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Beauty School Drop-Out

May 26, 2021


As a professional songwriter and teacher, I have often employed American popular music to help teach English to non-native speakers. Learning the book stuff is fine and very much needed, but to truly function in American English, one needs an understanding of American idiom or street talk. If you have ever lived in or visited another country, you know that the book talk is not what you find on the streets. Decades ago, as a high school teacher, I used contemporary music to help Hispanic students grasp the English language as it is spoken in everyday situations to augment the textbook English grammar and literature that I regularly taught in class.

I have used many songs in this endeavor throughout the years, most recently in Italy where I have taught Italian English teachers how to teach literature, poetry and American culture. I have employed a vast array of songs…

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One Comment
  1. I remember my dad giving up on me. He told me that my brain couldn’t handle history because I could never grasp chronological order. So he put on “We Didn’t Start the Fire” and I was able to learn what every phrase in there meant and keep them in order. To this day I can recite the whole song, and i still love Billy Joel. Didn’t help in my actual history tests where chronological order was a thing. Even Billy Joel would have threw in the towel. My dad always said the tests were rigged because no one would know the answers. I remember one test, it was about the entirety of WWI. The chronological portion wasn’t like “which came first: the start of the war or the end of the war?” It was 15 items that we had to put in order from what happened first to what happened 15th. All of the items happened on the same day. And four of them happened at the same time! Well, not precisely, but one started at 12:01, another at 12:03. That kind of thing. And out of everything that happened in WWI, my teacher picked the one day that no one paid attention to (including her in her class plans). The text book only covered about 4 of them, and when the whole class failed that section she argued that a good student would find it interesting and study more. 🙄
    But I knew people who learned english from tv shows, music, everything. One of them came from israel. She had only been in our class for 2 months. My dad was helping us study history. She couldn’t remember the word “highway” and my father was baffled. A kid that was so smart… I explained she just moved from Israel and he was floored. Her English was that good. So he tasked me with the job of teaching her the word highway. I supplied her with quite a lot of music, from the Highwaymen to Highway 61 Revisited. I also threw in Highway to Heaven because my mom loved that show. One week later, she came back a little mad at me. Back then you went to the store to get your music, and she paid money for music she hated (Bob Dylan topped the list). I just asked her if she knew what a highway was. She did.


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