What Is a Language-Based Approach to Literature?


The language-based approach to literature is one of several methods for bringing English-language literature such as plays, poems and short stories into an English as a Foreign Language curriculum. Unlike models that emphasize engaging with the literature for its own sake, the language-based approach simply uses literary sources as a basis for language exercises.

Literature in EFL

  • Between 1960 and 1980, many designers of English as a Foreign Language (EFL) courses subscribed to the theory that the use of classic English-language literature could improve the experience of the English learner and contribute to English-language acquisition. However, this theory proved unsuccessful, and from the late '70s onward, the emphasis was on teaching practical language skills, and not bringing literature into the classroom. Eventually, some instructors began to introduce literature into EFL courses once again. Several different models were used, based on different theories of the role of literature in EFL.

Approaches to Literature

  • There is more than one approach to bringing literature into the EFL classroom. In the cultural model, students explore the cultural context of a particular literary work. The personal growth model is based on the student's own interpretation of and reaction to the literary work. The cultural model is also referred to as the content-based approach, and the emphasis is placed on studying the work itself rather than on developing language skills. By contrast, the language-based approach takes the text and uses it as a basis for language exercises.

The Language-Based Model

  • The language-based approach to using works of literature in the English as a Foreign Language classroom is to take a literary text and use it for specific drills designed to build language skills rather than literary skills. For example, students might take a passage from a work of fiction and analyze it in order to identify all of the verbs. In this approach, the choice of text is largely irrelevant, as the text is not being studied for its own sake; it is merely an example of a well-constructed English-language passage that can be picked apart for grammar study. However, it is also possible to take the language-based approach further by asking students to expand on a partial text in their own words, or composing poetry of their own in English.


  • Stylistics is a variation on the language-based approach to the use of literature in an EFL classroom. While literature is still used primarily as a tool for language acquisition, the emphasis is not on simple activities, such as spotting a particular part of a speech in a literary text, but on analyzing the text's literary style in order to better understand the uses of language. Stylistics encourages the student to engage more directly with the literary text, rather than to see it as an arbitrarily chosen passage.


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