Volume II - 1994

by Clyde Coreil and Mihri Napoliello

      On the back cover of this publication, you will find some of the comments made about the first issue of this annual Journal. We deeply appreciate the enthusiasm that you have expressed, and are eager to show you what we have come up with this year. Although the response was overwhelmingly positive, there were several critical comments as well. For example, one reader, who asked not to be quoted, pointed out that there were too many interviews. We have corrected that, reducing the number from five to two, but not at all abandoning our position that talk can be quite as effective as formal writing in stirring the pot of ideas.

      The reader went on to add that he enjoyed seeing different points of view developed by different people from different backgrounds. His point was well taken, and we do have more diversity in this issue. The authors are from Cuba, Argentina and Israel as well as Texas, Minnesota, Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Washington, D.C.

Humanities and the Imagination

      The articles we have assembled in this issue also represent a broad range of interests, ranging from rock music videos to novels to key-rings that turn into fish swimming deep in the sea. In addition to variety, we have attempted to focus somewhat on one important theme--the role of the humanities in the theory and practice of second language teaching. Although all of our articles touch on this topic, we point to those by Jean McConochie, Christine Meloni, Catriona Moore, Loretta Kasper, Thomas Garza, Claudia Moi, Judith Diamond and Elizabeth Minicz as especially relevant.

      The term "humanities" is generally limited to language, literature and the arts, and tends to exclude other subjects, such as those that have been developed through the use of the scientific method and through concerns with the respect and understanding of different cultures. The imagination, on the other hand, seems part of all human activities. Indeed, a future issue of this Journal might well be devoted to the role of the imagination in emphasizing multiculturalism in language teaching. A consideration of the imagination in this context could conceivably be fresh and novel. These adjectives, however, would probably not be used to refer to the influence of science in language teaching. That role is not only very well established but, in many ways, dominates the ESL landscape.

      Until this century, the humanities constituted the pedagogical focus of formal language study, and are still near the center of instruction in languages other than English--at least in the USA. As ESL came into its own, however, this emphasis was eclipsed by models derived from linguistics, sociology and the sciences in general. In fact, theoretical underpinnings are so much influenced by the demands of analysis and critical thinking, and so deficient in the synthesis of humanist reference that it would occur to relatively few professionals that any debate is warranted.

      Looking more closely at this trend, we see that verifiable analysis of empirical data seems to be the primary modus operandi as well the primary vehicle of prestige and recognition in the field. Accordingly, the ability to design, execute and interpret analytical measurements of carefully controlled data is probably the most valued talent among researchers and teacher trainers. Such an approach is itself very productive, and in no way do we mean to imply otherwise. We also believe, however, that this emphasis on the techniques of narrow control is one of the main reasons why the broad implications of the imagination in language acquisition have been neglected, and why the humanities and arts have come to seem marginal if not largely irrelevant.

      What we are advocating in this issue of the Journal is a reassessment of the role of humanist values in language instruction. One of our readers made a quite relevant point when he said that the first issue of this journal helped him "to explain to...students, their parents and other professionals why using 'creative' activities is important in the classroom." Of course, we found that remark to be in tune with our observation that the rich traditions of creativity in the humanities can provide a charged and meaningful way of exploring emotional responses to life. In so doing, the humanities not only give us a strong source of motivation and a multitude of fascinating things to talk about, they also provide us an opportunity to develop and expand ways of thinking and of expressing those thoughts. Creative activities push us hard to find and use creative language to articulate the ideas that rush through our minds. This yearning to express a freshly conceived thought or feeling is invaluable in the language classroom and might go a long way to insuring rapid and deep internalization of particular words and structures.

Affective Cognition

      Most teachers would probably agree that methods involving creativity and the arts are well received in the classroom. We might step back and ask ourselves, "Why is this so? What is there in the makeup of the human psyche that responds to this kind of stimulus?" One obvious answer is that affect--which involves emotional interpretations and reactions--forms an integral part of cognition. And it is in the humanities that we find this part of the human mind most elaborated and developed. It is there that stories, myths, symbols and sounds every morning and every night renew their ability to reach the center of the human heart. But it would seem that any soap opera could do that. Not true. We demand far more in terms of rich, authentic, non-trivial context in which characters meet their doom or their majesty or their humble coffee cups, often in memorable resolutions. Very frequently, the phrases and sentences that a long-departed author used in reflecting on his/her comic or ironic or tragic fate have literally become part of our language. An enormous number of novels are fashioned from myths and legends whose abstract shape are now recurring structures in our minds.

      Put in slightly different terms, literature, music and all of the other art forms represent access to a personal, emotive mode of thought and feeling that is essential to the development of a fundamental aspect of language. Specifically, that aspect involves the realizing and communicating of the affective responses that constitute so much of our lives. To study and participate in the humanities is to listen and articulate, to create and realize patterns of thought through the formation of abstract semantic configurations as well as of concrete language. To use the terminology of the computer, the humanities seem to contribute to the "formatting" of the program of linguistic expression, the potential for which each of us has inherited. In psycholinguistic terms, such experience in the humanities might contribute to the development of neural networks that facilitate lexical access and result in expression through language.

      Without such formats, patterns or networks--call them what you will--the individual would certainly continue to live and use as many languages as he or she needs. However, the depth and range of conception and expressiveness in any of them might be hindered to a significant degree. In any case, what is involved is not a matter of simply translating concepts from a first language; it is a matter of forming them anew, of coming to think and respond in a second or third or fourth language. We feel that the humanities can contribute enormously to the process. To neglect this area of promise and potential is certainly possible. Whether it is a good and wise choice is another matter entirely.

      Many of these ideas can be found in the articles that follow. We invite you to consider them carefully. We also ask that you drop the author and us a line--or a long letter. It would be a privilege to read and/or forward your written comments.

      We would like to call attention to the pieces in this issue by Thomas Garza and Stephen Sadow, who do not work primarily in ESL. Tom is in Slavic languages, and Steve is in Spanish. Their articles, however, are of clear and immediate interest to the ESL community, and we are proud to publish them. The burgeoning of English in the past few decades has possibly resulted in some degree of distancing between ESL and other second and foreign languages that are formally taught in schools. The shared interests of all language teachers, however, goes far deeper than superficial differences in student population or academic department. We at the Journal are eager to make it clear that we hold this position and that we publish articles related to the imagination and the learning of a language--any language.

Origins of the Journal

      The Journal is a natural outgrowth of the Annual Conference on the Role of the Imagination in Second Language Acquisition, which we initiated at Jersey City State College five years ago. In April of this year, approximately 400 English language teachers from kindergarten through college attended the keynote address and 18 workshops, all of which dealt with either theoretical or practical aspects of the relation between the imagination and language training. The next Conference will be held on April 28, 1995: you are very welcome to join us.

A Special Note of Appreciation

      We would like to express deep appreciation to Dr. Earl Stevick for presenting a workshop at the 1994 Conference on the Imagination. Throughout his career, Dr. Stevick has introduced innovative and challenging ideas that have enriched our language classrooms immeasurably. His work has brought him international recognition as the foremost pioneer in the exploration of the imagination in language learning. We thank you, Dr. Stevick, and do indeed look forward to your future visits to our College.

back to content page