Teaching English Through the Arts
- Posted by: Shannon Amaadar
- Category: Uncategorized
There’s more to learning English than just a bunch of grammar rules and vocabulary. Learning a new language is intricate and nuanced and takes years to master. By teaching English through the arts, fluency comes faster and is more interesting.
Incorporating arts into learning
When learning a language, the first thing a lot of students do is grab some books, find some videos or audio clips and maybe hire a tutor or sign up for a class. Students often think the goal is to learn a language through sheer will and force. Doesn’t sound very enticing, does it? Students might be able to memorise a bunch of words and phrases, and maybe make small conversation, but what about really understanding the language. There needs to be a different angle, a new approach, something to shift your brain from memorisation to understanding. The answer can often be found in other subjects.
Anyone who is bilingual or multilingual will tell you to use the language to really get a sense of it. That can be difficult when native speakers aren’t available to practice with. Often, subjects such as philosophy, classical arts, theatre, etc, are thought of as unimportant, not subjects that can get us ahead in life. But these subjects can help to gain a better understanding of English. By studying the works of thinkers, actors, artists, we open our minds to new ideas. Those new ideas often lead to a better understanding of the way people use language to express themselves.
How teaching English through the arts helps in the real world
The Ted Talk “Why Tech Needs the Humanities” presented by Eric Berridge is a great example. He discusses how his tech firm, on the brink of losing their jobs, was saved by a bartender. Knowing how to speak to clients in a different way saved them. By using a different approach when discussing what it was the clients actually wanted he ended up catapulting the tech firm’s success.
Sometimes we get so caught up in rules and jargon, that the meaning of what we really mean to say gets lost, and that’s where this kind of “out of the box” thinking; teaching English through the arts, can switch our gears and open up new concepts.
Translating it to the classroom
So how can we use this in teaching? First of all, I would recommend focusing less on memorising the grammar rules. Not just because it’s boring, but because language is always evolving and expression is increasingly important in all aspects of life. Use techniques in the class like debates and discussions. Students that are passionate about a subject will engage with it deeply and being able to practice expressing their beliefs and discuss them with other students can do so much to build deeper fluency.
Poetry, literature and art are also important subjects to incorporate into language learning. When you learn more about a culture and the way that they think, you understand the language and how it is used in a way that you can’t when memorising vocabulary and grammar rules.
Choose a pop art or surrealist painting and ask the class to describe it. Include not just physical descriptions but feelings; tell a story about it.
There are many simple yet profound poems that are great for discovering meaning. From Shel Silverstein poems for young children to Robert Frost for older students. Poetry is a great way to see how you can play with the language.
During your next lesson, try teaching English through the arts with your students and see how they open up to the language. You may find they’re more engaged with the material, have more fun and learn faster.