Lost in Translation

(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.

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About Kate Bailward

Kate Bailward is a cat-loving, trifle-hating, maniac driver. You can also find her on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+
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6 Responses to Lost in Translation

  1. Interesting. I think that there is a time and place for swearing and songs aren’t that place. Anyway, I find it funny that your found you have limits.

    Oh thanks for the add! Woot!!!

  2. Katja says:

    You’re most welcome, Michelle. I’m always happy to find new blogs to follow – especially when they involve food … ;)

  3. Yes I’m with you; I think there are swear words and then there are some that you just *really* shouldn’t say in polite company. The F bomb is definitely one of those in my book…good on you for drawing a line :)

    Also, looking good over here!
    .-= Michelle | Bleeding Espresso´s last blog ..Giveaway: The Separated Woman’s Guide to a Bright Future =-.

  4. Katja says:

    Thanks Michelle. :) I’m having a great time rediscovering my inner geek: I could easily spend hours fiddling with code and plugins and widgets and all the rest of it (and have been doing so – my poor flatmate has been somewhat neglected since I set this site up!)

  5. I did a Spanish exchange trip when I was at school, studying for GCSEs (so was probably 15 or so). Practically the first thing our Spanish counterparts did when we arrived in their beautiful town was to teach us the Spanish equivalents of all the English swearwords they already knew. I didn’t use them (as I very, very rarely use the English ones as it is), but I found it fascinating that this was what they thought it was important for us to know.

    On the other issue, I still remember the songs we sang in language lessons, and what they mean. Music is a great teaching tool.
    .-= Singing Librarian´s last blog ..Dancing fools! =-.

  6. Katja says:

    My school was pretty international, with girls from Hong Kong, Japan, the Filippines and various African countries, not to mention France, Germany and Yorkshire. I therefore know a good array of swear/sexual words from around the world, as those were the things that we inevitably all learnt from each other. Not desperately edifying, but on the upside, I *do* know how to ask, ‘do you have a condom?’ in Cantonese. Unlikely I’ll ever use it, but if my short stint in the Brownies taught me anything, it’s that it’s always just as well to be prepared …

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