Bridging the Language-Literature Gap: Introducing Literature Electronically to the Undergraduate Language Student

Posted: December 21, 2010 in CALL related literature

Bridging the Language-Literature Gap: Introducing Literature Electronically to the Undergraduate Language Student
Mary Ann Lyman-Hager
San Diego State University

Foreign language teaching practices have emphasized oral language instruction at the expense of written language instruction. In addition, many foreign language and literature departments have made a division between language studies and literary studies, a division in which the number of students who pursue literary studies are far less numerous than those who pursue language studies. Some educators now believe that it is time to reemphasize reading and literature in the profession. Computer-enhanced reading instruction holds considerable promise as a means to reintroduce “culturally dense” texts into the curriculum, perhaps earlier than originally possible in traditional approaches to teaching. Finally, the tracking capabilities of reading programs allow researchers to collect data that can shed light on students’ use of reading strategies.


Computer-Enhanced Reading, Reading Comprehension, Reading Strategies, Literature, Student Data, Tracking Mechanisms

“We live in a post modern, post-industrial, post-smokestack—and, according to several, post literary world.” Murphy-Judy (1997, 133)



Language teaching practices in the United States are in many ways paradoxical and contradictory.1 Since the 1940s, language teaching in the United States has increasingly emphasized oral production and has distanced itself from grammar-translation methods that had dominated the profession in prior decades. Yet some, feeling we have strayed too far from literacy in our nearly exclusive emphasis on oral production skills, have called for a reemphasis on reading and writing. Multimedia and Internet tools for learning languages are becoming commonplace, but their use in the foreign language curriculum, especially in less commonly taught languages, is far from widespread. Finally, the National Standards movement, ushered in by the organizers from the American Council for the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL), calls for a holistic, interdisciplinary approach in language teaching. This approach would blend culture and content together in a rich learner-centered environment, yet few teachers are prepared to collaborate with others outside the discipline in creating these new approaches. Even within the discipline of foreign languages, the gap between language teaching and literature continues to widen.

Kramsch (1985) has referred to the transition between language and literacy study and has warned of the bimodal split of language departments into language versus literature factions. Student reluctance to study literature has been observed in North America by Muyskens (1993), who has written that “… while undergraduate language enrollments seem to be increasing, fewer students now choose to study second language literatures.” This phenomena is not limited to North America, however. In Australia, Leopold (1985) has also noted that “as soon as a choice was available, students appeared to choose almost anything except literature.”


Schulz (1982) has also referred to the major differences between undergraduate courses in language and those in literature. Most lower-level courses tend to emphasize communicative, linguistic-based tasks or daily “hearthstone” culture, balancing somewhat the four skills of reading, writing, listening, and speaking. These courses tend to emphasize oral language, while upper-level literature courses focus more intensely on reading and interpreting literary passages, often reflecting “high culture.” Over 15 years ago, Schulz (1982) referred to the difficulties many students have in transitioning to advanced foreign language courses as the “literacy gap” and described the mismatch between students’ abilities and course content.


Suddenly, instructors expect a transition from the stage of painful word-by-word decoding of contrived written dialogs and narrations dealing with simple everyday events to comprehension of relatively lengthy literary texts containing highly abstract vocabulary, complex syntactical patterns, and sophisticated style and content which even an educated native speaker often cannot read without effort. (p. 43)

Intermediate-level students are required to read portions of authentic texts by the third semester of French undergraduate study, usually short passages of French literature. Unfortunately, this exposure to authentic texts comes as a shock to many students, who have been used to primarily oral-based class instruction. They often cannot understand the cultural frame of reference underlying the text because of its dissimilarity to their own (Bernhardt, 1990, 1991; Swaffar et al., 1991). So, in addition to the problems mentioned by Schulz, literary texts may have a high frequency of familiar words employed in unusual ways to create desired stylistic effects, and the cultural contexts described in target language literature tend to be unfamiliar to nonnative readers.


From reading research dating from the 1980s (Hudson, 1982; Carrell, 1983, 1984; Johnson, 1982), a general consensus exists that L2 reading comprehension results from the interaction of readers’ use of bottom-up and top-down reading strategies. Many L1 studies also stress the importance of background, or world, knowledge enriching or guiding readers’ understanding of specific text-bound features (Stanovich, 1980; Rumelhart, 1975, 1977).

Second language acquisition theorists view reading as a good source of comprehensible input (Krashen, 1984, 1991; Terrell, 1986; and Winitz, 1981). Because of the solitary nature of this skill, it is difficult to ascertain what psycholinguistic behaviors are occurring in the individual reader (Brumfit, 1981). Research on L1 reading (Zvetina, 1987) has been the primary focus of reading research to date, which has relied upon videotaped observations of readers, researchers’ notations of readers’ behaviors, and postreading interviews with learners. The computer offers a more efficient, less obtrusive manner of data gathering and, when used in conjunction with traditional data-gathering techniques, can yield new insights into foreign language reading comprehension.

