There are hundreds of ESL books, CDs, DVDs, websites, worksheets, software… the overwhelming list goes on and on. ESL instructors have many options when selecting materials for their students. Out of all the thousands and thousands of choices available to us, who in their right mind would choose hip-hop music to teach English?! Since I announced my ambitions to create ESLhiphop.com to friends, family and colleagues, I’ve had to answer that question many times. Why would I want to teach English to international students with rap music? Wouldn’t they just learn “bad” English and start talking like the “bad” kids in inner-city neighborhoods?
The short answer to that question:
Hip-hop music is one of the most linguistically-rich sources of content that teachers can make available to their students.
I absolutely believe that statement to be true…. You just need to look in the right places. The key for hip-hop success in ESL/EFL contexts is hinged on your selection of music. The appropriate selection of songs is absolutely vital for initiating thoughtful discussions and for presenting language models for students to imitate and reproduce in oral and written discourse. Of course, not every hip-hop song will be appropriate to use in the classroom, but that does not mean TESOL professionals should disregard an entire literary genre and culture based on the poor examples of the highly-commercialized and violent songs that often come under public scrutiny.
One of my favorite artists right now is Aesop Rock. Unraveling the mystery behind his cryptic lyricism is always an enjoyable challenge, and many of his songs discuss important and relevant themes. But what I’m particularly impresses with is his mastery of the language. This passage from “9-5ers Anthem” contains a lot of complex clauses, which would be an appropriate model for an advanced ESL or EAP class:
We the American working population hate the the fact that eight hours a day is wasted on chasing the dream of someone that isn’t us. And we may not hate our jobs, but we hate jobs in general that don’t have to do with fighting our own causes. We the American working population hate the nine to five day-in and day-out, but we’d rather be supporting ourselves by being paid to perfect the pastimes that we have harbored based solely on the fact that it makes us smile if it sounds dope.
While ESLhiphop.com is mainly a community for English learners, I also want teachers to be involved. There will be daily lessons for students, but look out for full-length lesson plans as well as motivational posts for teachers who want to take the plunge and use hip-hop. Have you used hip-hop in your ESL class? Do you have suggestions for students or teachers who want to use hip-hop? Please write your comments and concerns below to join the discussion!