On the Importance of Teaching West African Literature. A Teaching Proposal for Adichie’s "Americanah"

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2017

21 Pages, Grade: 14



1 Introduction

2 The Need to Teach West African Literature
2.1 Reasons for Teaching Literature
2.2 Teaching New Literatures
2.3 The African Diaspora
2.4 Raising Awareness
2.4.1 Intercultural Awareness and Competences
2.4.2 Minimizing Generalized Thinking, Stereotypes, Prejudices and Racism
2.5 Conclusion

3 Adichie’s Americanah: A Summary

4 Themes and Motifs in Americanah
4.1 Race and Racism
4.2 Identity
4.3 Culture

5 A Teaching Proposal for Adichie’s Americanah
5.1 Teaching Key Passages from the Novel
5.2 Basic Information about the Teaching Unit
5.3 The Teaching Unit- An Overview
5.4 Detailed Description of One Lesson
5.5 Didactic- Methodical Rationale

6 Conclusion

7 Works Cited

8 Appendix

1 Introduction

During the last decades, literary texts have been playing an increasingly big role in classrooms all over the world. Young language learners have to grapple with sometimes very difficult and demanding literary works as it is strongly believed to help them foster not only their basic competences and language skills but also more complex abilities such as their intercultural awareness. The majority of literature that is being chosen for schools though still originates from a restricted canon that mostly consists of classic literary works from white, male and mostly British writers such as Shakespeare (cf. Müller-Hartmann; Schocker von Ditfurth 2009: 121). In the world we live in nowadays, one may raise the question whether this meets the requirements for acquainting young students with the reality of the highly interwoven cultural network that has been developing over the last centuries and will go on doing so continuously. This however asks us to broaden our perspectives as it is about time to include more contemporary works from various countries and introduce young students to these in order to help them being prepared for nowadays evolving world community.

West African Literature can be seen as one of many possible examples for a step towards a more diversified literary approach in the EFL classroom. Due to this, this term paper will try to examine the potential of and reason for teaching West African Literature in the EFL classroom. As the restricted frame of this paper will not allow to cover West African Literature in general, especially in means of all the various countries that are included in this term, it will only focus on the novel Americanah which is a literary work by the Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. First, it will shed a light on teaching Literature in general an explain why there is a much-needed step towards New Literatures such as the described novel is. Then, it will provide a short summary of the plot and themes in Americanah, followed by probably the most important part which will introduce a teaching proposal for the novel. Of course, the theoretically proposed teaching unit is just one of many possible approaches to teaching West African Literature. But hopefully, already this single example will be able to demonstrate the need to renew and modernize the methods and materials used in the classroom. In the end, teaching West African Literature will contribute to preparing young students for the multicultural world they live in.

2 The Need to Teach West African Literature

Before this paper will aim to give relevant reasons for teaching West African Literature, it will examine the question of why we even teach literature at all in the language classroom.

2.1 Reasons for Teaching Literature

As it is with every material a teacher chooses for a class, he or she has to ask himself what the students can learn from it, how it is of bigger advantage and whether it is more beneficial than rather choosing another material or method. In this case, it is the quite convincing power of literature to be an authentic source that significantly helps improving the process of language learning. Also, it gives the recipient the chance to get a glimpse of a specific society through the eyes of the characters, which makes it more realistic and easier to take in and process information. Depending on the genre and the content of a literary work, it can almost arouse a feeling of belonging to the setting or with the characters, thus contributing to a better comprehension of the topic (ibid: 120).

Even though we could never fully understand how it must have been like to live in a specific time, space or community from the past, literature that was written during these can help us achieving a better, more intense understanding for other mindsets, value systems, traditions and, in general, cultures. Not only does this hold true for the past, also nowadays we use literature to gain an insight into other people’s worlds, even if these might be fictional. In the context of this paper, one can say that reading a book from e.g. a Nigerian author will give the recipient the possibility to change perspective and learn about the self-concept of Nigerians as opposed to always just having one’s own view on the nation, its ethnic groups and its culture. Teaching with literature, no matter when, where and by whom it was published, aims to motivate students to interpret the story their own way, think critically, practice oneself in tolerance and empathy and, very importantly, to reconsider deeply rooted beliefs that are misplaced and outdated in today’s globalized world. Always being a resource of cultural learning, it does not matter in the end if it is a classic or contemporary literary work. If anything, it is vital to have a look at it throughout the ages of literature in order to understand the evolution and development of literature, being shaped by people and events.

