Confessions of a bookworm: the advantages of literature in language learning

I have always enjoyed a good book. From a young age I have been an avid reader, devouring books in my spare time and spending hours in libraries and bookshops, and now the study of literature has become an important part of my degree course.

Literature may seem like an obvious ally to the language learning process; it offers clear benefits from the acquisition of vocabulary and application of grammar constructs, to assisting with pronunciation. However, many language students may not have considered the range of other advantages that literature can bring to the study of foreign languages.

Reading an array of literary texts from Baudelaire’s poetry collection, ‘Les Fleurs du Mal’, to Flaubert’s famous work, ‘Madame Bovary’, gave me the motivation to pursue the study of the French language.

It without a doubt puts language in context, giving students access to more authentic language use, as well as allowing space for personal interpretation, engaging the language learner to take control of their own progress in the target language.

Why is reading literature essential to language learning?

Literature can also be used as a tool to appreciate the complexity and subtleties of language in order to portray a variety of themes, characters and cultural issues. The presence of idiomatic expressions, colloquialisms, use of varying registers, play-on-words and many other features of literature allow language learners to be exposed to the language in all its richness, and acquire vocabulary that they may not have been able to access through other means.

Lost in translation?

The ‘soupçons’ of language can also be revealed in all their glory through the translation of literary texts. As with other creative translations where content cannot be ‘literally’ translated, literary translation requires the creative input of the translator to give the new version a distinctive life whilst staying faithful to the original text in order to produce similar effects and evoke similar images as the original, and thus translate effectively.

In the French version of the Harry Potter series, the school ‘Hogwarts’ is translated as ‘L’École de Poudlard’ (‘poux de lard’ literally means bacon lice!), in-keeping with the style of the English version and relaying a similar image to the French reader.

Through literature, the joys of language learning can spread beyond the classroom and can allow students to connect on a deeper cultural and linguistic level with the language they are studying.

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