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Wednesday, March 21, 2018

The Educated Native Speaker

"...also comment on FL programs giving up literary studies. Is there an intrinsic reason why literature has to be what these programs study in year 4? (intrinsic = not having to do with history of discipline)"

This question from Leslie is very good. I would say that the Spanish major (or French major) should have some of the characteristics of the "educated native speaker." Not every native speaker has read much literature, but there is a sense in which you aren't educated in that language if you haven't read some books.

The main place you see it is in vocabulary. You simply cannot be exposed to an adequate-sized vocabulary without reading. A lot. Reading also makes certain grammatical structures second nature. If you have read a lot, you will never write "según a" instead of "según." To be exposed to the sheer amount of input through conversation would be impossible.

Literature also gives you a historical sense of the language that you don't get if you only read contemporary non-fiction. To know what a style would look like from 100, 200, 300 years ago.

If we look at what a degree in Spanish would prepare you for, you can think of teaching (you'd want a  teacher to be able to teach AP literature), graduate study, journalism in which you'd want someone covering the Hispanic world to have some knowledge that educated people do.

Since we don't hand out degrees to native speakers of Spanish without taking courses, we wouldn't hand out degrees in English to all of our students just because they have been educated in English. There has to be some content there. Literature tends to work best because we can't read it in translation, merely for its informational content.    


Leslie B. said...

Right. Also, literature is much easier to read for students because it is better written than most other things. People talking are very hard to understand especially if it is not a formal lecture.
Check out the audio interviews your colleagues are teaching in Spanish 4; they're tougher material than a well-written short-short story is. Journalism is practically impossible to understand in part because of poorer writing and in part because you have to have so very much context.

Jonathan said...

It is a good point you make. Literature is also better written and thus easier to understand, (though it has the reputation of being harder to understand) and hence a model to be imitated as well.

Clarissa said...

I'm using a lot of literature in my Latin American history course. Borges, Rulfo, Cortázar, Vargas Llosa, Nicolás Guillén, etc. And a huge problem I'm encountering is that students don't understand the difference between fiction and newspaper reporting. On Tuesday we read "Casa tomada" by Cortázar, and I had to explain that it's not a newspaper article. There is an enormous problem with readerly culture that makes people approach even a text that's clearly a work of fiction as a news report. "I knew it felt weird for an article!" a student exclaimed.

Leslie B. said...

That's a common problem because the reading of fiction is so de-emphasized now. In my introduction to literature people often encounter their very first fiction. They don't know what to do with it, it seems so very foreign and non-utilitarian. They also do not know how to read anything at all, they've only been taught to skim a text for answers to a set of questions.