Portland State University. Department of Applied Linguistics
Term of Graduation
Date of Publication
Master of Arts (M.A.) in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages
English literature -- Study and teaching (Higher) -- United States, English language -- Study and teaching (Higher) -- Foreign speakers, Reader-response criticism, Cross-cultural studies
1 online resource (146 pages)
This study was a detailed descriptive investigation into the different interpretations and perceptions that are evoked by readers of United States literature, based on their cultural backgrounds and experience. Grounded in research that advocates for the convergence of culture and literature in the language classroom and a research design based on reader-response theory, this study explored the responses of two groups of students from the University of Portland: international students, the majority of whom were English as a Second Language (ESL), and U.S. citizens, all of whom were native speakers of American English.
Through a reader-response style questionnaire modeled after the research of Sandra Tawake, students were asked to respond to the short story, "The Red Convertible," by U.S. author Louise Erdrich. The responses from the two groups of readers were then compared and contrasted using the following research questions as a guide: 1) Based on their cultural backgrounds, how do the international students perceive and interpret the literature texts? 2) How do these interpretations compare to those of the native speakers of American English who have certain shared experiences as a result of being a U.S. citizen and/or similar cultural backgrounds as the author of the text? 3) What implication will these findings have for ESL instructors?
Both similarities and differences were found in how the readers from the different cultures related to the story. The concepts portrayed in the story concerning family, social ills, visual images, personal engagement, themes/significance, and behaviors generated similar responses from the majority of both groups of readers. The concepts of values, hope/healing, and social order/personal power generated different responses. The U.S. students also approached interpreting the text differently in three primary ways: in their use of symbolism, in indicating broader and more developed interpretations, and in generalizing the issues and concepts in the text beyond the story's context. These insights hold implications for teachers of international students, especially teachers of ESL, both in curriculum development and in teacher-education programs. The results of this study indicate that literature can be used to expose international students to culture; they also demonstrate the importance of reader response theory.
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Gates, Barbara Jostrom, "The Influence of Cultural Backgrounds on the Interpretations of Literature Texts Used in the ESL Classroom" (2000). Dissertations and Theses. Paper 6435.