History Of The Popular Culture And English English Language Essay

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The components of language arts have been included in the English subject of the Hong Kong New Senior Secondary Curriculum to promote the teaching and learning of the subject. It is necessary for English teachers to study the rationale behind the new arrangement and to consider how language arts should be viewed and handled so that they can be taught and learnt in effective ways. The aim of this academic paper review is to explore ideas and obtain inspiration on English teaching from the sharing of different speakers on the topic of language arts in the 2nd Conference on Applying Language Arts (APELA). In the first part, two of the plenary speeches are chosen to discuss about the genres being presented and the significance for teaching English. In the second part, another two papers presented by the other scholars are chosen (according to my own interest in language teaching) to discuss in the same areas.

Part I: Comparison between two Plenary Speeches on the Media/ Genre Addressed in APELA (2012) and the Significance for Teaching English

Plenary Speech: Analysing and interpreting works of verbal art as acts of meaning instantiating the meaning potential of language in context

by Professor Christian M.I.M. Matthiessen, The Hong Kong Polytechnic University

Plenary Speech: Poetry and performance: "semiotic distance" and the translation of artistic forms across times and cultural traditions

by Dr David Butt, Macquarie University

Comparison on the Media/ Genre Addressed in the above two Plenary Speeches

Professor Matthiessen discussed about the importance of "verbal art". He expressed that a text is like an image to a viewer. The viewer will need to interpret and respond it critically so that he/she can understand it. This will lead to a need to "talk about and talk over" the text. Through communicating verbally, the message can be understood better. Dr. Butt suggested that "Verbal art" is a kind of organization to construct meanings through negotiating. It enables people to understand better about literature and to re-create meanings of it. Both speakers have expressed similar views on "verbal art" and they consider it worthy of developing for the benefit of better understanding of literature and creating deeper meanings from it.

Professor Matthiessen further explained that verbal art consists of "context and language". He gave a substantial interpretation on what "context" means but for "language" he suggested that more statistics and discourse analysis should be conducted, especially on functional grammar in order to have a better understanding of it. From his point of view, it indicates that there is not enough research on the discourse of "verbal art" and it is important to start to study it. Dr Butt further developed why "language" is important when interpreting literature. He pointed out that to interpret the written work of literature, one needs to pay attention to the existence of "semantic distance". Especially for the work which was written in different times, in different geographic areas and in different cultures, one has to take consideration on these aspects to interpret the meanings correctly. To bridge the gap between time and culture, it is important to understand the background of the work so that one can "imagine" or "construct" the reality, and re-constructed it semantically as a new product. This shows the phenomenon of "language turning into language" (D.G. Butt, personal communication, October 2, 2012). To understand the meaning of literature, it is necessary to be aware of the changing of use in language. It requires readers to transform the former language into a contemporary one in their brains so that literature can be understood. This can be achieved through discussing literature collaboratively.

To conclude his speech, Professor Matthiessen suggested that using different media to introduce literature and providing more opportunities for learners to reflect can yield better understanding and interest in literature. Dr Butt also examined the issue of media. He discussed "semiotic distance" on poetry and performance. Literature has become multimodal in many different ways. First, it has been translated into different languages. Then it can also be presented in different forms, like dramas, plays and films with the influence of the development of new technologies. Dr Butt pointed out that instead of solely relying on reading the rhetorical structure of the play script, one can understand the context and the tension of the drama through watching the characters' speech, facial expressions, gesture, movements, etc. The sound effects and visual aids in the scenes also help viewers construe the plots. After all, the topics and issues mentioned in literature, depicting similar contexts and situations in those particular societies, are often universal and they still make sense to people even in different places and across different times.

As a whole, there were some overlapping issues being mentioned in both speeches, but different speakers focused on different levels of understanding to discuss. Professor Matthiessen's speech was full of technical terms and ideas that may be difficult for non-specialists to understand. However, his presentation was systematic, logical and scientific that provided significant knowledge to support the value of "verbal art". Dr Butt's speech was comparatively easier to understand as it was conveyed in easier language with an example of a film and the context being discussed was familiar to most language specialist. His speech could serve as a further development of Professor Matthiessen's to explain the abstract parts with concrete examples.

Discussion on the Significance for Teaching English

Language arts are arts made of language (M.I.M. Matthiessen, personal communication, October 2, 2012). Language can be used in written and spoken forms. Traditionally, language arts are taught through reading and studying the work in the rhetorical level. As the quick development of technology, literature has jumped out of paper and books into forms like plays, films, videos, songs, games and comics. Dr Butt provided some brilliant ideas about how to deal with the "semantic distance" and "semiotic distance" in literature. This implies that to prepare learners with literature, English teachers need to help learners cross the big gaps in the time difference and the different forms of presentations in literature.

