Culturally Specific Music for learning English

Too often me thinks, too often we unintentionally push our cultural view onto those learning English. No more subtle way than music and film. We use so many “western” songs in our teaching that we almost become immune from even a thought of all the fine music by second language singers in English out there.

Whatever culture or country you teach in, I’m sure there are singers who are singing in English. They are great role models for your students and no matter the quality of their “English” singing, they should be used instead of English pop song culture if possible (not all the time, but from time to time).

Take a look at our International Music in English discussion for lots of inspiration!

I teach in Korea and have made lots of karaoke songs for learning English, that feature Korean singers singing in English or with lyrics translated into Korean. Valuable for 3 reasons;

1. Motivation. Students get pumped to see their own idols in a lesson and also using English! If they can do it, so can “I”, your students will think.

2. Culture. It is a subtle but pervasive force in language teaching. When students sense intuitively that their culture is not respected or being “pushed at”, they automatically go on hold and language learning becomes very difficult. {there are many studies on this aspect of cultural imperialism/domination, go here where I have my presentation material of culturally specific teaching for many. )

3. Noticing. This is especially important for higher level students. Becoming aware of language and the differences their native tongue has with English is very important for good fluency and acquisition. By comparing in a song with a translation, they really see some significant differences.

Bi (Rain) is a huge star in Korea and also internationally. See the video above where he sings first in English (with lyrics) and then in Korean (with a better than whoever made his English lyrics) translation. *** his English singing is horrendous, bear with it if you are a native speaker!

You might also enjoy this interview with Bi – he was interviewed by Time magazine. I use this when teaching teachers about evaluation. I let them watch it, they are thoroughly engrossed! Then, I get them to discuss among themselves what kind of mark they’d give him for spoken fluency. Sometimes I ask them to give marks for different areas – word choice, intonation, pronunciation, grammar, composure etc….

Invariably they give him high marks. Then I have to tell them that he can’t speak much English at all! As the story goes, he was given the questions and memorized everything. And how good he was at it! Now, he speaks more English but still not lots. A good lesson in regards to evaluating fluency and also that money can’t buy you a language – you got to do the work and talk the walk!

Love Song Rain (Bi) foldem.doc Love Song Rain (Bi) comparison.doc

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Teacher trainer, technology specialist, educational thinker...creator of EFL Classroom 2.0, a social networking site for thousands of EFL / ESL teachers and students around the world.

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