Have you ever sat in a classroom, and been told by your enthusiastic teacher to tell your classmates about your hobbies, pets, future dreams or recent holiday? If you’ve spent even a brief period in a language school, the answer is almost certainly yes. While we all enjoy talking about ourselves and our lives, it can at times seem a bit forced and artificial. After many months, it can even drift into being dull and repetitive. And there’s another problem: the difficulty of expressing our thoughts, ideas and memories in a second language.
But hang on a second, there’s another, very different way of practising your English without the need to come up with new ideas, tell other students about your weekend spent sleeping, or repeat to the class what you’ve just been told by your partner, and have already half forgotten. Yes, the answer is literature, and more particularly, the great plays and cinematic landmarks that have done so much to enrich and expand the English language.
This started by chance, with the discovery in an old textbook of a lesson using one of Shakespeare’s most famous soliloquies (speeches to the audience), Macbeth’s reaction to the untimely death of his wife, Lady Macbeth: “To-morrow, and tomorrow, and to-morrow…..”. I and my one-to-one student had been working on reading aloud from pre-prepared texts to develop use of pausing, rising and falling intonation, changes of speed and putting stress on key words. While that had been largely successful, by turning our focus to Macbeth, and watching a selection of videos of that famous passage, these techniques were brought to life.