The Role of Children’s Literature in the Teaching of English to Young Learners in Taiwan

| May 28, 2008
Title
The Role of Children s Literature in the Teaching of English to Young Learners in Taiwan

Author
JUI-FANG YU CHANG
University of Waikato
Abstract
Teachers of young learners of English in Taiwan are often encouraged to use children s literature in their teaching. My overall aims in this research project were to find out:
• whether there is any agreement about the meaning of the term children s literature , particularly among those who recommend its use in the teaching of English to young learners in Taiwan;
• what types of teaching materials and resources teachers of English to young learners in Taiwan claim to use and to value, and what types of teaching materials and resources they actually use, and how they use them;
• how a sample of textbooks, guided readers and popular children s literature commonly used by teachers of young learners in Taiwan rate when considered in relation to a range of criteria derived from a critical review of writing on children s literature and, in particular, good children s literature.
There is considerable disagreement about what constitutes children s literature and, in particular, good children s literature. Furthermore, although many writers claim that children s literature, particularly narrative, can contribute to children s social, cognitive and linguistic development, very little appears to have been written about the problems that can be associated with using literature designed for first language speakers in the foreign language classroom (Chapter 2).
Although almost 58% of respondents to a questionnaire for teachers of young learners in Taiwan (256 returns) indicated that they used story books in their classes at least once a week, 15% indicated that they never used story books (Chapter 3). Furthermore, in 23 observed lessons taught in primary schools in Taiwan, children s literature featured only once. On that occasion, the book selected was used as supplementary material. It was not thematically or linguistically linked to the main part of the lesson and each sentence was translated individually into Mandarin. Although every one of 10 observed lessons taught to children (aged 7 on average) in a cram school in Taiwan made use of children s literature in some form, the children appeared to understand little, if anything, of the content (Chapter 4).
A sample of texts that appear in English textbooks commonly used in Taiwan was analyzed and found to be largely made up of artificial dialogue snippets that had no genuine communicative purpose or imaginative interest (Chapter 5). A sample of graded readers commonly used in Taiwanese primary schools (designed primarily for speakers of English as a first language) was found to be culturally and linguistically inappropriate, the language being stilted and often, from the perspective of young learners in Asia, extremely complex, and the context being dated and often confusing (Chapter 6). The analysis of a sample of children s literature that is very popular in Taiwan also revealed problems relating to the level and complexity of the language (Chapter 7).
My overall conclusion (Chapter 8) is that the use of literature that is designed primarily for first language speakers of English in teaching English to young learners in Taiwan may have little positive impact on learning, particularly in the hands of inexperienced and poorly trained teachers. Nevertheless, there is much that those who design materials for use in language teaching, in Taiwan and elsewhere, can learn from children s literature.
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Category: Thesis