Reasons for studying language arts and literature

One question I get sometimes is why should language arts and literature be studied?

One answer could be the wish to learn how to persuade, inform or entertain. Another answer could be to want to learn to look for opinion reasons, facts and information as well as interpreting the world and people as well as their problems.

On this English Philology Basics studies course, we’ve read short stories, written countless academic essays and a learning journal, held speeches; we have done work in pairs, groups and individually. We have familiarized ourselves with the British & the American societies, taken a look at linguistics as a science and practiced English grammar.

It makes us better at giving advice on

  • what to read
  • how to better understand what you’ve read
  • how to use correct grammar
  • how to write better essays
  • how to write to persuade, inform or entertain

We are also better equipped to help (existing or future) students understand different cultures.

It feels like the course is over now, now that the last contact days and workshops are over (even though we have a couple of distance study assignments left). When all of the required assignments are done, for this course, there’s still more for us to learn too, so many are going to continue on the intermediate course in the fall.

The pair presentations delivered during the last contact study weekend contained serious issues like women’s rights and the freedom of speech. 

Content viewed as inappropriate for teenagers or related to teenage sexuality, pornography, obscenity, occultism, witchcraft, racial issues, violence, bestiality, promoting damaging lifestyles and rebellion as well as religion (e.g. blasphemy) have all been reasons for censorship or banning books. The long list of taboos and possible censorship issues should also be taken into consideration when planning to teach. Taboos can also vary depending on the culture; literature suitable to use to teach in Finland might not be suitable in the United States.

One pair of presenters last weekend talked about art as an aesthetic experience that brings up ideas with the potential to educate the whole person (Dewey) in their presentation. They reminded us of the words of Lionel Trilling on why we should study arts in the first place. We should study (and teach?) arts because:

It yields more truth than any other intellectual activity – (Lionel Trilling)

Literature makes it possible for us, human beings, to experiment and experience almost anything safely. This youtube video by the School For Life describes literature very well too, as the greatest reality simulator. 

 

These are some of the reasons for why language arts and literature should be studied, I’m sure there are more. See you in the intermediate course!

 

Tools for forming relationships with storytelling

A discovery in the woods the short story by Graham Greene is on our Introduction to English literature course reading list.

I enjoyed the piece – it’s a fantasy-like story of children taking on a secret journey away from their own little village by the sea to discover something in the woods. Graham Greene is said to be “one of the masters of modern English fiction”.

I found this short story a bit dreamlike. I interpreted it being about children of a mystical future finding the old world (from now?). Is it Greene’s way of warning the world about the risk of destruction? There could be different interpretations but I read a review where the interpretation of the short story went as far as saying “it brings home the potential consequences of the Cold War more powerfully than anything else I have read on the subject”.

Graham Greene, born in 1904,  according to his publisher worked as a journalist and critic, became literary editor of the Spectator and wrote novels, collections of short stories, travel books, plays, autobiographies, books for children, essays, film and book reviews. That is why we are to familiarize ourselves with his work on the literary course.

The learning objective of the English introduction to literature course reads as follows:

Upon completion the student should be able to:

  • display general knowledge of broad periods in the history of English-language literature, and specific understanding of representative authors and texts
  • understand and articulate the differences between several major interpretative approaches to literature
  • offer personal readings of individual literary texts based on close reading and textual evidence

This course will offer students a broad overview of English literary history by presenting and analyzing a range of literary texts from different periods and nations. The course will thus combine elements of literary historical survey with the techniques of close reading and literary interpretation. The course will also introduce basic elements of literary theory.

To be able to say we have a specific understanding of representative authors and texts in broad periods in the history of English-language literature, we have read several short stories during the course. I wonder a bit why we haven’t been assigned novels? Maybe it isn’t necessary for the basic studies course? Short stories can be “representative” enough to just get an understanding of the representative texts for the period and nations we are studying?

Next up for me on the reading list is Carson McCullers short story The Sojourner. In our next weekend workshop coming up on Friday, we will be using literary analysis techniques on Greene’s and McCullers’ short stories as we meet.

After the workshop days coming up, (our last for this course) we all have the literary term paper to write, a literary analysis of 1200 words. There’s some work to do there because I haven’t yet picked the short story that I’m going to analyze.

