Using Comics with Esl/Efl Students

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Using Comics with ESL/EFL Students

Justine Derrick
derrick_justine (at) yahoo.com
Salisbury, Maryland, USA

Introduction

Comic strips, comic books, and graphic novels can be used in ESL and EFL classrooms to encourage students to read. They can also form the basis of several classroom activities that will engage students and generate discussion. Second Language Acquisition, Reading, and Comics

In all theories of second language acquisition, input plays a role (though the role varies in importance in each of the different theories). One important form of input is reading. Reading can aid in vocabulary development, and “[…] Nagy, Herman, and Anderson (1985) argue that picking up word meanings by reading is 10 times faster than intensive vocabulary instruction” (Krashen, 1993, p. 15). Reading can also aid other skills, as “several studies confirm that those who read more in their second language also write better in that language (Salyer 1987; Janopoulos 1986; Kaplan and Palhinda 1981)” (Krashen, 1993, p. 7). Therefore, reading can and should play an important role in the second or foreign language classroom.

The most important factor in the development of reading skills is the amount of time a student actually spends reading (Cummins, 2003, p. 20). One of the ways that ESL/EFL teachers can increase the amount of time their students read is by using comics and graphic novels, which can be especially useful in second language classrooms. Not only can they provide language learners with contextualized comprehensible input, they can also engage the learner and lead him or her to explore more graphic novels or books, magazines, newspapers, and other reading materials.

Graphic novels and comics deal with spoken language differently than books do. Usually, comic book writers attempt to capture spoken language as it really occurs, complete with gaps, hesitations, and slang. In fact, “[...] comic strips [can be used] as a means to help students deal with ‘the ambiguity, vagueness and downright sloppiness of spoken English’” by introducing “language learners to ‘ellipsis, blends, nonwords, vague lexis, confirmation checks, contrastive stress, new topic signals, nonverbal language, mitigators, [and] routine/ritual phrases’” (Cary, 2004, p. 33). These are aspects of spoken language that English textbooks might not deal with or, if they do, only as an afterthought. Comics, on the other hand, put each of these into context and make them relevant to second language learners.

Comics, specifically comic strips, usually deal with humor. They can be useful for introducing language learners to the culture and humor of English-speakers. Cary (2004) responds to the question: “Do the jokes in lots of comics make them too difficult for […] beginning second language learners?” by stating that “If read alone, yes, even with a good bilingual dictionary at the ready.” He recommends “A teacher-facilitated discussion of a ‘buddy read,’ where beginners work with native speakers or more advanced L2 learners to get the jokes, [which] can turn a comic that would have been an impenetrable and frustrating read if processed alone into something understandable, funny, and meaningful” (Cary, 2004, p. 69). In this case, not only do comics lead to laughter, they also lead to productive and relevant discussions in the second language classroom.

On the other hand, not all comic books and graphic novels are light reading. Over the past several years, more and more graphic novels have appeared that address more serious topics, such as family relationships, war, coming of age, and current events. Several of these graphic novels have won major awards, such as the Pulitzer Prize, the Hugo award, and the World Fantasy Award. As they have matured, graphic novels have moved from the realm of children and can appeal to and be used with adult students. Visual Literacy

Just as reading a book or magazine requires a certain set...
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