Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Teaching grammar through hip hop

"I'm a gonna pop a cap in yo... yo-what, class?"
"Yo ass, sir."
"Yes, and yo ass is a what-phrase?"
"A noun phrase, sir."
"Yes, well done, class."

This article from a Canadian online newspaper suggests that recent immigrants can pick up English through exposure to, and discussion of, rap music. I'm all in favour of novel approaches to grammar teaching and wouldn't dismiss this out of hand, even if the scene conjured up is a bit like the one at the start of this post, but on closer inspection the approach seems to be quite old-fashioned.

While the context is new - and even a touch funky - the grammatical approach appears rather prescriptive. We are told that Riaz Sayani-Mulji, one of the teachers on the project "asks each person to read a few lines from the song. He then walks them through a dissection of the lyrics that includes correcting the grammar".

It could just be a mistranslation between journalist and teacher, but correcting the grammar of hip hop lyrics seems like a bit of a sterile process. Fair enough, if differences between standard and non-standard forms are identified, then it might be an interesting exercise, but to "correct" grammar harks back to the 1950s. What is interesting however, and more positive, is the contextualisation of grammar in the reality of young people's language lives.


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