Based on data from undergraduate foreign language student reading research, Bernhardt (1990) has posited six components of effective reading comprehension which relate to vocabulary acquisition: (a) word


recognition, (b) phonemic/graphemic decoding, (c) syntactic feature recognition, (d) intratextual perception, (e) prior knowledge, and (f) metacognition. Background information has been shown to be critical to forming a correct schema of a text (Bernhardt, 1990, 1991; Feldman, 1990; Hewitt, 1990; Swaffar et al., 1991). Reading material that is culturally weighted, that is, related to specific in-depth knowledge of the culture, is more difficult than reading material which is unweighted (Feldman, 1990; Hewitt, 1990). In other words, although students may not intuitively understand the importance of background knowledge and linguistic knowledge, they need more than simple dictionary definitions to understand foreign language texts.2


Glosses figure prominently in most L2 reading materials. Their role in comprehension has been investigated in several studies, usually with a focus on two central questions: (a) whether glossing of L2 texts enhances comprehension and (b) whether glossing inhibits fluent L2 reading. Johnson’s (1982) study of ESL readers indicated that glossing may interfere with global comprehension by focusing on the meaning of individual words. Pak (1986) in ESL and Jacobs and Dufon (1990) in Spanish also found no significant differences in learners’ passage comprehension with or without glosses. In contrast, Davis (1989) and Luo (1993) found, in two separate studies, that glosses did improve the comprehension of L2 readers of French. Their results may have diverged from previous studies because of differences in the difficulty level and the authenticity of the passages read. Johnson and Pak used texts especially written for L2 readers, and Jacobs and Dufon asked subjects to read fairly simple newspaper articles. In contrast, Davis and Luo used literary passages designed for the target language population (not modified for L2 readers) with many low-frequency vocabulary items. These studies indicate that glosses may enhance readers’ comprehension, if the text contains a high incidence of unknown words.


Reading is a so-called “passive” skill—focusing on learners’ comprehension rather than their production. It is, therefore, difficult to measure reading directly without the aid of specialized techniques to track learners while they are engaged in the act of reading. Further, reading is the key to success in upper-division undergraduate language programs, yet it remains the least favored of the four skills among intermediate language students


(Sieloff-Magnan, 1995). What do we know about the nature of foreign language reading in a technological environment? How can instructors best introduce foreign language students to reading strategies for authentic texts of increasing length and complexity? Can computers assist instructors in introducing these strategies to students tackling difficult texts for the first time?

Computers have the ability to generate information about learners while they are engaged in the act of reading, recording “complex processes accurately and unobtrusively” (Goodfellow & Laurillard, 1994). The problem lies in interpreting the mass of data generated by the computer program and weaving it into a comprehensive picture of second language acquisition and reading strategies. Information about the efficacy of electronic textual glossing has been gleaned from tracking data generated by the computerized reading program Une Vie de boy (Davis & Lyman-Hager, 1994a, 1994b) which provides computerized annotations or glosses for the first 1,754 words of Ferdinand Oyono’s 1956 Cameroonian novel Une Vie de boy. (See the relevant passages of the novel in Appendix A.) This small computer program has generated a number of research studies at The Pennsylvania State University, most recently a doctoral study by Hayden (1997), An earlier study by Lyman-Hager, Davis, Burnett, and Chennault (1993) used a comprehensive case study, recall protocols, vocabulary tests, pretreatment student questionnaires, and software evaluation sheets. These data collection measures were combined with tracking data collected electronically by the computer to help understand the reactions of individual students selected from a large pool of students who had used the software. The study illustrated how these students made use of informational glosses and how they interpreted the text as a result of working with the electronic materials. What is of interest here is the interaction between text and student.

The students were enrolled in third semester French at The Pennsylvania State University and exhibited at least intermediate-low level language skills (as described in the ACTFL Proficiency Guidelines). Their understanding of the underlying culture was closely interrelated to their reading proficiency, and their lack of vocabulary caused them to make incorrect assumptions about the meaning of the text. The Oyono text was situated in the (1930s) colonial period in the French-speaking country of Cameroon. The text describes the reaction of a young boy, Toundi, to his French colonizers. This first chapter describes his relations with his family and then with the Catholic priest who takes him in after he runs away from his family. The text is divided into the following three critical incidents:

1) a fight among some schoolboys (including the protagonist, Toundi) for sugar cubes distributed by the priest just before their tribal ritual of initiation into manhood;


2) the conflict between Toundi and his father over the sugar cube incident and his subsequent exclusion from a family dinner feast (a partially decomposed porcupine); and

3) Toundi’s arrival at Father Gilbert’s house and his mother’s attempt to bring him back home.

