(image by Hryck on Flickr)
Songs are a fabulous teaching tool. The repetition of language is great for making words stick in students’ heads, and the fact that they’re listening to music makes them feel like they’re not learning. When I was at college, learning how to teach, our tutor gave each of us a card with a word or short phrase written on it. We had to listen out for that word/phrase and leap to our feet whenever we heard it. We spent the lesson being riotously joyful, leaping up and down, giggling. And yes, I remember most of the song now (Emily Kane, by Art Brut, since you’re asking). When it was my turn to teach a lesson using song, I chose Everybody Knows (Except You) by The Divine Comedy. It’s one of my favourite songs anyway, and has a really sweet sentiment behind it, as well as a simple, catchy melody. By the end of the lesson the entire class were singing along to the chorus and smiling fit to burst. Yes, I’m a big fan of using music in lessons.
Just recently, however, I’ve discovered the flip side of this coin. When I first heard Lily Allen’s F*** You Very Much, I giggled a little bit, and then promptly forgot about it. That was in the UK, and f*** was bleeped out with ridiculous sound effects. A few months later, I heard it on Italian radio. However, this time, the F-word was there in its full glory. Shamefacedly, I must admit that, again, I found this funny. I didn’t really think it through, though. My students may not be able (or, more likely, willing) to repeat and retain simple points of grammar in lessons, but by GOD they can pick up on a swear word. I’ve had to reprimand more than one group for singing ‘F*** you! F*** you very, very mu-u-uch!’ in class. ‘But it’s a SONG, teacher!’ they grin, all wide-eyed, fake, injured innocence. ‘By Leeeely Allayn!’ Yes, I’m well aware of that, thanks. Now stop singing it. I mean NOW.
From a teacher’s point of view, I don’t want my students to learn swear words as part of their everyday language. Their vocabulary is limited enough as it is, without resorting to cheap tricks. When they can express themselves eloquently and appropriately without the aid of bad language, then, and only then, can they maybe start to consider the fruitier side of English. Even then, it needs to be limited: one of the problems with swear words becoming ubiquitous is that they lose their power. Lily Allen’s song actually has a very serious point to it, being anti- gay-bashing and racism. However, because of the way it’s written, with a happy, bouncy melody (one of her stocks-in-trade), and simplistic lyrics, all that is noticed is the fact that she’s saying the F-word. 12 times, in fact. I’m not offended by the word, but maybe that’s the problem. It’s become so usual to hear it in everyday speech that it’s useless. I’m as guilty as anyone of overusing swear words, so am not standing in moral judgment. However, there are lines of propriety. The fact that my students didn’t realise that it’s monstrously inappropriate to sing those lyrics in a classroom situation speaks volumes, I feel. It’s not entirely their fault: they’re just repeating what they’ve heard on the radio. They know it’s a bit naughty, but assume it’s OK because it’s in a pop song. Well, kids, I’m here to say that it’s not. Quite unexpectedly, it seems that I have limits after all. Fancy that.