To deal with "semantic distance", teachers need to help learners understand the background and notice the change of language use. Teachers should provide opportunities for learners to work collaboratively to reflect their views. They should encourage learners to "talk over" their thoughts in order to recreate their own ideas from the created work. Many issues in literature are universal. Through discussing literature, learners will see their world from different perspectives and understand the world better. The new concept, "verbal art" can be included in the teaching so that learners can continue to explore out of the limited context of the literature work.

"Semiotic distance" in literature is another aspect that teachers need to pay attention. It may affect understanding both negatively and positively. To bridge the semiotic gap, teachers can engage learners with the discussion about the background and the context before and after the appreciation of literature. However, through choosing suitable modes of input, learners can be able to appreciate literature in another angle, which in return assisting them to understand better on the context. Therefore, to help learners understand literature, besides the written work, other forms of presentation, like play, drama, films or comics, can be introduced at the same time to enhance understanding.

Part II: Comparison between two of the Papers Presented by Scholars in APELA (2012) and the Significance for Teaching English

Paper Presentation: Little books, little steps - The use of little books to enhance the teaching and learning of English

by Kwong Shuk Wah Jenny (Institute of Teacher Education) & Barry W. Jarrett (Brighton Education Group)

Paper Presentation: Using local drama in teaching writing and speaking

by Dwi Astuti Wayu Nurhayati (State College for Islamic Studies at Tulungagung)

Comparison with the above two Paper Presentations

Both the above studies were not conducted locally (in Malaysia and Indonesia) but they had a similar context in Hong Kong, where English is taught as a second language.

The aim of the study about "little books" was to explore how a group of teacher trainees enhanced and conceptualized their pedagogical knowledge and skills of teaching language arts by using "little books". The aim of another study about "local drama" was to find out a how a drama programme helped learners improve their writing and speaking skills and changed their learning attitude.

In both studies, the researchers first gave input to the subjects. In the process, it involved practising language skills and getting feedback. In both cases, the subjects obtained hand-on experience on the areas they were engaging. After the practice and production stages, the researchers collected data through interviews, observations, photographic evidence and the products done by the subjects (the hand-made little books with made-up stories and the local drama productions about local stories, legends and myths or about the conflicts in their own society).

The data from "little books" indicated that the experience of making little books enhanced the pedagogical knowledge and skills of the trainees through experiential, fun and creative learning. The trainees became more motivated and confident in teaching. Moreover, the subjects were helped to conceptualize the pedagogical knowledge and skills by using the little books as teaching aids. They expressed that little books are versatile tools for effective teaching as they can be used as vocabulary books and poetry books; and in storytelling. They are suitable to use for all levels and for different language skills and language contents.

The data from "local drama" also indicated desirable results. The subjects became more confident in giving ideas and opinions in English. They expressed that they preferred to learn English through using it in a meaning way. Drama, serving as a goal for learners, is an effective teaching method that promotes both learners' motivation and their language skills in writing and speaking. Moreover, it establishes good teamwork, promote self-confidence and creativity.

In both studies, the researchers expected positive results from their planned programmes and then examined them. Both of them obtained desirable results from their studies. The results arrived can serve as positive indicators on language teaching and inspire local Hong Kong English teachers to employ the strategies in their own teaching.

Discussion on the Significance for Teaching English

Both the genres addressed in the above papers are familiar to the majority of English teachers in Hong Kong. Their positive contributions on language teaching and learning have discussed for a long time academically. However, it is unclear how much and how often local English teachers employ these methods in their actual teaching practice. Anyway, the studies present good examples on how to implement the mentioned teaching genres in classrooms.

The study about "little books" concludes that "little books" are useful tools in all the stages of teaching and learning (i.e. presentation, practice and production). They enable the blending of several language skills which will be involved in the process of producing them. Learners can practise, retain and internalize the knowledge while using them. The other study about "local drama" provides ideas on how to use drama to teach more than one language skill. Teachers can integrate the teaching of dramatic techniques in different stages of a lesson first. When learners become familiar with the learning genre after substantial practice in different contexts, they can try to produce a drama themselves.

In short, to teach English effectively, it involves a means to provide a purpose and satisfaction to learners. Teaching English is not simply equal to teaching words, sentences, paragraphs, grammar or phonology separately, but requires a context to blend the mentioned parts together systematically in order to yield a kind of observable production.


This article has discussed two plenary speeches and two paper presentations in the 2nd Conference on APELA. In Professor Matthiessen's speech, he explained how verbal art enhances the understanding and re-creating of literature. Dr Butt then shared some useful methods on teaching poems and discussed how semantic and semiotic distances affect the understanding of literature. The paper presentations supported the use of "little books" and "drama" to promote teaching and learning of English.

In conclusion, the Conference provided a platform for scholars to share their studies and research on teaching and learning of language arts. From their contribution and inspiration, English teachers can obtain up-dated and in-depth pedagogic knowledge and approaches on how to introduce language arts in their classrooms.