Clearly, the selected passages were not very user friendly for the target population of the third-semester American students. Nothing in their background had prepared them to understand the initiation ritual and the cultural conflict with Catholicism. The family dinner, the fight over the porcupine left in the trap a bit too long, and colonial practices of the French in a far-away African country were quite foreign to most of the students in the study. Culturally dense, even inaccessible, the passages could have easily challenged learners even in the third or fourth year of language study. To make the text perceptually salient and understandable, the creators of the computer program, then faculty members in the Department of French at The Pennsylvania State University, packed the accompanying glosses with definitions, cultural background information, pronunciation aids, character and concept maps, and pictures. They attempted to operationalize Bernhardt’s theories of reading into the computerized version of the Oyono text. In addition, prereading questions were created to relate students’ backgrounds and childhood experiences to the backdrop of the text. An eight-page computerized introductory section to the text additionally presented an explicit, systematic discussion of strategies to be used by novice readers of French literature. This introduction also set the context for the Oyono text and outlined the use of the various types of glosses available.

The following case study, taken from Lyman-Hager and Burnett (1999), illustrates the power of combining data from multiple sources to shed light on individual learners’ responses to a text in a foreign language and on the highly individualized manner in which learners process information from the text. Recall protocols, questionnaires, student academic background data, tracking data, and other sources of data provided the researchers with extensive descriptions of the language learners. In this case, the learner, Sara, caught the major idea of the text but missed many important details. Other profiles, also discussed in Lyman-Hager and Burnett, show the effects of textual interpretation by learners who exclusively used bottom up processing strategies and who spun their own versions of the story, often proceeding from the misperception of a single word.


Case #1

Recall Protocol (10:00 A.M., November 2, 1992)

Joseph was beaten up by his father who thought he was a glutton & for some reason his father wanted to beat up the girl’s parents. Joseph goes to live with the priest who treats him well & lives happily with him & his mother still loves him. He visits his sick uncle who is eating porcupine. His mother is famous for how she prepares it & Joseph’s father keeps threatening he will make Joseph sleep w/ his mother. This would embarrass Joseph so he chooses to live with the priest.


Student Profile for Sara

Sara is 23 and in her third semester of college French, her ninth semester of college. She started in Spanish in her sixth semester of college but discontinued it after a semester. She is in French to satisfy the language requirement only. She comes from an English-speaking home and reports that she usually uses the computer for word processing assignments.

Sara’s Software Questionnaire, Vocabulary Quiz, and Tracker Information

Sara appeared to value the presentation, the learner interaction, and the content about equally well, giving a rating of either a 4 or 5 for all questionnaire items. Interestingly, she placed stars on the items with which she strongly agreed, that is, those questions asking whether the content of the reading was easier to digest in this format, whether this method of instruction made her want to learn more about what happened next in the story, and whether using this method seemed superior to traditional methods. However, she gave a rating of 2 to the question asking if an audio recording of the text would aid her understanding of it. In fact, examining her tracking data, we found that she only used the audio once for the pronunciation of the word invita ‘invited.’

Sara spent about 53 minutes using the program. She spent little time with the introductory material and began reading the text right away. In the beginning she relied on the strategy of looking up words in French for a total of 22 words. Then she decided to read through the pages of the story, perhaps to see how much lay ahead of her, since she spent less than four seconds on each page. She returned to page three, looked up 10 more French definitions before changing strategies and relying on English definitions exclusively for a total of 128 words. She looked up English definitions much more often than the norm for the computer group. After looking up 33 French definitions, she did not return to the strategy of looking


up words in the target language, except for one time for the word alignait ‘lined up which she looked up both in French and English. Additionally, she requested information about relations among characters (maître ‘master,’ ce maudit Blanc ‘that damned White man,’ du vieux Tinati ‘of old Tinati) and culture (le révérend père Gilbert ‘Reverend Father Gilbert,’ le boy ‘boy’). The only grammar look up was for the passé simple of the verb devenir (devins ‘became’). There is evidence that Sara reread portions of the text. On the second page of the story, She looked up mangeurs d’hommes ‘cannibals’ in one paragraph and then looked up seven more words from the following paragraph before looking up mangeurs d’hommes again from the preceding paragraph. More evidence of her use of rereading as a strategy happened later. During the part of the story where there is argument about Toundi’s mother saving some porcupine for him to eat, Sara looked up gardé ‘kept’ then marmite ‘cooking pot,’ followed by son bégaiement ‘his stammering,’ gardé and marmite. She looked up marmite once more on the following page of the story and subsequently correctly identified the word on the vocabulary quiz.

