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Hamoud, Sari.

"The Humanizing Potential of Using Rap Music in English Language Teaching:

The Hip-hop Method". English Language and Literature - A Tool for Humanising. New

Delhi: Lingaya's University, 2015. 219-223. Print.

Contact Author:

The Humanizing Potential of Using Rap Music in English Language

Teaching: The Hip-hop Method


The question of using pop songs and music to humanize English language teaching has

been debated in different fields of applied linguistics for decades (Engh). Of all the works that

have addressed this issue, none has examined the humanizing potential of using popular music

such as Rap Music in India. This paper addresses this issue with special attention to Krashens

affective filter and within the framework of Gardners theory of Multiple Intelligence. A case study

of an Indian English classroom was conducted to clarify the effects of teaching using hip-hop

techniques on Indian students and illustrate the possibilities of adapting this novel method in India.

The use of music proved to be quite successful in engaging the language learners; moreover, rap

songs have potential to promote learning. Therefore, I argue that the results of this study might

help facilitate the humanization of ELT in India.

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1. Introduction

To humanize, means to make a place or system more pleasant or more suitable for people

("Humanize"). Humanization has been the target of several learner-centred approaches in ELT.

For example, Lozanov introduced Suggestopedia in 1978, in which baroque music is played in

class to help students relax and perform better by lowering their anxiety.

Moreover, songs have always been used to humanize an unfavourable environment. For

instance, songs made it easier to carry out physically demanding tasks such as harvesting; Wilcox

explained that they facilitated labour, since they "add rhythm and pacing to group work efforts

(qtd. in Salcedo 1). Schn et al. argued that the emotional appeal of songs and of music in general,

is the most widely accepted explanation of their function. They also pointed out that songs assist

the process of language acquisition because learning is optimal when the conditions for both the

emotional/arousal and linguistic functions are fulfilled (8). Several methods have utilized songs

to teach language. For example, in the 1960s, Asher developed Total Physical Response method,

which incorporated songs to develop listening fluency that can be demonstrated by observing the

complexity of commands.The students listen to a command in a foreign language and

immediately obey with a physical action (4). Another method that used songs is the Jazz Chants

method popularized by Carolyn Graham in her book Let's Chant, Let's Sing: Songs and Chants.

She explained that the point of the Jazz Chants is the rhythm, which links to the brain and to

memory. We can take advantage of that link whether the words are chanted or sung (8).

However, music is not ubiquitously used in todays classrooms because of certain factors, such

as, financial constraints (Murphey 16), lack of training, absence of musical ability (Segal 10) and

last but not least, the fact that music is considered a form of entertainment, and therefore, not of

high priority (Domoney and Harris 235).

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Although rap music has not been the most popular genre in the United States, it has a strong

controversial status, and the original hit-songs of the 1980s are now considered classic, as they

are popular throughout the US (Sisario). Recently, rap music has been put in use to teach ESL/EFL.

The following section will give a brief review of the literature that has been written about the use

of rap in ELT.

2. Literature Review

Originated in the African American impoverished South Bronx, New York, in the late 1970s,

hip-hop is synonymous with rap music. Hip-hop is actually a comprehensive term for the culture

that is composed of four manifestations: the DJ music, rap, graffiti art, and breakdancing (Chang


Rap is defined as the musical style incorporating rhythmic and/or rhyming speech. (Hip-

hop). Nevertheless, since it originated from poverty-stricken neighbourhoods, where crime is

common, rap music and hip-hop culture have always been associated with the display of negative

emotions, violence, gangsters slang and thug life. Therefore, teachers often avoided the use of hip-

hop because most popular songs contained profanity, or due to the complex nature of the lyrics.

Nevertheless, a few teaching approaches used rap, and not only to teach English, but also to

teach other languages such as Spanish (Salcedo 23). One of the earliest EFL resource books

containing rap songs, specifically written for ELT, was written by Sarah Johnson and Katherine

Stannett under the title Raps! For learning English (2003), published in London by Mary Glasgow


There are several studies that concentrated on the effect of rap on young learners. For instance,

Weinstein conducted a study on the pleasures of rap as a literate practice among adolescents. Ten
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young students that love to write rap songs were examined to understand how imaginative writing,

be it poetry or rap lyrics, served a number of purposes: a venue for identity construction and

experimentation; an outlet for expressing resistance to family, school community, and societal

norms; and a way to vent sexual and emotional frustration, confusion, and desire (270-271). She

also maintained that the active learning strategies of many of the students had improved, and their

sense and knowledge of literary figures, such as rhythm, was outstanding.

Furthermore, Segal used the term Rapping English to refer to the use of rap songs, written

by her, and videos as an aid in ESL curriculum to teach students vocabulary, grammar, discourse

and prosody. One of the aims of the method partially fulfills the Common Core State Standards

objectives for ELLs to have instruction in English foundational skills in order to create access to

grade-level course work (iii). Segal stressed that teachers do not have to be musically talented to

use rap music as tool to teach language.

To the best of my knowledge, no research has focused on the reception of rap music by Indian

ESL students. Consequently, this study pursues to provide answer to the following question: Does

the use of rap music have a potential to humanize ELT in India?