For me, this gives valuable tools for teaching literature and helping people, young or old, to “form relationships with books”, like 7sistershomeschool.com Veteran Homeschool Mom says in her tips for teaching literature (Image below from Pinterest). As humans, we are all storytellers by nature and books are treasures we should teach our children to embrace. Let’s work to keep the storytelling tradition alive.

EDIT: Excellent Inspiring Video: TEACHING HIGH SCHOOL LITERATURE on 7sistersihh

Passion for reading

In the weekend we have contact studies. I know there’s pair and group-work coming up in grammar and academic communication and the second versions of our academic essay’s were due this week too, as we had them peer-reviewed. Peer review – that’s an excellent practice and you learn a lot both by reviewing and being reviewed. (It works well with tasks in working life too.)

Nobel prize winning literature

The fun part during this study period was reading Naipaul’s short story The thing without a name.  Reading papers on linguistics was a more laborious task, I didn’t quite manage to go through all of the required papers yet, so I’ll have a few to go before summer vacation. The short story we were assigned to read took me on a trip to Trinidad. The trip wasn’t merely a pleasurable one, but a realistic dive into the, sometimes, difficult circumstances of characters living in the slums in the 1950’s.

Sir Vidiadhar Surajprasad Naipaul, received the Nobel Prize in Literature  in 2001 “for having united perceptive narrative and incorruptible scrutiny in works that compel us to see the presence of suppressed histories.” (Goodreads). Apparently “V.S.” studied English at the university,  in the 1950’s in Oxford, England before he became successful in writing prose.

The short story

In The thing without a name Naipaul portrays the world through the eyes of a young boy (?) living on Miguel street.

“The sawdust no longer sounded with hammering and sawing. The sawdust no longer smelled fresh, and became black, almost like dirt. Popo began drinking a lot, and I didn’t like him when he was drunk. He smelled of rum, and he used to cry and then grow angry and want to beat up everybody. That made him an accepted member of the gang. Hat said, “We was wrong about Popo. He is a man, like any of we”.

I felt a certain pity for some characters in the story, but in a strange way, I could also relate to them. The vernacular language the characters “spoke” brought them closer, made them feel more real. There is drinking, domestic abuse, criminality, marital problems and life struggle in general. The story also seems also to capture a Trinidadian masculinity model. A model, where displaying dominance through violence is required to be seen as a real man.

Finding the passion for reading… again

Literature is one way of learning about the life and struggles of other people, learning empathy. I generally think people should read more; myself included. I used to be passionate about reading when I was younger, but nowadays there’s just too much digital noise around… Or maybe I’m just busy or lazy, I don’t know. Maybe it was the passion that lead me back to philology studies to make more time for reading? Anyhow, I think the right kind of literature helps us understand other people, but it can also help us understand ourselves better. I want to inspire my own kids and others to read more, even if it’s hard sometimes.

Reading this particular story left me wondering if there was any hope for the characters. Maybe I shall read the piece again to see how it makes me feel, reading it for the second time?

Picking The Finest Words

I’m feeling a cold coming up! So happy that I managed to return my 2nd edition of the essay as required, the deadline is tomorrow. I’ve been reading and writing my learning journal for our independent distant course in English linguistics but today it felt too heavy to read the remaining articles with the cold coming up and a slight headache. I left the more complicated articles for last. I think I need to get better before I will be able to focus on 30 pages of psycholinguistics; I plan to read Stiver’s and Mossano’s Mobilizing response article next. It’s something I find interesting but I definitely need to be able to concentrate. (A headache and a sore throat is not the best medicine for concentration!)

I’ve really been digging into the course material and read several articles on the reading list. I’ve for instance learnt more about how ecological educators see language learning as relationships among and between learners (Leo van Lier’s From input to affordance),  how linguistic relativity does not constrain our thoughts or perceptions but that it tends to influence what we as humans routinely think (Kramsch, The relationship of language and culture) and how being a good language learner and student requires not only demonstrating linguistic competence, but also understanding of the specific instructional setting and learning to develop communication skills and being interactive and interpreting a situation and how to act in that situation (LORENZA MONDADA, SIMONA PEKAREK DOEHLER, Second Language Acquisition as Situated Practice: Task Accomplishment in the French Second Language Classroom). I won’t go into the details of the above and some other articles here in my blog, but language IS truly complex and as an academic research field it is very wide – if that can begin to describe the art and science of language.