Sara’s Vocabulary Quiz

Sara received a 9 out of 20, which is lower than a standard deviation from the computer group’s norm of 14.1 on the vocabulary quiz. She missed the words rotin ‘cane,’ tordre ‘to twist,’ fouet ‘whip,’ plaies ‘wounds,’ bagarre ‘fight,’ fendre ‘to split,’ and esquiver ‘to dodge,’ despite having looked them up. Surprisingly she looked up fendre and esquiver twice. However, she correctly defined the words case ‘hut’ and gourmandise ‘gluttony,’ having looked up case twice, once in French and once in English, and gourmandise four times in English. On the last page of the reading, not only did she look up leur gourmandise ‘their gluttony,’ but she also looked up ta gourmandise ‘your gluttony.’ This action makes one wonder whether it was the possessive adjectives she did not understand or the word gourmandise. Nevertheless, the English translation of gourmandise, as ‘gluttony’ appears in the first sentence of her recall protocol. So we can assume that this word was understood after the reading was completed.

Sara’s Recall Protocol Analysis

Out of a total of thirteen written pausal units, Sara had nine which can be considered directly related to the story. First of all, Sara miscomprehended the part of the text where the children are fighting over sugar cubes the priest has thrown to them. She believed that Tinati is a girl, despite Toundi’s having referred to him as mon compagnon ‘my companion [masc.]’ and having said il m’avait tordu le bras ‘he twisted my arm.’ Looking up the category RELATIONSHIP and discovering the relation


of Tinati to Toundi would have perhaps cleared up this miscomprehension. Secondly, Sara’s sense of chronology was somewhat confused in that she had the visit to Toundi’s uncle after Toundi had gone to live with the priest. She appeared to be processing in a bottom-up manner, which may account for her lack of temporal coherence. She also seemed to follow her own strategies for reading, which differed from those outlined for her in both the handout of instructions given to her by the lab attendants and the introduction to the program. Finally she reasoned that Toundi decided to live with the priest because his father threatened him about sleeping with his mother. More cultural helps about the nature of insults and use of such language in Cameroonian culture could perhaps be helpful for students like Sara to avoid incorrect elaborations. Sara should be encouraged to re-read, saving the second reading to look up words to confirm meanings and strengthen her mental representation of the story. More cultural information and grammar information might help her become a more accurate reader.

Two other profiles included in Lyman-Hager and Burnett (1999) reveal similar scores on the vocabulary test but very different recall protocols and underlying backgrounds. The third case study, included in Appendix B, illustrates the profile of Michelle. She followed the instructions to the letter, scrolling through the introduction and listening first to the entire story. Her approach is much more holistic and is filled with reflections on her own understanding, or, what Bernhardt would call, her metacognitive processes.


Quite a few computerized foreign language reading programs are currently available. None of the programs available at the time of the study, however, provided the opportunity to: (a) follow a specific theoretical model of reading comprehension in a second language, (b) record students’ behaviors while they are reading on-line, and (c) offer the requisite cultural background necessary to understand the text—here, a unique African perspective on Francophone culture.

The computer-enhanced version of the chapter by Oyono afforded learners a complete story, which has aesthetic and pedagogical merits over the fragmented excerpts usually found in literary passages annotated for language learners. Further, in order to be accessible to beginning readers, the text had to include extensive annotations, which, if found on the printed page, might interfere with the flow of “natural” reading. Computerized annotations can be hidden from the view of readers until needed. This


type of hypertextual reading may offer students a greater variety of glosses than could be presented in the print version, due to the computer’s ability to hide and reveal information at the request of the individual reader. It remains to be seen whether this type of glossing will allow learners to process and store textual information more efficiently and whether the software will help activate appropriate text processing strategies. A recent study by Chun and Plass (1996), as well as a doctoral study by Karp (personal communication, 1988), make use of tracking data and may offer partial answers to these and other questions.

Can the results of university-based research on individual readers’ reactions to computerized second language reading have relevance to establishing guidelines or best practices for the creation of educational materials tailored to meet the needs of all learners? By examining the profiles of individual readers, can we describe strategies that may be useful for readers to adopt? A 1991 study by Noblitt and Bland suggested that valuable insights into individual learning strategies used by foreign language readers could be obtained by electronically tracking what they actually do when interacting with computerized instructional materials. The case study described in this article analyzes the results of data gathered by tracking the learner with the assistance of the very technology used in the presentation of the material.

