with pop songs
by Sarn Rich
(1992) suggests that songs resemble poems, with three typical
a song tends to contain a lower amount of information.
the language of a song involves more redundancy, frequently
being filled with such devices as proverbs and cliches, and
following expected patterns
songs have a more personal quality, relating more directly
to the listener.
music is also significant, helping to fix the song in one's
memory. It is probably also a factor in songs' contribution
to language-acquisition in children and thence perhaps turns
into what Murphey and Alber (1985) call 'adolescent motherese',
filling adolescents' need for something to replace 'motherese',
the affective musical language that adults use with infants.
may also be considered in terms of what we do with them. Murphey
(1992) lists such activities as listening, humming or tapping
along during or after listening, talking and reading about
them (the lyrics, ideas, music, artist,..), playing them to
create an atmosphere or for background, and creating associations.
inherent for adult learners
Perhaps because of their association with adolescence some
adult learners can consider pop songs childish or inappropriate
for serious study.
can also vary in their tastes, so that what one learner (or
teacher) likes will not necessarily appeal to another.
the other hand learners might become so enthusiastic that
they want to do nothing but enjoy the music. This situation
arose a few times when I taught in Georgia, where singing
is so much a part of culture that any song brought into class
is virtually bound to be sung by the learners (In many paces
we might expect this to occur with children, but in Georgia
I taught only adults.). This is fun but sometimes might lead
to teaching/learning purposes being forgotten.
are practical considerations, too, such as whether equipment
or recordings are of sufficient quality for a song's words
to be intelligible.
teacher needs to be careful with some songs if the message
is sexist or revels in violence, or if it contains figurative
language or cultural assumptions alien to the learner. For
example, the Beatles' 'Oh dear, what can I do, baby's in black
and I'm feeling blue' might perplex learners in Saudi Arabia
may even be issues o1 legality and censorship to consider.
In Iran an Azeri trainee English teacher told me that although
pop music is available on the black market, Khomeini imposed
a ban on any music 'which makes you move' (The learner was
amused at the picture he was conjuring of the Ayatollah methodically
going through a music collection, stopping to throw out a
record whenever he started getting the urge to boogie.).
Nine years ago, I had not been in Bulgaria for long when a
young man came up to me anxious for explanations to a long
list of song lyrics. As we chatted I realised that his speech
was curiously peppered with phrases from his heavy metal music
collection. The experience confirms Alan Maley's observation
(in Murphey 1992:3) that two major advantages to teaching
with songs are that they are memorable and that they are motivating.
Griffee (1992) there are six broad reasons to use songs in
They can create an enjoyable, relaxing or particular atmosphere,
to establish a mood or to suggest associations. In Suggestopaedia,
specific kinds of music are selected to relax learners and
make them receptive to language. Music or songs can also provide
cover to encourage learners to speak, acting in the same way
as music at a party to break down people's inhibitions about
talking to one another.
Songs often contain particular features of language in an
accessible context, such as rhythm or colloquialisms.
They can introduce aspects of L2 culture.
They may be exploited in the same ways as any other text.
Being generally short and self-contained can make them particularly
suitable for the classroom.
Songs can supplement the course, for example to mark special
occasions like Christmas or to fill in background information
to a topic discussed in class.
Songs can be exploited in teaching, for conversation, vocabulary,
grammar, or pronunciation, either to introduce a topic or
as subject to analysis in their own right.
my own teaching all of the above reasons have played a part
in my use of songs in class, but perhaps what has been most
important is the motivation and interest they can inspire
by their authenticity, and the possible associations most
of my students have with them. I hope that when they regard
a song as something enjoyable, its appearance in learning
will make learning all the more enjoyable, too.
Activities with songs as a theme
are many familiar classroom activities which can be adapted
to make songs the focus of attention. Mostly from Murphey
(1992), these include:
Icebreakers in which the learners put information about themeselves
on badges and mingle, asking each other questions. The information
can be about musical tastes (Appendix Al).
'Twenty questions', and secret names stuck on learners' foreheads.
Learners ask yes/no questions to work out the mystery identities.
The names can be of musical artists (or musical genres).
'Find somebody who...' Learners look for people in the class
who meet given descriptions (...likes punk,.. plays the piano,..
.went to a concert recently...).
- Questionnaires and surveys (Appendix Al) provided for or
written by the learners. Results can be included in newsletters,
along with interviews and articles to do with pop songs.
Discussions generated in response to extreme opinions or quotations,
about music and songs (op.cit:31,66 - Appendix Al).
Drawing, comparing and discussing proximity mindmaps (Appendix
Writing stories, dialogues and interviews incorporating titles
and lines from songs (Appendix A2).
Reading and manipulating texts about pop songs or artists
The Heinemann 'English Puzzles' books contain some nice little
activities using song titles for language work, dealing with
contractions, tense and time references, parts of speech and
a crossword drawing on Beatles song titles (Appendix C).
page 2 of 8
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