 2000). Consequently, teachers have to select literature that fits into the student’s sphere of interest (cf. Thaler 2008, Volkmann 2010).

Nowadays, literature is regarded as an inherently authentic cultural good that impacts the readers’ mental growth. Thus, literature is nowadays a constant in the EFL classroom. But why is that? What are the reasons to include literature in the EFL classroom? What are the driving forces behind? To a certain extend it is the curriculum that purports the necessity of teaching literature. Besides, there are numerous different arguments that should be considered. Thaler (2008) sums up the reasons for the implementation of literary texts in the EFL classroom. He provides a collection of possible arguments for teaching literature that has been established by various literary scholars and methodologists. Language development, social prestige, interpretational openness, motivational value, personal enrichment as well as intercultural as well as transcultural learning are considered as the crucial factors for the reading and study of literature (cf. Thaler 2008: 23). Moreover, studying literature improves basic skills and competences such as reading, speaking, writing, listening, and mediating (ibid.).

3.2.3 How to Teach Literature in The EFL Classroom

There exist an amount of different approaches to teach literature in the EFL classroom. In general, scholars differentiate between two approaches: an analytical approach and a creative, process-oriented approach. The analytical approach of a literary work is, more or less, a teacher-centered one that follows the pattern of ignition – response – evaluation and is popular in teaching literature at both schools and universities. This approach mainly focuses on questions regarding the content, the text’s structure and the message of the text (cf. Grimm, Meyer, Volkmann 2015: 177). Since this method of approaching literature is a rather traditional one and perceived as outmoded today, numerous modern and more learner-centered approaches have been evolved from the old-fashioned model. It is, however, unilateral to argue that the analytical approach should be banned from today’s EFL classroom. Analytical approaches provide useful strategies (including an appropriate and transferrable vocabulary to analyze literary texts) that help learners to improve their reading proficiency as well as to decode the formal characteristics of a text given. (cf. Nünning & Surkamp 2006: 66). Moreover, Nünning argues that analytical approaches are essential as “[…] the descriptive toolkit of narratology […] provides us with the terminological categories needed as the basis for rational argument” (2000: 360).

On the contrary, the creative approach allows learners to experience and produce texts on their own on an artistic as well aesthetic stage. Hence, learners bring in their previous knowledge in order to understand and value foreign literature. Nonetheless, a creative approach entails risks as well: the text itself and its structure may be neglected (ibid.). Consequently, one approach does not exclude the other. Scholars aim at combining different approaches in the EFL classroom since differing teaching goals require different methods. Nünning and Surkamp suggest that learners need to be involved in the decision-making of which method and/or approach should be applied. Thus, the general teaching goal “[…]‘Mitbestimmung und Verantwortung für den Unterricht‘” (ibid. 69) as well as the learners’ problem-solving skills are fostered.

Since this paper aims at portraying contemporary coming-of-age novels the approach to teach is, to a great extent, a creative, learner-centered, process- and product-oriented one. However, the process-orientated approach will be illustrated within this chapter in a comprehensive analysis in order to provide a theoretical background for the analysis of the novels selected in chapter 4. For further information on different approaches to teaching literature in the EFL classroom consider Grimm, Meyer and Volkmann (2015) and Freese (2009).

Generally, the work on and with a literary text in a process-orientated literature class is divided into three stages: pre-, while- and post-reading. In the following, each stage of the reading process will be portrayed succinctly. The first stage aims at getting the learner in the right frame of mind, activate their previous knowledge and include personal experiences of the leaners that are useful for the work with the text. This mostly happens via pictures, songs, quotations or statements that trigger motivation and interest on the part of the learners (cf. Weisshaar 2012: 151-152). However, the pre-reading phase should not be growing immeasurably because this stage aims at preparing the learner for the text (cf. Nünning/Surkamp 2006: 73-74). During the (while-) reading stage, the focus lies primarily on the textual understanding as well as on the constant reading process. Reading can take place either at school or at home, depending on the length of the literary work and on the tasks given. Nevertheless, teachers should provide the learners with guiding material and tasks in order to ensure an intensive reading process that enable the leaners to question the deeper understanding of a text (cf. Nünning/Surkamp 2006: 74, Thaler 2008: 52, Weisshaar 2012: 152). There exist an amount of diverse while-reading activities that aim at supporting the reader during the reading process. These activities facilitate the access to the text’s content, its textual peculiarities and its language. Possible activities are “[…] completing charts, grids, flow charts, profiles […]” (Thaler 2008: 52), (audio-) visualization via different media or a close reading of a particular chapter or passage. The methods that are applied during the while-reading stage direct at the leaner’s personal reflection on the text, promoting the active reading process and, most important, they “[…] enhance involvement (Grimm, Meyer, Volkmann 2015: 188)”. In the stage of post-reading, the central meaning of a text is discussed again and the readers should get the opportunity to bring in their personal opinion about the text. Ideally, the text as a whole has been read beforehand by all students in order to guarantee a common basis for further in-class discussion. Leaner-centered post-reading activities enable the readers to understand a text given from various perspectives and “[…] provide[s] space for creative activities, which center on the interest, knowledge and competences of learners and motivate them to work individually or with others on palpable products” (Grimm, Meyer, Meyer, Volkmann 2015: 188). During this stage, leaners are able to produce an own text that corresponds and/or reflects on the actual one. Moreover, a scenic transformation, interviews or watching a film adaption are suitable activities that encourage the learners to actively participate in a meaningful reviewing of a literary text (cf. Nünning/Surkamp 2006: 78-80, Thaler 2008: 52, Weisshaar 2012: 152, Grimm, Meyer, Volkmann 2015: 187-188).[5] Consequently, a sequence on literature in the EFL-classroom can be structured along the three-phase model that has been described briefly within this sub-chapter. However, teachers are free to structure their literature class without following those three stages as well. Nevertheless, it provides a logic and manifold guideline in order to ‘do literature’ in class.


[1] Aleida Assmann is a German professor of English and Cultural Studies.

[2] ‚Background Studies‘ or ‚Area Studies‘ is the English equivalent to the German term Landeskunde.

[3] The French verb ‘savoir’ is translated into English as ‘to know’.

[4] This term refers to Asian, Caribbean, African and Canadian cultures and literatures which have recently gained prominence in EFL teaching.

[5] For a detailed listing of possible pre-, while- and post-reading activities consider Nünning & Surkamp (2006), 71-80.

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Teaching Ethnic Minority Cultures in the EFL Classroom. A Proposition of a New Focus on Contemporary Coming-of-Age Novels
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Minority Literature, Chicana Literature, Dominican Litertaure, Maori Literature, Coming-ofAge
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Claudia Haller (Author), 2016, Teaching Ethnic Minority Cultures in the EFL Classroom. A Proposition of a New Focus on Contemporary Coming-of-Age Novels, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/383155


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