Literature enriches language skills in a number of ways. In fact, literature serves as an often welcome break from constant repetitive drills and word lists, while keeping interest high in reading comprehension and language learning.
Language Through Literature
Literature is much more than the story of great stories or impressive cultures. At its core, literature is the application of language. Therefore, it should not be a surprise that literature offers a great opportunity to expand and enrich language skills. Whether it is a child learning to read for the first time or an adult language learner gaining skills in a new tongue, literature offers many opportunities to not only exercise and apply existing skills, but maintain interest through instruction in new and more advanced applications.
A primary goal for many who read literature is to expand their vocabulary.
After all, the point where a child’s vocabulary is overshadowed by her ability to read occurs fairly early, so from an educational standpoint new words will be encountered early on by developing readers. The same is even more true for second language learners. So, how does an instructor help to increase an individual’s vocabulary? On one hand, students can be assigned long word lists. While targeted vocabulary study is useful, it can be tiresome and discourage learners.
Instead, literature offers the opportunity to passively acquire a much larger body of vocabulary. Active acquisition can be targeted for words of note, and in any event the words will be used in context. This helps to create a picture in the learner’s mind of the definition of the word as well as letting them see the importance of the word to the language at hand.
Going hand in hand with increased vocabulary skills is an increase in syntax. For young readers, the nuances between several tenses may not be yet established, while for second language learners, they simply may not have been exposed to them yet.
Through literature, questions of exposure and nuance can both be answered. Younger learners see that people who speak their language use certain tenses and moods to indicate certain aspects of time and place, while those who are learning a language at a latter stage can see what they have drilled being put to good use. In either cases, it is as useful of an enterprise as repetitive grammar drills.
Finally, literature serves an important role in helping students of all ages maintain interest in the learning process.
Countless early readers remember The Cat in the Hat and other works by Dr. Seuss as being instrumental in their desire to read more. Meanwhile, J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series has certainly helped to increase adolescent vocabulary acquisition. For adult language learners, the appeal is much more broad than children’s literature.
Russian novels, Chinese poetry, popular memoirs, and Swedish mysteries have all served to entice language learners to keep going through the hardest parts of their studies.
Ultimately, literature serves as an overwhelming motivator and enrichment tool for further language study. It provides an application for syntax and vocabulary learned in a more structured setting, allowing students of all ages to see not only the importance of what they learn but also to see it in action, helping to allow the concept to become more internalized. Finally, it also serves as a motivation to keep with the study of reading, whether through the books that their peers are reading or great works of more advanced literature.