A strong understanding of English can be very useful for musicians in the 21st century. Music scenes no longer exist solely in isolated cities but across borders and stretch around the world. Collaborations between musicians of varying nationalities and between residents of different countries are higher than ever and the language they commonly speak is English.
My idea is to present an ESP course related to popular music for anyone wishing to work as a performer on the international stage. Adults of any nationality or language are welcome, and the cost is affordable so that fewer people are denied the opportunity to learn because of their economic status.
An intermediate level of English is required at beginning of the course as it will be very difficult to convey the meaning of more complex terms without basic listening skills or an understanding of syntax. Prior knowledge of music is also required. Students are expected to be familiar with most of the musical vocabulary in their native tongue as the focus of the course is to teach English and not music.
Vocabulary Based Syllabus
Students will build on their vocabulary from the beginning of the course and continue to do so throughout its duration. Names for notes and chords, instruments, recording equipment, effects and genres, along with adjectives for describing music will be introduced on a regular basis.
Terminology relating to music theory will also be introduced and discussed, though only those relating to popular music. Reading notation will not be taught nor will it be required from entrants as communicating musical ideas through the English language is the aim of the course.
Listening is the most important skill a musician can have, and therefore the teaching of a language within the context of popular music must also regard this as a top priority. In rehearsal rooms and on stage, there is little time to explain things twice. Lacking in speed and efficiency may prevent students from reaching a professional level.
Speaking skills are also paramount. Being able to make yourself understood clearly is equally as important as understanding others. Quick and effective communication is a hallmark of any functioning band.
As the entrants on the course will already be at a higher level, grammar will not be a priority and will be taught inductively only when the occasion arises or if a student is making repeated errors.
Reading and writing are not prioritised but will be included on the course. They are important as many people communicate with each other around the world through emails and messenger services. Booking gigs, contacting labels and promoters, responding to interviews and self-marketing all require a high degree of skill in regards to reading and writing.
Many musicians from non-English speaking countries, particularly in Europe, feel obliged to write songs and sing in English in order to gain more popularity outside their own country. It is also necessary if bands want to enter the huge UK and US markets which are largely impenetrable to non-English speaking acts.
There will be activities on analysing song lyrics, looking at word-play, puns, rhyming patterns and poetic themes. Students will also be asked to write their own verses, utilising the tools they have learnt in their analysis.
All lessons will be conducted in the target language and will take a free practice, conversational style with errors being corrected immediately. They will be separated between formal classrooms, practice rooms and music studios. This will give students the opportunity to put into practice what they are learning as they are learning it.
Authentic language will be used as much as possible to fine tune their listening skills but also because that is how students will be spoken to outside of the classroom by a variety of accents who will often speak over the noise of instruments playing.
Use of visual aids and realia will be prevalent. In the classroom, images will be used when introducing nouns. In the practice room, instruments will be used as props. For example, one activity could be identifying the components of a drum kit, then testing the students by asking them to hit different parts in specific sequences where they can be assessed on the speed and accuracy of their responses.
Adverbs and adjectives will be introduced through the teacher modelling to the class with an instrument, demonstrating the word delicately for example by lightly touching the keys on a piano. This then provides practical examples of what the word means, as opposed to a simple translation from their native language, encouraging the students to think more in English and naturalise its usage.
Class sizes will be small, between three and five people so that students have more opportunity for involvement. Small groups are more suitable for musical collaboration, and those with shy personalities won’t be able to hide behind their more confident peers.
The environment will be casual and relaxed. Teachers are encouraged to build a good rapport with their students and stimulate conversation around topics relating to music listening and music making, such as analysis of song structure.
Students will be asked to describe the components of a song and how it made them feel, and are encouraged to use elaborate and subtle adjectives to express a more detailed commentary. Corrections are important as is repetition when introducing new words, though the drilling of phrases will not be necessary as students should be at the higher levels and be relatively comfortable with a steady pace and free-flowing conversation.
Even among native speakers, communicating in the nomenclature of music can be difficult as people have different names for things. A large portion of popular musicians have never studied music formally, therefore a universal music vocabulary does not exist, with many people subjectively translating the music in their heads into English. Students will therefore be encouraged to think creatively when describing music, as opposed to solely relying on textbook examples. A familiarity with vague words will be necessary as students will regularly encounter them in the real world.
Assessment will come in the form of continual oral assessment. How comfortable they are with conversation and how well they can demonstrate learnt terminology will also be looked at, as is their ability to communicate when completing given tasks.
Instructive verbal tests such as ‘play an open E with a delicate timbre,’ or asking students to name the modular effect when played an audio track will be used periodically at the end of activities to test their memory retention, with positive praise and feedback reinforcing correct answers.
An example of an activity could be as follows. The lesson is conducted in a practice room and students have brought their instruments with them. Also available is a drum kit, PA system, keyboard, microphones, cables and a box of miscellaneous percussion pieces. They work as one group and are given a brief which is delivered verbally.
Their task is to collaborate and create a song in the blues genre, communicating only in English. It is to be between three and six minutes long and cover the theme of rejection and rebirth. The song must contain some blues genre conventions, such as a shuffling rhythm or a twelve-bar progression, but otherwise the students are free to use their creativity to produce a finished piece in the allotted time.
The teacher will silently assess the activity throughout its completion. Corrections will not be made during this task as students are graded on their ability to communicate with one another. Speed and efficiency are rewarded, as is an active involvement in suggesting and refining ideas, and demonstrating an ability to articulate those ideas clearly to others.
When their time is up the group will perform the song which, if played well in unity with one another, will demonstrate that the students effectively co-operated to complete a task to a high standard.
This method is designed to get students to use English in a functional setting from day one. Whilst taking influence from other more traditional methods such as from the behaviourist approach by providing positive feedback, or from the direct method of being fully immersed in the target language, I have also tried to create a unique style that works for a certain niche of people.
Teaching English for a specific purpose like this gives the students the opportunity to put into practice a specific vocabulary for a specific industry. The syllabus is directly relevant to the goals of the students, and therefore they will feel more motivated to continue taking classes and using what they are learning out in the real world.