on pop culture


Technological advancements the last decades have contributed to the creation of a globalized era, with the English language as a common denominator, as the major language spoken between those who do not share any language. Globalization have made it possible for an extreme output of popular culture that has mainly origins of English speaking countries with U.S.A. as the main exporter of popular culture through music, movies, television etc.

In this essay I explore the positive aspects that using popular music in the classroom might potentially have. In my main issues I discuss the motivational aspects of popular culture, why teachers might feel insecure or unwilling to use the student’s personal interests of popular culture in the classroom. Also how popular culture can be used to understand the cultural values of foreign countries and societies.

Furthermore I will present some practical tasks and suggestions for lessons in how to use popular culture and the sub-category music as the most important teaching resource within popular culture in exercises in the classroom as a motivating way to promote communicative skills of the language. Also important aspects on how cultural and historic influences on music by people and countries can be used to teach students of other values and how music can be used to create understanding for other peoples way of perceiving life.

Major Issues:
Inviting the student’s social environment into the classroom: Motivational effects of popular culture one important factor for successful learning in any context is motivation, a concept that in all forms of education is a key to classroom learning (Harrett & Benjamin, 2009, p. 138). Language learning is not just about teaching student’s formal academic language. In order for a student to be able to effectively communicate in a broader context the student also needs to have knowledge of the informal language and social structures that might not be as present in the literature the schools provide. These issues can be however found within popular culture such as media from television or music, in order to engage in the situations of their life where they have to adapt their language to “the various domains of their world” (Lambirth, 2003, p. 11)

In teaching languages, the introduction of popular culture is a method of creating motivation, as the students can then relate their classroom work to their knowledge, experience and interests of their social life (Harrett & Benjamin, 2009, p. 134). In a study of the English subject for second language learners in Mexican schools it is suggested that an increased attention to popular music in the curriculum would enhance the students motivation for the English language as activities involving this sub-category of popular culture would; “Using their knowledge, their music and their language.” (Domoney & Harris, 1993, p. 235).

Music is such a popular concept for the students, used correctly, it will help to motivate and increase the interest of a subject through a conscious and emotional involvement from the students (Kanel, 1997, p. 218). Pop culture is a way of gaining the student’s interest, by connecting the student’s familiar knowledge of the English language that they are exposed to outside of school. Using the students’ knowledge of popular culture will then serve as a meaningful resource to teach the language (Lambirth, 2003, p. 12). Using popular culture makes students more prone to learning the subject and will prevent any inhibitions of learning that comes from an affective filter; Peter Krashen’s metaphor for when the student feels anxiety, boredom, stress and/or other pressures, they create an emotional barrier that prevent learning (Kanel, 1997, p. 219, Griffee, 1988, p. 24).

Developments in English language teaching have been on the interaction and negotiation of the students and on the importance of integrating their experiences, knowledge and feelings into classroom. The ideas and discussions revolving about pop music included these valuable inputs from outside of school and came together and related to the more communicative focus of language learning that is still a popular method of teaching (Domoney & Harris, 1993). “They get enough of that at home”:

Claims that pop culture does not belong in the classroom are outdated. Teachers might feel a general unwillingness toward incorporating popular culture in the classroom and there are often several issues that create this point of view. teachers might not understand the contemporary popular culture of today’s youth and therefore project negative thoughts on what is popular, expressing ideas such as; children who are more interested in popular culture are not as bright as those who prefer reading. Teachers might also regard pop culture as contra productive for student’s creativity and reason that they get enough of input in their spare time (Lambirth, 2003).

However, the teachers are not those who can fully take the blame for not wanting to incorporate popular culture in the classroom. The teachers are caught between the two strong influences, of the popular culture industry and those who create the educational policies (Lambirth, 2003) It might therefore be unfair to lay blame on teachers for not wanting to take a gamble on their jobs and career by using methods that does not follow their curriculum.

Using popular culture in the subject demands some knowledge of current technology and in using media properly in the classroom. The teacher education programs lack the teaching of these issues, young teachers are therefore anxious in using these kinds of modern methods of teaching as they do not want to stray too far from the curriculum. It is of the essence that the teacher training programs start education the students in how to properly use these ways to keep the next generation in tune with the progressive modern digital world. (Harrett & Benjamin, 2009)

Classrooms can no longer be a room and place where local traditions are taught and implemented upon the students; the role that popular culture plays suggest that there is a need for better education of informal language (Pennycook, 2010, p. 82).

