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Hip Hop and Language Learning

By Liz Przybylski | Published: February 13, 2018

Rapper Tall Paul plays shows locally in Minneapolis and on tour across the country, and shares his music online as you might expect from a hip hop artist. Yet some fans were first introduced to his music in a surprising setting: the language classroom.

He raps in Anishinaabemowin (Ojibwe) as well as English. Teachers have been excited to share his music because it gives learners of Anishinaabemowin an opportunity to hear the language they are learning in a pop culture context. Tall Paul’s music enables teachers and students to enjoy hip hop while learning language inside—and beyond—the classroom.

If you’re curious about how hip hop interacts with language learning, take a look at this word cloud illustrating themes that emerged from my research on music and language learning with teachers of Anishinaabemowin/Ojibwe and French. 

A word cloud on themes from music language learning from Ojibwe and French language teachers.


If you’re even more interested in applying these concepts, check out these two ideas.

  1. Hip hop can help you develop linguistic flow—in a second language.

When you listen to multiple rappers, you get a sense of their rhythmic delivery. Especially on choruses, they repeat phrases produced in their own accents, which can be quite different than one single classroom teacher.

In French, try listening to “Les Mots” by Quebecois rapper Samian, featuring Anodajay, and “Tolerance” by French rapper Princess Aniès. You will hear two different accents and flow styles. Also, each of these songs has a chorus repeated multiple times that’s relatively easy to understand, which can help you learn and retain new words and phrases.

 

After you listen, try writing your own short verse. You can find some good—and relatively slow—sample backbeats here.

  1. Music can help motivate you to keep trying when language learning gets challenging.

Tall Paul found that learning Anishinaabemowin could be a challenge, so he used hip hop as a solution when he was a college student. Since he found hip hop enjoyable, writing music was a good way to keep up his own motivation to keep learning. Listen here:

Even if you don’t write a song as complex as Tall Paul’s, try listening to bilingual or target-language music in your favorite genre. Listening and sharing with other people can give you more inspiration, and it’s something that you can do even outside of class.


About the Author

 

A headshot of Liz Przybylski

Dr. Liz Przybylski  is a popular music scholar who specializes in hip hop practices in the United States and Canada. An Assistant Professor of Ethnomusicology at the University of California, Riverside, she teaches courses on Indigenous music, popular music, ethnographic methods, and gender studies. As a researcher, she has collaborated with hip hop artists and broadcasters in Winnipeg and Chicago. On the radio, Liz hosted the world music show “Continental Drift” on WNUR and conducted interviews for programs including “At The Edge of Canada: Indigenous Research” on CJUM. She worked at the Language Villages for 14 years, leading programming for Les Voyageurs and other French-language programs for youth and adults. Putting these skills to use, she is currently raising her daughter in French.

 

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