Clearly, new approaches and new materials will be needed to equip the global electronic schoolhouse of the second millennium. Great hope has been placed on the Internet and computers in general as providers of authentic materials and as mediators of unfamiliar cultural and linguistic materials. Certainly the cost of individualizing instruction and of integrating computers into the curriculum should be considered along with the short- and long-term influence of computer use on learning (see Woolfolk, 1990). We now have enough computers in educational settings to determine how, under what conditions, and to what degree computers can affect student learning (Bozeman & House, 1988). Although some believe that comparing computer-based learning with traditional learning is similar to comparing apples and golf balls, the need for accountability is great (Pogrow, 1988).

Technology is called upon to play an important role in this restructured school, particularly in the area of “authentic performance assessment in foreign language education” (Nielson & Hoffman, 1996). Foreign language reading in particular has been an area thought to be well suited to technological applications (Blake, 1992). The new restructured school envisioned by writers of the National Standards calls for increased attention to cultural literacy and to learner-centered instruction. Two of the five standards (Cultures and Comparisons) refer specifically to understanding and appreciating cultural differences.3 Increasingly, second language researchers and computer scientists are recognizing the value of hypertextual glosses


and electronic reading which lead the reader to a contextualized interpretation of an authentic text (see Landow, 1990). Glosses relating to culturally “dense” readings provide insights about specific texts and cultures, which individual language teachers may not be able to provide, thus bridging the gap between language and literature and between the reader and the text. More research studies are needed to determine which gloss types are the most useful for which students under which learning circumstances. Meanwhile, with the emergence of E-Books (rocket books) and other “modern” approaches, faculty will have to enter into alliances with colleagues in other disciplines to create more sophisticated and appropriate approaches to electronic reading. At the very least, we should collaborate with our colleagues in literary studies. By adopting a team approach to software development, we might impact the quality and diversity of the authentic foreign language readings and be able to introduce them earlier into the foreign language course sequence. By working with colleagues in computer science and instructional technology, we might be able to invent educational approaches involving multimedia glosses in order to present those readings to an even larger reading public, such as general audiences interested in foreign culture and travel.



Le Journal de Toundi

Maintenant que le révérend père Gilbert m’a dit que je sais lire et écrire couramment, je vais pouvoir tenir comme lui un journal. Je ne sais quel plaisir cache cette manière de Blanc, mais essayons toujours.

J’ai jeté un coup d’oeil dans le journal de mon bienfaiteur et maître pendant qu’il confessait ses fidèles. C’est un véritable grenier aux souvenirs. Ces Blancs savent tout conserver. … J’ai retrouvé ce coup de pied que me donna le père Gilbert parce qu’il m’avait aperçu en train de le singer dans la sacristie. J’en ai senti à nouveau une brûlure aux fesses. C’est curieux, moi qui croyais l’avoir oublié …

* * *

Je m’appelle Toundi Ondoua. Je suis le fils de Toundi et de Zama. Depuis que le Père m’a baptisé, il m’a donné le nom de Joseph. Je suis Maka par ma mère et Ndjem par mon père. Ma race fut celle des mangeurs d’hommes. Depuis l’arrivée des Blancs nous avons compris que tous les autres hommes ne sont pas des animaux.

Au village, on dit de moi que j’ai été la cause de la mort de mon père parce que je m’étais réfugié chez un prêtre blanc à la veille de mon initiation où je devais faire connaissance avec le fameux serpent qui veille sur tous ceux de notre race. Le père Gilbert, lui, croit que c’est le Saint-Esprit qui m’a conduit jusqu’à lui. A vrai dire, je ne m’y étais rendu que pour approcher l’homme blanc aux cheveux semblables à la barbe de maïs, habillé d’une robe de femme, qui donnait de bons petits cubes sucrés aux petits Noirs. Nous étions une bande de jeunes païens à suivre le missionnaire qui allait de case en case pour solliciter des adhésions à la religion nouvelle. Il connaissait quelques mots Ndjem, mais il les prononçait si mal qu’il leur donnait un sens obscène. Cela amusait tout le monde, ce qui lui assurait un certain succès. Il nous lançait ses petits cubes sucrés comme on jette du grain aux poules. C’était une veritable bataille pour s’approprier l’un de ces délicieux morceaux blancs que nous gagnions au prix de genoux écorchés, d’yeux tuméfiés, de plaies douloureuses. Les scènes de distribution dégénéraient parfois en bagarres où s’opposaient nos parents. C’est ainsi que ma mère vint un jour à se battre contre la mère de Tinati, mon compagnon de jeu, parce qu’il m’avait tordu le bras pour me faire lâcher les deux morceaux de sucre que j’avais pu avoir au prix d’une hémorragie nasale. Cette bataille avait failli tourner en massacre car des voisins luttaient contre mon père pour l’empêcher d’aller fendre la tête au père de Tinati qui, lui même, parlait de transpercer l’abdomen de Papa d’un seul coup de sagaie. Quand on eut calmé nos parents, mon père, l’oeil mauvais, armé d’un rotin, m’invita à le suivre derrière la case.


