Cross-Cultural Poetry-Projects in a Japanese University EFL Setting

Japan, ID CLEaR2015-237;

The compatibility of Literature and Foreign-Language learning has long been the subject of debate among EFL professionals with many educators questioning the ability of students of English as a foreign language to understand the culture-specific frames-of-reference underlying much poetry. But given that poetry from various language-backgrounds often shares universal themes such as change, personal growth, loss, and filial love, poetry can be an excellent tool for facilitating student L2 communication in a cross-cultural learning context, particularly through collaborative learning-activities such as literature circles and group mind-maps. In addition, given the unique power of poetry to stimulate reader-response and reflection, student-selected poetry and follow-up reflective-writing exercises enable students to bring personal values and experiences into class discussions. Finally, the use in poetry of creative language-play such as metaphor and imagery in encoding culture-specific schemas and norms offers students the opportunity to notice these values and explore them in class and online discussions. This paper reports the results of a two-year study conducted in an EFL University setting concerning the impact of cross-cultural poetry study projects on raising students’ awareness of metaphor and its role in introducing universal themes into poetry from different language-backgrounds, and on developing students' expressive range in the L2 through fostering connections between universal themes in poetry and students' personal experiences. The study was conducted at Nagasaki University and included freshman Japanese non-English majors and exchange students from China, South Korea, Thailand, Philippines, Kenya and Turkey. The three main components of the study were: (1) Literature circles and group mind-maps and (2) online multi-thread student forums as tools for increasing student discussion and reflection on universal themes in poetry; and (3) intertextual comparisons between English and Japanese poems.

Keywords: Poetry, Mind Maps, Literature Circles, Intertextural Comparisons, Universal Themes, Multi-Thread Forums