The globalization have created transcultural flows of popular cultures that appeal the students in different ways and many students can no longer be affected by only the local traditions. The student’s identities are instead reflected by the popular music and culture that are in constant flow. If the education for our future generations want to stay in touch with the trends of society, by paying attention to the student’s knowledge, identity, interests and desires, then it is crucial that issues the students can relate to, such as popular culture are introduced into the language learning in schools (Pennycook, 2010, p.82). Research supporting the use of pop culture & music in the classroom As i have mentioned above in my paragraph on motivation, pop music is a very large branch of the popular culture and there are studies that affirm musical knowledge and skill as useful and valuable in the classroom

All human beings possess varying degrees of musical intelligence, one of the intelligences that the human race has developed, the others are; linguistic, logical-mathematical, spatial, bodily-kinesthetic and personal intelligences. Asserted in the educational theory of “multiple intelligences” by Gardner in 1985 (Failoni, 1993). The theory of multiple intelligences confirm that excluding those with brain damage, every person on this earth possess some form of musical intelligence.

Anthropologists have acknowledged after tests on both normal and learning disabled-students that music attributes to several functions of language learning that is important. The properties of music, that include: rhythm, melody, harmony, dynamics, form and mood, aids in the cognitive process of gaining vocabulary, enhance retention and is a good way to promote general language development and reading skills (Kanel, 1997).

Music can be viewed as an instrument which everybody in the classroom can be involved in use and understand. It is therefore certainly arguable that integrating the musical intelligence in the classroom as a teaching tool by adopting and adapting it into lessons and activities without any demand on either teacher or student to have any knowledge on how to perform or compose music (Failoni, 1993).

Audio-lingual method of teaching also supports the use of authentic songs, if the songs are properly chosen so that there is no abundance in non-standard grammar or excessive slang. As the songs that are constructed for ESL lacked the effectively to interest the student as the lyrics ended up being a collection of phonemes in a text (Kanel, 1997).

Also the pedagogical theories of Vygotsky as well as Lave and Wenger are applicable to methods of using popular culture in the classroom. Lave and Wenger’s theories of situated learning theory states that learning occur naturally through activities, contexts and cultures. The learners utilize their knowledge and experience from their informal sociocultural world and apply them to understand new information. Vygotsky’s theories of the socio-cultural are based on how children acquire knowledge through their culture (Debbie, 2007).

Even though these theories are abstract they are both successful and popular within pedagogical methods and theories. And they are highly related to the student’s exposure of popular culture. the popular culture is an important sphere in which the student’s identity outside of school is affirmed, challenged, taken apart and reconstructed (Pennycook, 2010).

Teaching values of cultures:
Understanding cultural aspects through contemporary popular culture To perceive cultures as national entities with shared values and are separated by boundaries of borders to other countries is to look at culture from a very narrow perspective. Culture can be described as “‘Big C ; little c” The Big C are the formal institutions of a country, little c being the daily lives studied by sociologists and anthropologists, patterns of behavior and cultural traditions. When learning a second language, culture is a prominent theme in the process of learning the new language, and that involves studying customs and beliefs of a country (Yuen, 2011).

This perspective of culture becomes complex and problematic when studying languages of a nation that have a lot of diversity and different ethnicities. France is an example of an ethnic diverse country because of their imperial history. Through the French hip-hop scene that have been one of the prominent genres for the last two decades we can study the way in which the informal languages of the streets have evolved by influence of various cultures. Traditionalists have disregarded these linguistic features because of their departure from traditional grammar (Pennycook, 2010). The French hip-hop culture however despite averting from traditional grammar have their own grammatical rules that is followed, (Chi’en, 2008) discusses the weird English that is a result of globalization and of many different English languages co-existing, the same goes for the French hip-hop lingua, it is not broken or radical or “wrong” it is in fact a form of art; one which can be reproduced only with knowledge of the genre.

