Date of Award

Spring 2018

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA) in English: Teaching English as a Second Language




In his book Orality and Literacy, Walter Ong describes the difference between cultures that have never been exposed to literature and those that have been highly influenced by literature and literacy. He suggests that such learners have a different “consciousness” as a result of their life experience. This notion is later confirmed by research on brain structures that shows preliterate people having developed very different structures from those of highly literate people. In this paper, I describe my own process of becoming literate in a highly literate culture. By comparison, I cite my 34-year experience living with a people group in Papua New Guinea from the time they had no exposure to literature to their present literate state. The research on teaching literacy to people labeled non-literate suggests that a greater understanding of the values and traditions of these people is necessary to help them, not only to learn English, but to learn the culture and values of education in their new environment. My conclusions discuss the need for teachers of English to be aware of the values, learning models, process of learning, and even potential brain structures found in people from non-literate cultures. Adjustments need to be made accordingly when teaching English to students with no formal education.