3. The Study

This study is a part of a long research that sheds the light on the evolution of language teaching

with the use of rap songs and social media; it is, therefore, designed as a case study with a limited

scope and a simple design.

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3.1 Background

Jason R. Levine, also known as, Fluency MC, published his book Rhyme-On-Time! )2010)

which contains the songs, lyrics, instrumental music, and lesson plans to his hip-hop teaching style

which he describes as playful, intense, energetic (bordering on hyper), musical, engaging,

collocation-rich, [and] obsessively tailored to meet learners interests (Hofs). Levine developed

his own original rap songs for people of all ages and cultures to learn English, ESL/EFL, social

Studies, Math, and Science (Levine Fluency). His YouTube channel, which features some of

his lessons, music videos, and rap songs with their instrumental versions, has more than 33,500

subscribers and 4,701,772 views. In other words, he is an Internet celebrity. He has been teaching

in schools all around the world after the spectacular popularity of his videos on YouTube.

Levines explains his method by stressing that the best way to build a base of knowledge in

a foreign language is to follow the 3Rs: Relax, Repeat, Remember (Levine "Jason). Relaxation is

the hallmark of Suggestopedia, repetition is basis of Audio-lingual method, but in this case,

activities are not boring dills because enjoyable music and videos are involved, and remembering

is eventually done by repetitious listening to the songs that teach the collocations and culture of

English motivating interaction using Communicative Language Learning. That is, Levines

approach is not a revolution in ELT, but a natural evolution. In this study, one of his lessons was

used to examine the potential of using rap to teach English in India.

3.2 Participants

The participants of this study were 4 females and 12 males aged from 17 to 40. The mean

average of their ages is 28. The participants were randomly chosen from the Linguistic

Empowerment Cell, which offers remedial English classes to Jawaharlal Nehru University
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Students. Participants belonged to different parts of India and three of them were foreigners. Ten

of them were postgraduate students.

3.3 Instruments

In order to address the question of this study, Krashens affective filter variables (31) were

examined before and after the lesson using two questionnaires. In the pre-class questionnaire,

questions 1-9 were filtering questions. Questions 10-16 examined attitude, anxiety, self-esteem,

and linguistic aptitude respectively. Furthermore, participants reaction to the hip-hop method was

measured in the post-class questionnaire (see appendices II and III).

The song that was chosen for the lesson was Levines StickStuckStuck English ESL Irregular

Verb Grammar Rap Song. It is arguably the most famous song he has. Three videos were used in

the lesson. The first features Levine rapping the song in one of his classes using the whiteboard

with the verbs written on it. The second video features Levine alone in his library lip-singing along

the song with body movements that express the irregular verbs. The last video includes

instrumental music with the lyrics and the verbs with their past and past participle forms shown

on the screen with different colours. In the third video, Levine does not sing all the lyrics. He only

sings the beginning of each line that includes the infinitive form and the students have to shout

out the past and past participle. The lyrics of the song are in appendix I.

3.4 Procedure:

In order to introduce the concept of irregular verbs, the 50-minute lesson started with a

simple and beginner-level gap filling activity that was accompanied by relaxing music, "Until the

Last Moment" by Yanni Voices. The students were informed that it was a form of yoga, and that
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the objective is to stretch muscles of the brain. Gap-fill exercises were chosen because they are

the simplest to construct and probably the most commonly used song-based tasks (Kanel 222).

The activity lasted for 10 minutes and after it was completed, the first questionnaire was

distributed. Then, the first video was played while students enjoyed watching it without taking

notes. After that, I asked them about the meaning and use of irregular verbs in English that is not

new to them. Next, the lyrics of the song were given to them, and they read them while the song

was being played without the video; they were asked to underline any new words. After that, new

vocabulary was explained with the focus on the verbs. Next, the second video was played, and the

students were asked to pay attention to Levines body language and rhythm of the song. The final

stage was to play the shout out video for the students, and they were asked to sing along the beat.

This activity was repeated twice with the teacher participating to motivate the students to speak.

Speaking and listening skills, along with vocabulary and pronunciation development were the

targets of this lesson. After the lesson was finished, the second questionnaire was distributed. It

should be mentioned here that Levines lessons usually include more linked activities and follow-

up activities that embed the new information.

3.4 Results

Data Analysis was done using IBM SPSS Statistics Version 20 software. After data entry,

Frequency Descriptive Statistics were executed producing the following results:

The gap filling exercise targeted the first seven irregular verbs in the song. The exercise proved

that students did not know all the irregular verbs of English, even the frequent ones, such as

sleep, only 56.3% wrote its past and participle forms correctly. Eventually, only two students
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got a perfect score. The results of the test indicate that students needed the information that was

given in the hip-hop videos.

In the first questionnaire, all participants indicated that they love music, but only 62.5% loved

US music, and 50% of participants knew what rap is.