The hip-hop scene has become a new symbol for the “tricolor” i.e. the French flag. The opposition of the nationalistic red, blue & white flag which does not symbolize the society of modern France should instead be ascribed to the new colors; “black, blanc ; beur” representing the multiracial, multicultural & multilingual society that is a more objective reflection of how the French social scene looks today. (Pennycook, 2010) Discussing the history of either Jazz, Rock & Roll or Rap is a way of learning the cultural aspects of the African-American community and the roots of both genres which both were born in Africa and brought to America, carried by the slaves and further evolved there to what it is today. (Omoniyi, 2006)

The global use of English has been a key factor to the spreading of the popular culture from major informal institutions such as Hollywood, or the hip-hop music which has been very influential world wide. Studying the re-appropriation of the hip-hop music in African countries as Nigera gives insight of how their values are reflected in songs by comparing them to North American contemporaries. Although the artists in Nigeria are similar to their colleagues in the U.S. by following the trends of popular culture in appearance, the Nigerian hip-hop differ a lot in their lyrics, such as different themes such as love instead of the misogynist ideals represented in the American hip-hop. (Omonyi, 2006) Studying the sub-genres of hip hop African countries gives us knowledge of the African countries that speak English as native tongue and is a part of the globalization of the English language, but are even so underrepresented in text books supplied by schools (Yuen, 2011)

The result of the English globalization is that there are a lot of countries that have their own unique music, even though they share the same genre as other English speaking countries. Irish folk music is a popular sub-genre of the folk music, which has aspects of entertainment values with songs about drinking and what the comical consequences of drinking too much. Many songs also contain more serious and political protest songs against British tyranny or the songs about the civil war in Ireland, giving the audience a broad insight into the countries culture and history by listening to their music. But teachers using these methods to promote cultural understanding should be wary not to promote stereotypes of a country “That Mexicans only dance the hat dance for example” (Failoni, 1993). Implications for Practice

“Music, the great communicator” the phrase that popular rock group Red Hot Chili Peppers coined in their song Can’t Stop. It cannot be assumed that they implicated anything regarding language learning, but they did in fact have a valid point with that statement.

Music can be used in teaching the all four strands of language learning; listening, reading, speaking & writing. Students experiencing difficulties with communication skills are likely to react positively to the entertaining aspects of music and might improve their communicative skills as rhymes, melodies and rhythm are easier to remember than ordinary speech (Failoni, 1993).

Teaching informal language is something that I have stressed in this article as the researchers have argued that it is important to integrate more of the student’s experience from outside of school to promote student participation (Pennycook, 2010). Using authentic pop music as listening material have been since the 70’s gained an increased popularity, because it colloquialism that student’s otherwise miss out on in the classroom (Griffee, 1988). Furthermore it will make student’s aware of phonetic structures. Listening exercises can be used with mixing reading comprehension, having the students underlining vocabulary in text that is chosen by the teacher consciously as a specific goal for learning (Failoni, 1993). Taking the next step with music from the listening comprehension to speaking, pronunciation skills are improved by the student first hearing the lines and the repeating them with the rythm of music as a cognitive help for the student to more pronounce the words more aptly. (Failoni, 1993)

Communicative exercises can be created on the base of exploring different musical styles which is an easy alternative for teachers willing to introduce music in the classroom. (Failoni 1993) There are also a lot of different cultural aspects and styling’s that can be taught in the classroom to promote cultural awareness. Exercises to engage students about culture can be done through finding songs that are unique in the way that they are symbols of the country or region, some examples are: The Genius of Ravi Shankar (India) Rampal Japanese Melodies (Japan) Bagpipe Music (Scotland) Bach’s Toccata & Fugue in D minor (Germany) (Griffee, 1988) Playing these kind of songs can be used in form of quizzes as relaxed competitive tasks for the students.

World map’s in the classroom than this is a great tool for enhancing the task and going deeper into details. Further ways are giving the students pictures of things that symbolize the origin of the song, pictures of what kind of food is eaten there, how the buildings looks like, historical remnants like the coliseum. The songs are repeated and the students are asked to chronologically place the pictures based on the order of the songs. This is method is pedagogical in a cognitive way by the connecting the visual and hearing senses. After all the countries of the songs played then follow-up activities is a way to discuss further create cultural awareness by discussions on for an example based on the pictures in front of them, (Griffee 1988)

Understanding of social and political structures, both past and contemporary can be discussed and understood under the basis of only discussing a genre of music, listening to Latin American pop music presents the listener to nationalistic views (Failoni, 1988). This is a way for the students to learn these things as many youths are interested in the music. And if it so happens that the students in that particular classroom is not interested in the Hip Hop / Rap genre then the positive thing is that there are an infinite amount of genres to explore. An option is also not using only one genre as a discussion point but bringing in the option for students to do research on the unique historical and cultural aspects of the music they listen to.

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