2.2 Teaching New Literatures

West African Literature can be defined as one of the New Literatures that “emerged from processes of colonization” (cf. Middeke et al 2012: 163). Suffering under the European powers, mainly the Portuguese, Dutch, French and British, West Africa has a long and influential history of oppression, discrimination and enslavement while the Europeans competed in gaining more maritime and commercial control (cf. Svartvik; Leech 2006:111). Thousands of slaves were taken to the New World to provide cheap labour on the quickly growing number of plantations up to the abolition of the slave trade. As if the economic exploitation was not enough, the inhumane transport of Africans led to a dreadful number of deaths even before they reached their destiny. Even though there were some famous pioneers like Olaudah Equiano and his autobiography in the 18th century, it took West Africans a lot of time, even after the abolition, to systematically utilize the colonizer’s language in order to speak up for themselves and “write back” to the Western world; thus, West African Literature in English did not emerge until the 1960s (cf. Middeke et al 2012:176). Since then though, it has been highly contributing to the development of English as an international globalized language by many authors consciously deciding to write in English instead of the numerous existing native languages. Coming from multilingual countries, they can choose whether to remain faithful to one’s own mother tongue while risking having a smaller audience or to write in English, hoping to reach people worldwide. It is the ones doing the latter that enable us in Germany to use their literary work in the EFL classroom. Not only the colonial background and eventful history shaped West African Literature and other New Literatures; most of the countries that were invented by Colonialism and the Europeans drawing colonial borders that were non-existent beforehand later went through a post- independence era in which they had to reinvent themselves and their forgotten cultures, shape their newly gained nation and cope with their history and stigma of inferiority. The new generation of writers challenged colonial ideologies, some of which are still firmly established in some people’s minds today; thus, it still is a current and relevant topic. Processing these emotions in their literary works, West African authors gave the rest of the world a chance to at least slightly comprehend what people went through during colonial times. This is why teachers should open their mind to New Literatures from West Africa and include it in their teaching aims if they want to introduce their students to different perspectives and to open their eyes for the mistakes of the past, wishing to prevent them from making the same.

2.3 The African Diaspora

Many famous authors of West African Literature in English were born, grew up and studied abroad, leading to the fact that a Nigerian author does not necessarily represent the life in Nigeria itself but sometimes rather the experiences of a Nigerian person living outside of the homeland. Back in time, when people used to think, that a specific culture and ethnic group belongs to a specific geographical area only, one might have thought that you can also fit a specific type of literature into the limited frame of just one country. The fact that even today some people believe in that is another good reason to teach Literatures like the West African one, aiming to make students aware of the worldwide African diaspora that emerged through millions of West Africans migrating to other countries, where they now have been living and influencing their new homelands for several generations, as well as being influenced by their new homeland. Their view on their backgrounds, history, and cultures is a significantly different one as “displacement creates a distance that allows writers to encode critiques of their homelands, to construct new homelands, and to envision new communities” (Walters 2005: viii). This means that contemporary writers from the African Diaspora, such as Adichie, are able to be a defender and critique of their homeland, or generally saying even of blackness, at the same time. Based on their individual background, they can judge about the beautiful and ugly sides of both nations.