I also read a couple of essays today, as I prepare to make the peer reviews of essays. To be able to review the academic essays, we have been given the task to read also The Only Grammar Book You’ll Ever Need by Susan Thurman ; Edited By Larry Shea. I’m not sure if we were to read the whole thing, but it’s almost 200 pages and for me that is so much reading that it requires some sinking in. I can’t do it in one or two session’s. The book is well written and not at all a what-you-would-expect, it’s not a typical, dare I say, boring grammar book! I already wrote a few lines in my previous post about the book and that I ordered it for myself. It seems to take some time to arrive with the mail so I haven’t yet had a chance to turn the pages of the actual book. Luckily we can use the online editions for free through the university. I read the first chapter in a breeze! It was an easy read and I surprised myself, because I enjoyed the read. I wouldn’t expect a grammar book to be enjoyable. Silly me, but I’m a linguist so maybe I shouldn’t be so surprised.

The first chapter was about finding the right words when writing. We all know how hard it can be to find the right words! If you want your words to have influence, it helps if you check common errors, misspellings or possible misuse of words. The book promises it will give your reader more confidence in what you are trying to say, so I recommend checking whenever you are in doubt. Finding the right words means also knowing the exact meaning of the words you are using. The better you are at knowing the meaning of words, the better you will be at conveying your thoughts when writing.

The Only Grammar Book You’ll Ever Need has excellent lists of rules and exceptions and uses examples for clarifying them. There are plenty of words that often get people mixed up, but of course the book is only for those who need the advice. I’m not going to continue this post any further and advise you on how to pick the finest words. That you need to try on your own.

See the difference between advice = noun and advise=verb there? The example is from the book.

The only grammar book I will ever need?

WARNING: THIS IS A HEAVILY GRAMMAR ORIENTED POST!

We have a grammar assignment coming up where we are divided into groups and assigned chapters to read from”The only grammar book you will ever need”. (Susan Thurman ; Edited By Larry Shea. Adams Media 2003).

Me and my group were assigned the chapter Writing better sentences. We will read and ponder what challenges we face with the phenomena  of the chapter ourselves in our academic essays. Then we will prepare for explaining the topic to the rest of the group. The goal is to provide tips on how to improve our writing, using our own essays as examples.

Screen Shot 2017-03-29 at 9.33.00Reading the chapter about how to write better sentences  I found loads of useful material on the internet that cover topics described in the book:

Many of the topics are familiar to me, but I also learned a few things. I had for instance never heard the expression red herring. I realise many people dislike grammar – maybe because it’s sometimes associated with something very dull and laborious. That’s a challenge for any grammar teacher. Having the students present different grammatical phenomena to peers will make it impossible not to learn ( I think!). Having to teach a topic, you really need to know it inside out.

Risks in using the student centric teaching methods and peer teaching:

  • You can’t avoid traditional lecturing if students decide to use lecturing to teach their peers
  • Students may only get a deeper understanding of the topic that they were assigned to read and present themselves
  • If a group or groups don’t do their homework well enough to teach the rest, then what?

As a teacher (or student) you would have to make sure to have a plan B to fill in the gaps. After all you need to make sure that the required learning objectives, for example “to discuss structures of English and English grammar from different theoretical perspectives” (like on my basic English philology 25 ECTS course) are achieved.

It remains to be seen if the book I mentioned will be the only grammar book I’ll ever need, especially if I ever get to teach younger students who speak Finnish as their native tongue. I’ve still found my old Lukion Englannin Kielioppi by Irja & Mikko Mattila useful as it contains grammatical terminology in Finnish. Now that book is useful for someone who doesn’t understand what an auxiliary verb or helping verb means and needs a translation.

Sit back, catch up and hold on

I pulled through a weekend of intensive English philology contact studies. Sorry for the messy post, but I just had to write off this feeling of accomplishment. (Yay!) Our lectures started at five PM on Friday and carried on on Saturday, for the whole day. Friday evening is not the most energetic time of the week for me, I have to admit. We were supposed to pick up phrasal verbs in our grammar studies as well as hang on until after 8 PM to deliver the speech we prepared. Can’t really say we could sit back much.