— C’est toi, Toundi, la cause de toute cette histoire! Ta gourmandise nous perdra. On dirait que tu ne manges pas assez ici! Tu éprouves encore le besoin, à la veille de ton initiation, de traverser un ruisseau pour aller quémander des morceaux de sucre à cet homme-femme blanc que tu ne connais même pas!

Je le connaissais, lui, mon père! II avait la magie du fouet. Quand il s’en prenait à ma mère ou à moi, nous en avions au moins pour une semaine à nous remettre. J’étais à une bonne distance de sa chicotte. II la fit siffler dans l’air et s’avança sur moi. Je marchais à reculons.

— Tu veux t’arrêter, oui? Je n’ai pas de bonnes jambes pour te poursuivre … Tu sais bien que je t’attendrai cent ans pour te donner ta correction. Viens ici pour qu’on en finisse vite!

— Je n’ai rien fait, Père, pour être battu … protestai-je.

— Aaaaaaaaaakiéééééé! … s’exclama-t-il. Tu oses dire que tu n’as rien fait? Si tu n’avais pas été le gourmand que tu es, si tu n’avais pas le sang des gourmands qui circule dans les veines de ta mère, tu n’aurais pas été à Fia pour disputer, comme un rat que tu es, ces choses sucrées que vous donne ce maudit Blanc! On ne t’aurait pas tordu les bras, ta mère ne se serait pas battue et moi je n’aurais pas éprouvé l’envie d’aller fendre le crâne du vieux Tinati … Je te conseille de t’arrêter ! … Si tu fais encore un pas, je considérerai cela comme une injure et que tu peux coucher avec ta mère …

Je m’arrêtai. II se précipita sur moi et fit siffler le rotin sur mes épaules nues. Je me tortillais comme un ver au soleil.

— Tourne-toi et lève les bras! Je n’ai pas envie de te crever un oeil.

— Pardonne-moi, Père! Suppliai-je, je ne le feral plus …

— Tu dis toujours cela quand je commence à te battre. Mais aujourd’hui, je dois te battre jusqu’à ce que je ne sois plus en colère …

Je ne pouvais pas crier car cela aurait pu ameuter les voisins et mes camarades m’auraient traité de fille, ce qui signifiait l’exclusion de notre groupe “Jeunes-qui-seront-bientôt-des-hommes”. Mon père me donna un autre coup que j’esquivai de justesse.

— Si tu esquives encore, c’est que tu peux coucher avec ta grand-mère, ma mère!

Pour m’empêcher de me sauver, mon père usait toujours de ce chantage qui m’obligeait à me livrer gentiment à ses coups.

— Je ne t’ai pas insulté et je ne veux pas coucher avec ma mère, ni avec la tienne ! Et je ne veux plus être battu et c’est tout !

— Tu oses me parler sur ce ton! Une goutte de mon liquide qui me parle ainsi! Arrête-toi ou je te maudis! Mon père suffoquait. Jamais je ne l’avais vu aussi exaspéré … Je continuai ma marche à reculons. II me poursuivit ainsi derrière les cases pendant une bonne centaine de mètres.

— Bien! Lança-t-il, je verrai où tu passeras le nuit ! Je dirai à ta mère que tu nous as insultés. Pour entrer dans la case, ton chemin passe par le


trou de mon anus.

Sur ce, il me tourna le dos. Je ne savais où me réfugier. J’avais un oncle que je n’aimais pas à cause de ses croûtes de gale. Sa femme sentait, comme lui, le poisson avarié. II me répugnait d’entrer dans leur masure. II faisait nuit. La lumière intermittente des lucioles devenait visible. Le bruit des pilons annonçait le repas du soir. Je revins doucement derrière notre case et regardai à travers les lézardes du mur de terre battue. Mon père me tournait le dos. L’oncle dégoûtant était en face de lui. Ils mangeaient … L’arôme du porc-épic que nous avons trouvé à moitié dévoré par les fourmis, pris depuis deux jours à l’un des pièges de mon père, me donnait de l’appétit. Me mère était réputée au village pour son assaisonnement du porc-épic …

— C’est bien le premier de la saison! dit mon oncle, la bouche pleine.

