I loved learning English through songs and I now love teaching English with songs. I have yet to meet the first person who says it is not helpful and fun to use songs when learning a language. It’s a great way to memorize words and phrases and to learn pronunciation. A song is also a short story and while you listen you are supposed to understand that story in the lyrics and understand what the singer is singing.
Those two things often go together but not all the time. I used to think that Kate Bush sang, ‘He’s here, Cathy’ in Wuthering Heights. And I had no idea who this man was and where ‘here’ was. It didn’t become much more clear when I knew the lyrics and the line turned out to be, ‘It’s me, Cathy’. But that’s because I had not read the book yet.
Looking back I think it was quite an accomplishment that I had made up a phrase that actually made sense grammatically. I managed to hear something that was English, just not what Kate Bush had wanted me to hear. Now that I listen to songs with my student who is a real beginner I wonder how well I understood English when I misheard this line. My student really only understands a few words of a song and if she doesn’t know a word she makes one up. But unlike my strategy she just throws in anything that sounds like it could be right, regardless of whether it fits grammatically. It makes for a new learning style that I can only admire.
Last week I made an gap fill exercise with a song by Ariana Grande called ‘One last time’. The sentence was: ‘I know I don't deserve it but stay with me a ……….’, and the answer was ‘minute’. She came up with something that didn’t make sense to me at all. It sounded like ’made eat’. My first reaction was to try and explain to her that in this place in the sentence we need a noun and not something that sounds like a verb. But then I knew she didn’t mean to make up a new word and didn’t think in terms of nouns or verbs, she just repeated what she had heard and didn’t care whether it was a word she knew or not. Her strategy is very different from mine. As a girl I just imagined I knew what a song was about and made up a text that seemed to fit, a little. My student doesn’t imagine much, she just listens. I think that’s very nice. Just let the strange sounds come to you!
If you do it right you can even hear Dutch words in English songs and hear Michael Jackson sing ‘mama se mama sa mama appelsap’ in Wanne Be Startin’ Somethin’. I think some examples of ‘mama appelsap’ people have found are hilarious. I love that bit in the Dutch talk show ‘De wereld draait door’. I wish I could find a mama appelsap (apple juice) in every song. Many songs can do with a little juice anyway.
I know there are books about funny mistakes Dutch people make when speaking or writing English. I promis this blog will be a little different and I won't steal any stories from others. I would, however, like contributions from others and hope to have a bit of fun discussing what we have 'leathered'.