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To Use Shakespeare or Not to Use Shakespeare...
Elizabethan English a Stretch for ESL Learners

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
Conakry, Guinea

2002 ESL MiniConference Online