Sans mot dire, mon père pointa son index audessus de sa tête. C’était à cet endroit qu’il alignait tous les crânes des bêtes qu’il prenait au piège.

— Mangez tout, dit ma mère, j’ai gardé la part de Toundi dans la marmite.

Mon père se leva d’un bond et, à son bégaiement, je compris que ça allait barder.

— Apporte la part de Toundi ici ! cria mon père. I1 ne mangera pas de ce porc-épic. Cela lui apprendra à me désobeir.

— Tu sais, il n’a encore rien mangé depuis ce matin. Que mangera-t-il quand il rentera?

— Rien du tout, coupe mon père.

— Si vous voulez qu’il vous obéisse, ajouta mon oncle, privez-le de nourriture … Ce porc-épic est fameux …

Ma mère se leva et leur apporta la marmite. Je vis la main de mon père et celle de mon oncle y plonger. Puis j’entendis ma mère pleurer. Pour la première fois de ma vie, je pensai à tuer mon père.

Je retournai à Fia et … après avoir longtemps hésité, je frappai à la case du prêtre blanc. Je le trouvai en train de manger. Il s’étonna de ma visite. Je lui expliquai par gestes que je voulais partir avec lui. Il riait de toutes ses dents, ce qui donnait à sa bouche une apparence de croissant de lune. Je me tenais coi près de la porte. Il me fit signe de s’approcher. Il me donna les restes de son repas qui me parut étrange et délicieux. Par gestes nous poursuivîmes notre conversation. Je compris que j’étais agréé.

C’est ainsi que je devins le boy du révérend père Gilbert.

Le lendemain, la nouvelle parvint à mon père. Je redoutais sa colère. … Je l’expliquai au prêtre toujours en gesticulant. Cela l’amusait beaucoup. II me tapota amicalement l’épaule. Je me sentis protégé. Mon père vint l’après-midi. II se borna à me dire que j’étais et resterais son fils, c’est-à-dire sa goutte de liquide … qu’il ne m’en voulait pas et que si je rentrais au bercail, tout serait oublié. Je savais ce que signifait ce beau discours devant le Blanc. Je lui tirai la langue. Son oeil devint mauvais comme d’habitude lorsqu’il se préparait à « m’apprendre à vivre ». Mais, avec le père Gilbert, je ne craignais rien. Son regard semblait fasciner mon père qui baissa la


tête et s’éloigna tout penaud.

Ma mère vint me voir pendant la nuit. Elle pleurait. Nous pleurâmes ensemble. Elle me dit que j’avais bien fait de quitter la case paternelle, que mon père ne m’aimait pas comme un père devait aimer son fils, qu’elle me bénissait et que si un jour je tombais malade je n’aurais qu’à me baigner dans une rivière pour être guéri …

Le père Gilbert me donna une culotte kaki et un tricot rouge qui firent l’admiration de tous les gamins de Fia qui vinrent demander au prêtre de les emmener avec lui. Deux jours plus tard, le père Gilbert me prit sur sa motocyclette dont le bruit semait la panique dans tous les villages que nous traversions. Sa tournéee avait duré deux semaines. Nous rentrions à la Mission catholique Saint-Pierre de Dangan. J’étais heureux, la vitesse me grisait. J’allais connaître la ville et les Blancs, et vivre comme eux. Je me surpris à me comparer à ces perroquets sauvages que nous attirions au village avec des grains de maïs et qui restaient prisonniers de leur gourmandise. Ma mère disait souvent en riant « Toundi, ta gourmandise te conduira loin … ». Mes parents sont morts. Je ne suis jamais retourné au village.

From Une Vie de boy, by F. Oyono, 1956, Paris: Juilliard. Used with permission for educational purposes.


Case #3

Recall Protocol (8:15 P.M., October 29, 1992)

I remember a lot about how Toundi’s father was killed. I know it had something to do with him fighting with others about lumps of sugar, but I didn’t understand why. His abdomen was pierced and he died.

Even though his father has died, Toundi thinks he is to blame and talks to his father in his diary. I think he is also describing a fight with someone in his diary.

Then I caught something about a starving porcupine. References to missionaries in their lives kept appearing. I may be off-balance about the meaning of all this. I’m not really sure.



Student Profile for Michelle

Michelle studied French for the first time in college and is twenty years old. She comes from an Englishspeaking home. This is her third semester of college French. In high school she studied Spanish for four years. Unlike the other two women in this study, she is not just taking French to satisfy a requirement for graduation. She is motivated to study French because she is interested in specific aspects of the culture, particularly, civilization, history, and the language. She does not use the computer for word processing, so this may be her first experience with computers.