Talking about Nigerian Literature in English therewith must include talking about a wide diversity of authors and origins as well as transcultural and transnational backgrounds. Thus, the topics addressed in literary works do not simply cover national issues but they also give an insight on complexly interwoven and dynamically changing perspectives. As this perfectly represents world’s current societies, it is a meaningful choice to discuss a diasporic work in the EFL classroom: “Writing from formerly colonized parts of the world is no longer the voice of the putative ‘other’, but part of the constantly transforming and diversifying system of contemporary world literature” (ibid: 177). Discussing literature that will be able to send exactly this message to young students is probably the best and most memorable way of teaching them to have an open mind about other cultures and to be more respectful and caring in today’s diverse world. As English is the language that is used to convey this message and to form transcultural networks, it is an even better choice to integrate this kind of material in the English language classroom.

2.4 Raising Awareness

A great potential of raising awareness of many kinds lies in teaching West African Literature. Not only does it raise cultural awareness and contributes to intercultural learning, it will also make students aware of their own way of thinking which can maybe be quite limited and influenced by their upbringing and background. Overall, it raises awareness for the questions of identity, which does not only include the identity of the individual but also identity in means of a nation, ethnicity, religion and origin. Learning about the dynamics of identity and, thus, the fact that it is “discursively constructed through interaction with others” (Witte 2014: 173), contains the chance for students to realize at an early stage that people do not define themselves solely through their home country but also through where they have been and who they have met. Especially introducing them to diasporic literary work will support the idea that the identity of the individual is much more complex than expected and that is highly interwoven with collective identities; students will thus learn that it is not appropriate to prejudge a person just because of knowing where he or she is from or by even just their looks and skin colour. The following will highlight some of the potentialities and reasons of and for teaching West African Literature in a more detailed way.

2.4.1 Intercultural Awareness and Competences

Language and culture are inseparable; cultural traditions are passed down from generation to generation orally via using native languages but also languages itself are symbols that represent the culture and are bathed in the memories from the past; sometimes distinct languages even function as relicts of long forgotten cultures. As “foreign literature represents linguistic and cultural otherness” (Thaler 2008: 70), it is one of the most powerful and authentic resources that EFL teachers can make use of in order to familiarize their students with the most truthful view on other cultures, ethnic groups and their history. Even though English is not the native language of probably most of the West African authors, it still has been playing a big role in their lives for the last centuries and has therewith shaped them significantly. Through foreign literature, even very young students can experience other value systems, beliefs and attitudes in such a simple but still meaningful way; this will automatically and most times unconsciously lead to processes of intercultural learning. In the end, there is the potential to make them think further and start comparing and contrasting their own culture with the one presented; they will learn how to change perspectives as well as how to understand why other people think differently and decide to act or feel the way they do.

2.4.2 Minimizing Generalized Thinking, Stereotypes, Prejudices and Racism

It still is a quite common belief that Africa can be seen as one country sharing the same culture, history and traditions. Also, there is the outdated belief of us human beings living in separable races that are home to just a specific geographical part of the world. Opening the students’ eyes to the fact that this is far from right as early as possible can be done by teaching West African Literature. First of all, they should be made aware of the fact that there is even a huge difference already between West Africa and other parts of the continent; even the countries that count to West Africa are diverse.

So, already this small field of study will suffice to demonstrate the miscellaneous transcultural world we live in. Most of all, students should “become aware of one’s own cultural presuppositions and prejudices […] [in order to be able to] engage in a respectful and productive interchange with supposedly ‘other cultures’” (Doff; Schulze-Engler 2011: 1). Problems like simplistic and unsophisticated notions of ‘cultures’ that live together in a specific space, deeply rooted thinking of colonial hierarchy, unjustified stereotypes and maybe even racist thinking can be tackled and unlearned by discussing meaningful and veridical resources such as West African Literature. In the end, every individual has a different story worth being heard.


Excerpt out of 21 pages


On the Importance of Teaching West African Literature. A Teaching Proposal for Adichie’s "Americanah"
Justus-Liebig-University Giessen  (Institut für Anglistik)
Studying and Teaching West African Literature and Culture
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
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West Africa, Colonization, Adichie, Postcolonial Novel, Teaching about West Africa, Teaching Proposal, Americanah
Quote paper
Veronika Keil (Author), 2017, On the Importance of Teaching West African Literature. A Teaching Proposal for Adichie’s "Americanah", Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/430773


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