Literature and Language Teaching
By: Julia Galmiche
Julia Galmiche is a native French-speaker from France. She obtained a MA in Publishing & Humanities from the University of South Brittany, France, and a MA in Writing and Publishing from La Sorbonne Nouvelle University in Paris. She is currently completing a Master’s degree in French and Francophone Literature at SFU. Since 2010, Julia has been teaching French as a foreign language at secondary and university levels in the UK and Canada. She has also worked for several academic publishing houses and think tanks in France and in Cameroon as well as UK-based communications and translation agencies.
Literature and Language Teaching
For the vast majority of education specialists, there is nothing obvious about the teaching of literature, as there is no general agreement on exactly what it entails (Séoud: 30). No doubt the ambiguous, subjective, and paradoxical nature of literature has led some to question its teaching, particularly those belonging to an academic tradition that places its primary focus on the examination of homogeneous objects of study. Following in the wake of literary studies, the didactics of literature went through three broad phases over the last century.
Until the mid-20th century, literature was seen as a highly suitable or even ideal teaching resource, and often treated as sacrosanct. Then in the 1960s and 1970s, it lost its hegemonic status and was discredited; this was reflected in marked changes in linguistic practices. Literary language was gradually abandoned in favour of journalistic language, considered to be more authentic. The literary text was accused of not responding to the requirements of real situations and was rejected as a teaching tool because of its deviation from the norm – the variety of language used on a daily basis and referred to as “standard”. It was not until the early 1980s, with the introduction of the communicative approach, that literature was rehabilitated, although its use in French as a foreign language (FFL) classes remained limited to the pragmatic and functional dimensions. As a result, literature was deprived of its “sacred” status and was now seen by some merely as a source of words and syntactic structures whose specific features – be they linguistic, textual or cultural – were disregarded.
Currently, although in theory it is taken for granted that literary texts have their place in the FFL class, there remains a wide gap between this reality and actual practice (Artuñedo and Boudart: 51). It has been observed that Francophone literatures are “almost universally forgotten” in FFL teaching (Cuq and Gruca, 2008:418-419), as they are studied too rarely and/or poorly if not totally set aside in favour of literature from France or Quebec. In our view, this approach ignores the international dimension of the French language, since Francophone literatures provide a perfect example of the linguistic and cultural diversity within the multifaceted space in which French, in contact with other languages and cultures, serves as a language of communication and partnership. This issue is of particular interest in an age of interculturality, defined as the coexistence and mutual awareness of diverse cultures and the need to create meeting points between them (Defays: 15).
Francophone literatures, seen as transnational and intercultural spaces, can thus allow learners to decentre (the experience of the Other and one’s own experience through the Other) and at the same time connect (the experience of multi/pluriculturality in a globalized and increasingly hybridized world) (Riffard: 13). Finally, the teaching of those literatures helps move beyond the linguistic and cultural alienation of the peripheries subjected to a centre of gravity that is imposed rather than chosen (neo-colonialism, globalization) and brings new insights into language. What emerges is the outline of an approach to language teaching that incorporates multiple dimensions – ethical and political, social, cultural and identity-related – issues that are all at the heart of current debates in the field of education.
Artuñeto Guillén, Belén and Boudard, Laurence. “Du prétexte au texte : pour une réhabilitation du texte littéraire en classe de FLE” in Figuerola, M.C. et al., La Lingüística francesa en el nuevo milenio. Milan: Lleida, 2002: 51-59.
Cuq and Gruca, Isabelle. Cours de didactique du français langue étrangère et seconde. Grenoble: Presses universitaires de Grenoble, 2008.
Defays, Jean-Marc et al. La Littérature en FLE. État des lieux et nouvelles perspective. Paris: Hachette, 2014.
Séoud, Amor. Pour une didactique de la littérature. Paris: Hatier-Didier, 1997.