Thursday, April 29, 2010

Rock And Roll

Once upon a time, my friends Matt and Jeff (there's a pun there involving a pair of comics characters from a century ago that I'm not going to mention) and I actually made an effort to become better AETs (Assistant English Teachers). As fresh meat rookies on the JET (Japan Exchange & Teaching) Programme, we didn't really have clue how to teach English to our Junior High School gakkusei (students).

The Council of Local Authorities for International Relations (CLAIR - I know a couple of people who work for CLAIR who are unsure of the acronym's true meaning - go HERE for more on CLAIR) (Sorry... wrong link, but it's probably more fun than the Japanese alternative) had created various guides to aid the neophyte teacher. There were plenty of games and interesting ideas in the guides for us to choose from.

The three of us all correctly realized that our students would be more open to learning English if it was more fun--perhaps also because the three amigos were also quite enamored by the others sense of humour. Especially mine.

The games helped a great deal. However, CLAIR and most of our JTEs (Japanese Teachers of English - the real Japanese teachers we team-taught with at school) were firm believers in the power of song to teach English. While utilizing songs during our classes seemed to be a step in the right direction, I knew that I was blessed with a voice that could spoil natto. As well, none of the songs in our text books or guides moved us. I mean, "Beautiful Sunday" by Daniel Boone and Rod McQueen??!! Blllleeeccchhhh! Okay, it's a great song, but it's so... happy. By the way, it's not the Daniel Boone. Click HERE to see a video.

We figured that using popular Rock and or Roll songs would stimulate interest in our students to at least pay more attention in class, so we got together over the phone and plotted out our play list.

Since all Japanese students tended to have difficulty in saying the letters "L" and "R" (there is no L in the Japanese alphabets, and the letter R is pronounced like "dyu"), we wanted to find a song that might help them.
We settled on the classic song "Rock and Roll" by Led Zeppelin. We listened to the song hundreds of times and finally succeeded in copying down the lyrics. Remember, this was 1990, and while I might have been on the Internet for some 10 years now, not many people had even heard of it yet. Yes, I was a nerd. But I got better. I do like Led Zeppelin.

Anyhow, I took copies of the lyrics in to a 3rd year class (Grade 9's) and my CD of Led Zep IV and got down to brass tacks. Would you believe that these kids had never heard of Led Zeppelin? They had heard of some group called Ru-edo Ze-pu-rin. As well, they had difficulty with the words. Immense dificulty.
Click HERE to listen to the song.
That's what it sounds like.

This is what my students made it sound like: "Been a rongu time-u since I lock and lorr... been a rongu time, been a rongu time, been a rongu ronry, ronry, ronry, ronry, ronry time-u." At least they got the air guitar solos in the right spot.

Needless top say, I went back to the drawing board and decided on the classic tune, "I Sing A Rainbow" or whatever the heck it's called. Though not a rock song, I heard that it was permissible in these new rules I was making up.
Click HERE for a version of the song. 

On my visit the next day I cranked up the music nice and loud (please don't make me tell you that I had a CD of kid's songs) and led the class through the lyrics once. I sounded pretty good, but no one was going to eat lunch that week.

I then allowed the class to go it alone.

"I shi olange and pink and gu-reen, yerrow and pulpre and brue..." Whoops! Their poor little tongues spasmed and contorted into intricate knots that even an Eagle Scout would find hard to match. In the photo above, I'm checking on the health of one of the boys, while a few of the girls try and relax their tongue.

I guess the textbooks and guides were correct after all. Teach them simple songs - the nice easy stuff they recommend.

However, I learned it is still eventful to use one's own intiative... especially if you like to watch your students suffer.

Somewhere buying a stairway to heaven,
Andrew Joseph
PS: I'm pretty sure Matt & Jeff were just humouring me and didn't actually try this. Buggers.

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