Michelle’s Software Questionnaire, Vocabulary Quiz, and Tracker Information

On the evaluation of the computer program, Michelle demonstrated great satisfaction with the instructional quality of the program in general giving ratings of 5 to questionnaire items. She ranked the tools as equally helpful, giving ratings of 4 to these questionnaire items. The presentation of the material and the learner interaction were highly rated as 5. Her attitude about the experience was also quite positive. However, she had no opinion as to whether the content of the program was appropriate for her level of learning or whether the content of the program was appropriate for students of French at this level.

Michelle spent 44 minutes with the program, which is less than average for the computer group. From looking at her individual profile on the tracker, we learned that she approached the task as instructed by the program; that is, she read the introductory pages and then tried a few vocabulary lookups. She then listened to the entire story, for 9 minutes and 33 seconds. Few learners listened that long to the program, especially in proportion to the short amount of time she spent on the program. She scrolled backwards through the story to get to the beginning and then began to read the story in earnest, looking up words. All of her definitional look-ups were in English. She sought cultural references for prêtre ‘priest,’ Maka ‘name of the tribe’ and the exclamation aaaaaaaaaakièèèè. After finishing the story, she apparently scrolled backwards through the story. Her grammar searches were for the passé simple of verbs pleurer ‘to cry,’ paraître ‘to seem,’ and devenir ‘to become.’

Michelle’s Vocabulary Quiz

Michelle’s score of 12 was below the mean for the computer group (mean = 14.1) but better than the other two subjects’ scores and within a standard deviation of the average score. On the vocabulary quiz, she missed the words singer ‘to mimic,’ croûtes de gales ‘scabies,’ and gourmandise ‘gluttony’ and yet had looked them up once. On the other hand, she correctly defined bienfaiteur ‘benefactor,’ sacristie ‘sacristy,’ païens ‘pagans,’


crever ‘to put out [eye],’ marmite ‘cooking pot,’ and prêtre ‘priest,’ and these were also looked up once. One explanation for her retention or recognition of these words and not others may be that four of the previous words are cognates or very similar to the English: priest, pagans, sacristy, benefactor.

Michelle’s Recall Protocol Analysis

Out of a total of 12 pausal units, Michelle only has two that make correct reference to the story. From analyzing the recall protocol, in light of the tracker, she seemed to be a top-down reader, that is to say, she attempted to get the general picture first. Her protocol showed some frustration and only a vague understanding of content, which was evident in such statements as “I remember a lot about …” and “I knew it had something to do with … .” The details of individual word’s meanings did not seem to concern her. She had a total absence of chronology in her narrative as well as many distortions. She believed Toundi’s father died by being pierced in the abdomen after having himself fought over the sugar cubes. She also believed Toundi talked to his father via the diary. She then mentioned a starving porcupine at the end of the essay, yet she had looked up porc-épic ‘porcupine,’ moitié ‘half,’ fourmis ‘ants,’ and l’un des pièges ‘one of the traps.’ We can only assume that she confused moitié dévoré ‘half eaten’ with starving.

She also seemed to have difficulty figuring out to which character personal pronouns and possessive adjectives referred, and this lack of attention to detail caused her to confuse who was fighting over the sugar cubes and to whom Toundi was writing in his diary. More important, Michelle may have confused mon père ‘my father’ or ‘my priest’ with Toundi’s real father, and this confusion may have led to wrong schemata formation from the beginning of the reading, thus distorting the rest of the story and leading her down the wrong path. It seemed that she rushed through the program, not spending an adequate amount of time digesting the material. There are big jumps in her look-ups, sometimes as many as 57 points between words. For example she looked up privez-le ‘deprive him’ which is word/expression #470 in the program database, but her next look-up was not until word #527 parut ‘appeared.’ This jump took place during the infamous porcupine story. Even though she followed the instructions to get the overall picture of the story by reading it through first and listening to the audio, this strategy was not a totally helpful one in her case because it did not aid in her general comprehension. She looked up fewer words than the other two women and spent less time on the computer, but she managed to receive a better score on the vocabulary test.



1 This article is a revised version of a paper presented at the annual meeting of the Modern Language Association in San Francisco, CA, in December 1998

2 Recent studies by Van Patten (1993) have shown the importance of restructuring learners’ interactions with native speaker input to maximize comprehensibility. These restructuring activities, applied to reading, take the form of glossing, as well as suggestions about the conscious use of learning strategies to improve reading skills (see O’Malley & Chamot, 1990).

3 Standard 2.1 states, “Students demonstrate an understanding of the relationship between the practices and perspectives of the culture studied.” Standard 4.2 states, “Students demonstrate understanding of the concept of culture through comparisons of the cultures studied and their own.”


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