How to Apply Visual Aids and Contrastive Analysis in Teaching Shakespeare for Chinese English Major Undergraduates in EFL Class
I’m a current postgraduate majoring in TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) at the University of York. One year ago, I finished my bachelor degree of English in China. To be a teacher is my expected job after graduation especially a teacher to teach Shakespeare. But how to teach his masterpieces more effectively and to make the class more fun are issues perplexing educators.
The interest of Shakespeare in education in China can be traced back to the beginning of this century. In higher education, British literature is a compulsory module for year two English major undergraduates. The module covers works from old English times to contemporary writing. Shakespeare’s plays have a major role in the syllabus. Schools put the majority of focus in this module on teaching Shakespeare. By contrast, students may not put the equivalent interest.
In a traditional Shakespeare class, students appear to feel bored and demotivated. One of my former classmates recalled the situation in class and her impression is that the class is monotonous, with lessons lacking the motivation a visual aid might supply. However, a teacher may argue that a visual aid like film is always applied as a supplement to engage students. In my experience of studying Shakespeare in China, the film is played before a class. From the teacher’s perspective, it serves as warming up. However, without pre-class preparation to lay some foundation of background, watching a long video can be aimless. Apart from that, some more serious problems may be exposed. Information like inner struggle may be cut out, compared with the written play. Moreover, students’ understanding of those characters could be affected by players. In spite of the fact that most teachers who teach Shakespeare tell students every reader has his own image of Hamlet, unconsciously, students have already been affected by the video or film chosen by their teachers. Once a first impression has formed, it seems too strong to change.
As the purposes of using visual aids are concerned, my former British literature teacher stated that to add fun to class is just a superficial purpose. Mainly, she believed that it would facilitate students’ appreciation in a favourable way, since it can help students turn their perspective into mainstream. Furthermore, she explained each teaching methodology is dominated by the assessment. In the exam, the reference answer usually reflects the more widely acceptable idea. Therefore, the answer which is closer to the standard one would get a higher mark. When talking about replacing film with brain storming, which has been widely used in western classrooms, she was not confident of its feasibility for Chinese students, saying that they do not get involved much in the discussion, but prefer to be given framework in a more direct way.
Contrastive study as suggested by Stern (2005), comparing Shakespeare’s plays with other writings of roughly the same time may be an effective way to introduce new pedagogies for teaching Shakespeare in Chinese schools. A prominent dramatist Tang Xianzu from China is credited with being the ‘Asian Shakespeare’, for he was a contemporary lauded for his achievements in playwriting. There are some critical literatures comparing the Shakespeare’s works with Tang Xianzu’s. In 1946, Zhao Jingshen revealed the similarity of the two dramatist. By contrast, the following critics such as Xu Shuofang in 1964 concentrated more on the differences (Yi, 2014).
However, some restrictions may affect the take up of contrastive analysis. Apart from cultural distinction, language difference can be a factor. My former teacher noted that she would prefer to introduce the English version of Tang’s works to students, given the subject she teaches. Although some of his works in English version are accessible, teachers would be alert when adopting them, considering literature in translation is a re-creative process. However, this could provide students with a good chance to practice critical thinking, engage in comparison and contrast, and learn to be more appreciative of foreign cultures. It also contributes to stretching the long-held emphasis in Chinese schools on students’ cultural education. Contrastive analysis may be a necessary pedagogy for such modules to embrace to enhance Chinese students’ motivation and achievement when studying Shakespeare.
– Yuxing Xu
Stern, T. (2005). ‘Teaching Shakespeare in Higher Education’. In M. Blocksidge (Ed.), Shakespeare in education (pp. 120-140). London: Continuum.
Yi, M. (2014). Zhongguo gushige wang [Web for Chinese ancient poems]. Retrieved 24 June, 2014 from http://so.gushiwen.org/ziliao_785.aspx .