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Helping ESL Students Identify with Shakespeare's Characters
P. Ilangovan Responds Creatively to an Imposed Curriculum

Mr. P. Ilangovan is coordinator of a British-Council sponsored EST project in Coimbatore, India. In his comments below, he takes issue with Dr. Merton Bland's recent blanket dismissal of Shakespeare for ESL purposes in a recent ESL MiniConference article.

All things being equal, an ESL teacher would not choose to teach Shakespeare to their intermediate or even advanced students. But this is an unequal world: here in India, many Universities frequently prescribe for study Shakespearean text for First- and Second-year students at college.

May I suggest that in such cases, the teacher's primary responsibility would be to make the text more accessible. If students try to read Shakespeare on their own they would realise that most of it was simply incomprehensible. One way to make text more accessible would be to get students to try and read it as they would a narrative (which is what it is often): In The Tempest for example, the scene where Miranda first sets her eyes on Ferdinand is easily readable for it provides a window into her soul, regarding Ferdinand. My students were just amazed when they read that till then Miranda had only seen two men all her life - her father and Caliban. Let's read what she says, "I might call him a thing divine; for nothing natural I ever saw so noble."

Such a technique would enable acquisition (the focus would only be on the narrative - the message - and not on the code), give a chance to the student to grapple with text (getting students to understand the narrative element in Shakespeare would be equivalent to Krashen's i+1): Trying to understand the narrative would neither be too easy nor too difficult. In the end, the students may not have acquired literary language, but they would definitely have acquired, in our example, Miranda's admiration for the physical beauty of Ferdinand, if nothing else. In Leech's (1974) terms, my students would have implicitly understood the expressive function of Miranda's words of admiration, more than their informational function.

Comment by Mr. P. Ilangovan
Coordinator, British Council-sponsored EST Project
Coimbatore, India

2002 ESL MiniConference Online