Dr. Merton Bland is a frequent contributor to
discussions on the TESL-L listserv. After a recent
flurry of postings regarding the appropriateness
of William Shakespeare's language for ESL/EFL teaching
purposes, Dr. Bland agreed to write the following
article expressing his reservations about the idea. (Also read
P. Ilangovan's reply.)
Recently one of my colleagues asked how to teach
"Romeo and Juliet." I question 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.
While we all appreciate Shakespeare's genius, use of
his plays in the original language is
counterproductive. I would as soon teach Corneille or
Racine in their original French, Goethe in his
original German, or Virgil in his original Latin.
Shakespeare should be taught in a university
literature class, in a native-speaker secondary school
English class, in a theatre or film criticism class.
Other colleagues disagreed with me, pointing to
Shakespeare's influence on the development of the
English language. But if you are going to teach a
whole play for the few idioms he created, you are
wasting a lot of time. Others pointed to the historical importance he took in the
development of a certain standardization of the
English language (actually, he spelled his own name in
a dozen different ways.) Most historical detours are
unwise in the ESOL classroom, taking time from the
communicative aspects of the language.
Saddest of all is that fact that those who cannot feel
fulfilled unless they teach Shakespeare have at their
command films and adaptations that keep Will's
characterizations, plot development, and the other
good stuff while using a language comprehensible to
the quarter of the world's population who use English
as their international auxilliary language.
Comment by Dr. Merton Bland
2002 ESL MiniConference Online