Folktales in the Russian Language Classroom

Elena Kornienko, McGill University

The present theoretical and experimental research is driven in part by the recognized need for more realistic models of L2 learning and instruction in respect to different types of world knowledge, different perceptions of foreign literary texts. The study investigates the system of values, attitudes and cultural background of foreign students learning Russian to their reading comprehension of unfamiliar cultural stories (Russian folktales). Usually in folktales authors attempt to convey their meanings and human values, their world knowledge by selecting and using conventions that exist in a certain culture. In this respect reading comprehension of Russian folktales has been examined in the context of narrative discourse rather than its word-by-word decoding. The starting point for my research is the semiotic theory of M. Baxtin (1986), according to which a text is a shared system of signs, understandable to native speakers of a language who use certain world knowledge and conventions existing in a certain culture in order to decode textual information. Thus, a text is analyzed from the point of view of two contexts—the author’s and the reader’s. If their contexts coincide, natural textual communication is possible. If not, the textual interpretation of the addressee becomes problematic and demands additional cognitive processing to identify its meaning and content. But even in the optimal case when the cultural contexts of addresser and addressee coincide, each of them has his own structure, depending on his own background knowledge that, to some extent, makes the process of comprehension difficult.

To sum up, success in foreign language communication is possible only if the second language learners develop appropriate skills and gain relevant background knowledge which allows them to comprehend socio–cultural aspects of a foreign text (Donin and Silva, 1993; Chen and Donin, 1997). Thus, it is important to focus more on the cultural context, normative values reflected in a folktale. This study of the impact of language and culture on learning situation represents a new perspective branch of discourse important for both psycholinguistics and foreign language teaching.