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Bar the Bard?
We're All Children of Shakespeare, Says Dave Himmelstein

Dave Himmelstein is a writer, editor and teacher in Montreal, who founded Lexiprime Inc. to consolidate a range of communication services. He is in the process of arranging publication of his book, Anglo Spanglow, which embodies a self-empowered approach to language acquisition and learning.

Is there a place for Shakespeare in the ESL curriculum? Apparently, some think not. A recent TESL-L posting questioned "why ESOL teachers would want to teach Shakespeare. The language is archaic, and is of no help in furthering the student's ability to communicate in the contemporary world."

I would find it passing strange if there were no place at the table for a writer who epitomizes the English language to so many, and who brings out its expressive possibilities in such a spectacular way. I'm not suggesting transforming the curriculum. My focus is intensive rather than extensive: periodic exposure to sonnets and to soliloquies from the plays-even a full-length play where interest warrants.

Bringing ESOL students into contact with the pitch and chime of Shakespeare's language broadens their semantic and syntactical span while enhancing their sensitivity to tone. It challenges them to look at fundamental human questions, and it offers advice that never goes out of date, e.g., "To thine own self be true."

There is no doubt that the English of 400 years ago takes some effort to penetrate, as much Elizabethan vocabulary has passed out of use. But what is striking is the enormous number of words and expressions first appearing in Shakespeare which remain alive and well today. A microscopic sampling: accommodation, courtship, dwindle, eventful, laughable, submerged, premeditated, tower of strength, in my mind's eye, salad days, foregone conclusion, love is blind, fancy free.

As contemporary English speakers (and learners), we are all children of Shakespeare.

Comment by Dave Himmelstein
Lexiprime, Inc.
Montreal, Canada

2002 ESL MiniConference Online