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1 English or Portuguese: language or literature? Richard Hudson Lisbon, May 2007.

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1 1 English or Portuguese: language or literature? Richard Hudson Lisbon, May 2007

2 2 Plan Similarities between Portugal and Britain English: language or literature? A new approach to language teaching Grammar in Britain The place of literature Some lessons for Portugal?

3 3 Plan Similarities between Portugal and Britain English: language or literature? A new approach to language teaching Grammar in Britain The place of literature Some lessons for Portugal?

4 4 Language history Ancient written language –complex spelling Massive overseas expansion –emigration –world language Relative wealth –recent immigration, bringing other languages –literary heritage

5 5 Plan Similarities between Portugal and Britain English: language or literature? A new approach to language teaching Grammar in Britain The place of literature Some lessons for Portugal?

6 6 What is English? I speak English. –English = a language The two core school subjects are mathematics and English –English = a language because literacy is core. I am studying English at university. –English = literature (written in English?)

7 7 Confusion! English is obligatory for all because writing and reading are important. –but includes literature. English teachers are graduates in literature. –but teach language more than literature. Similarly, French teachers are graduates of literature –but teach language more than literature.

8 8 The old solution Teach language through literature Argument: children learn to write well by reading good literature. –Some children do learn this way. Counter-argument: most children do not learn like this. –1999: 20% of adults in Britain cannot find a plumber in the phone book

9 9 The romantic view of language Children are natural language learners. –They learn their first language without help. –Instruction is just a waste of time. –All they need is experience. –So: the same is true of all language learning. Research support: –Some literature experts (e.g. Leavis in UK) –Noam Chomsky and many linguists.

10 10 But … Is this view true? Why do so many children fail to learn by exposure? Why do we need language teachers if we can leave it all to nature? Nature alone is not enough – we need to do better than that!

11 11 Plan Similarities between Portugal and Britain English: language or literature? A new approach to language teaching Grammar in Britain The place of literature Some lessons for Portugal?

12 12 The new solution in England Teach language directly. Argument: children need help when learning language. –They may not notice new patterns. –They may not understand new patterns. This is true of all language learning: –advanced first language –elementary second language

13 13 Language includes … grammar vocabulary pronunciation variation –regional –stylistic –historical

14 14 The realistic view of language Children are natural learners But language is hard to learn because new words and patterns are not: –obvious, so it is easy not to notice them. –self-explanatory, so it is easy to misunderstand them. And schools add extra problems.

15 15 English: language or literature? School English must include direct teaching of language. So English teachers must know about language. But: they must also know about –literature –media studies (film, TV) –drama

16 16 Plan Similarities between Portugal and Britain English: language or literature? A new approach to language teaching Grammar in Britain The place of literature Some lessons for Portugal?

17 17 The death of grammar : no study of grammar at university –so no grammar for English undergraduates –so grammar at school was not based on research : grammar disappears from school –so young English teachers know no grammar –very little grammar in foreign-language teaching

18 18 A problem for the new approach Language should be taught directly. –Official government policy in L1 and L2 But most teachers know very little about grammar and other structural matters. So how can they teach directly? How to break the cycle? –Teachers have just one post-graduate year of training with little time for subject knowledge

19 19 The future Maybe teachers will gradually learn about grammar. Especially if they help to teach Advanced- level English language –Years 12, 13 –Very popular (20,000 pupils each year) But it will take a generation to retrain teachers.

20 20 Plan Similarities between Portugal and Britain English: language or literature? A new approach to language teaching Grammar in Britain The place of literature Some lessons for Portugal?

21 21 What about literature? Literature is one of the many uses of language. –So it is studied as such. But it is also part of the national heritage –So it has a very special status. –But what is the heritage of a multi-cultural nation in a multi-national world? –And what is literature?

22 22 In defence of the status quo English (including literature) is the most popular school subject –well taught –using age-appropriate texts –with discussion and interaction –by well-informed and enthusiastic teachers But foreign languages are the least popular.

23 23 Literature in language teaching Literature is: –well written –enjoyable to some readers – especially girls! So its a good model for language teaching, provided that: –students notice and understand new patterns –understand differences between genres

24 24 Plan Similarities between Portugal and Britain English: language or literature? A new approach to language teaching Grammar in Britain The place of literature Some lessons for Portugal?

25 25 Lessons for Portugal? Dont let grammar die. Respect literature –as an important model of language –as part of your national heritage –but maybe not central to language teaching? Accept direct teaching of language. Make sure that teachers can teach directly.

26 26 Obrigado! This slideshow can be found at:


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