As you maybe noticed, I tried using some phrasal verbs above. They’re not easy for non-native speakers! We waded through a whole bunch of practise sentences. The group quickly agreed that if you need to use phrasal verbs in writing, it’s best to check their exact meaning, as especially the fully idiomatic phrasal verbs can be tricky. I didn’t do that for the ones above, so you’re welcome to comment, if they are totally rubbish from a native speaker point of view! Non-idiomatic and semi-idiomatic phrasal verbs can be tricky as well, but less so than the idiomatic ones. It surely requires getting to know the idiomatic expressions well before the phrasal verbs come naturally for me in everyday conversations. I’m only happy that academic writing and our essays shouldn’t contain phrasal verbs anyway, it takes off some of the pressure of learning loads of new expressions in  a short time. (For example during this course).

After 8PM yesterday I was already a bit tired, at the time it was my turn to deliver my academic speech. The speech I prepared about B.F. Skinner on “Behaviourism and operant conditioning in education today”. I wasn’t as focused as I had hoped I would be, but I think it went okay anyway. Interesting figures were presented in all speeches and I have learned to like speeches more. I used to hate giving speeches, because it made me so nervous. Now I think it’s a good skill to have, but I still don’t like giving speeches unprepared. I like to be prepared.

After a good nights sleep and letting waving my family goodbye off to spend a Saturday full of winter fun at a fell an hour and a half’s drive away from here as I went back to the classroom like the rest of the study group. I tried not to think of the sun shining outside and the white snow reflecting the light, giving energy to those doing outdoors activities. I tried to think about the motives I have for taking this course and sitting inside on a beautiful Saturday. And I love to be on this course! Not just because I hope it will help me accomplish my goals. But also because I enjoy sitting and chatting with a fellow student about the short story (May Day) we were assigned and our interpretations, speculating about whether we were right or not.

 

But today, a Saturday in the end of March 2017, we weren’t just hanging around chatting and speculating around a novel. There was more grammar, academic communication and literature.

I continue to be amazed by language and it’s many different aspects.

And English philology is not just “English” to me anymore. It’s studying the methods for researching language from different points of view, learning and teaching and categorising. I used to have that relationship to Swedish during my studies, yes, but now I’m getting a hang of it again.

I realised we’ve now reached the point where we have sat through more than half of the contact lectures, but there’s still a lot of work ahead on this basic studies course (25 ECTS). I’m getting to a point where I’m thinking I now understand how little I know about this amazing subject. But I hope that’s a good sign!

—–

I have developed a love for foreign language studies already as a kid, when writing letters to pen pals in faraway-countries. On our holiday to Catalonia a few weeks back, both my kids (9 and 11) went to have tennis lessons with a teacher who only spoke English. I ‘m glad, that especially my daughter, who just started learning English at school could get that kind of experience. I hope it taught her, that even with the little vocabulary that she now knows, she IS capable of communicating in a foreign language. I think she figured out that she doesn’t have to “stand by” and wait for a green light, (like the one in my picture taken in Catalonia) to allow her to use the few words that she knows. You start somewhere, and the most important thing in learning a language is to make good use of every little bit you know. That’s the philosophy I would like to spread as a (hopefully) future English language teacher.

EDIT: You can try learning phrasal verbs from videos. Here’s one example teaching phrasal verbs using BRING: English teaching videos

 

EDIT:

Working on the speech and improving my essay about Skinner (vol 3.)

I’ve been holidaying in Palma de Mallorca (image of a tram in Port de Soller!) for a week. After returning it took me a while to get myself back to being an organised student at home. Now I’m finally continuing work on improving the essay I have to write on Skinner.

PS: I have not made a trip to the library to find “more academic sources”, like I should have, according to the peer review feedback. I added the academic source Approaches to Learning: A guide for teachers that was used for my teacher studies, where I learnt about Skinner the first time.

EDIT:

I’m learning more about the “fellow” so I can prepare the 5 min. speech we also have to give next week. I vaguely remember I need to provide some sort of a plan for the speech by Wednesday…