Moreover, answers that illustrate attitude, anxiety and self-esteem varied: 75% of participants

had positive attitude towards English language, and 93% of them had positive attitude towards

studying English. In other words, participants were highly motivated. However, 31.4 % did not

think that they could master the English language. Moreover, 31.2% had negative attitude towards

speaking and suffered from class anxiety. Most of the participants, 87.6%, claimed they had high

self-esteem, and only one participant acknowledged low linguistic aptitude.

In the post-class questionnaire, all participants agreed that using rap in English class made it

easier and more interesting. Responses regarding the potential of using rap in the class were as

follows: 75% affirmed that teaching rap songs will help them master the English language, 12.5%

had no opinion to express and the rest disagreed. However, 87.6 % felt that rap facilitated the

learning of new vocabulary. Furthermore, 87.5% said that hip-hop method activities were easy to

follow, and 93.8% mentioned that they wanted to download English teaching rap songs on their

electronic devices. Moreover, 81.3% agreed that hip-hop method will help them improve their

speaking ability, yet 18.7 % had no opinion regarding that matter. Additionally, 68.7% of

participants wanted the teacher to use rap in the next classes.

The last part of the second questionnaire examined the students emotions during different

parts of the class. It seems that the majority of students loved the new teaching method and had

positive feelings regarding the hip-hop teaching method (see table 1).
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Table 1

Feelings of participants during different stages of the lesson

Feeling While watching rap videos listening to rap singing with music

Great 43.8 68.8 62.5

Happy 50.0 31.3 37.5

Neutral 6.3 0 0

Bored 0 0 0

Very Bored 0 0 0

The last item in the post-class questionnaire was an open-ended question asking the students

to add any comments regarding the lesson. 5 participants did not answer the question, and 11 gave

positive comments regarding the method and the use of rap music.

4. Discussion and Conclusion

The hip-hop method was appealing to the participants of this study, which can be explained by

considering two factors. The first one is the effect that music has on students psychology, and the

second is the effect of procedures of the method on the brain.

Krashen mentions three main affective variables that impede or facilitate the delivery of input

to the LAD: motivation, self-confidence and anxiety (31). In fact, music has a phenomenal power

to create a situation in which students affective filters are lowered significantly (Engh 117).

Moreover, music lowers class anxiety; it is common knowledge that the universality of music

removes social barriers and bridges cultural differences.

The pattern and procedures of Levines method also played a major role in the positive

response that the students displayed. Levine explains that we do not learn in alphabetical order
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through lists.Our brain wants patternsrecognizing them through visual and sound patterns

("Jason Levine Mextesol). Levines engaging activities provided multiple exposures to target

language. Thomas Garza, university distinguished teaching associate professor and director at

Texas Language Centre, comments on this issue:

Songs often contain the elements of repetition, rhyme, and rhythm that facilitate

quick memorization and easy imitation. It is no wonder, then, that in song a foreign

accent pronunciation is much more easily masked or eliminated than in normal

conversational speech. (Garza)

Moreover, music activates the two halves of the brain, which increases learning ability by engaging

the right and left hemispheres simultaneously making the brain more receptive to input (Schn et

al. 8). As a result, more than one intelligence is activated during class making input more appealing

to students. Gardner calls the approach that focuses on logical or linguistic intelligences to teach

most subject content fundamentally unfair. It privileges those who have strong linguistic and

logicalmathematical intelligences (p. 56).

In conclusion, the hip-hop method is not an alternative method that replaces older ones.

Instead, it is an approach that capitalizes on the previous work in ELT. This paper has highlighted

the potential of using rap in an Indian ESL class. The results show that, within the financial and

time constraints, hip-hop can be used to humanize ELT in India. In addition to making the

classroom a pleasant place, the role of the teacher is redefined to become the facilitator or the co-

learner who does not have to be musically talented. The teacher task is to help the students learn

by organizing the social experience. It should be mentioned, however, that this method requires

some technological devices, such as a laptop, which might not be readily available in all Indian

classrooms. Nevertheless, this problem can be solved. Teachers can use a cheap and simple sound
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amplifier and connect it to an MP3 player or a mobile phone that has the rap songs. Then, students

can read the lyrics from handouts or on a blackboard instead of a laptop screen.
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Works Cited

Asher, James J. "The Total Physical Response Approach to Second Language Learning." The Modern Language

Journal 53.1 (1969): 3-17. Print.

Chang, Jeff. Can't Stop, Won't Stop: A History of the Hip-hop Generation. New York: St. Martin's, 2005. Print.

Domoney, Liz, and Simon Harris. "Justified and Ancient: Pop Music in EFL Classrooms." ELT Journal 47.3 (1993):

234-41. Print.

Engh, Dwayne. "Why Use Music in English Language Learning? A Survey of the Literature." English Language

Teaching 6.2 (2012): n. pag. Web. 13 Dec. 2014. <>.

Gardner, Howard. Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences. 1983. New York: Basic, 2006. Print.

Graham, Carolyn. Let's Chant, Let's Sing: Songs and Chants. New York: Oxford UP, 1994. Print.

Garza, Thomas J. "Beyond MTV: Music Videos as Foreign Language Text." The Journal of the Imagination in

Foreign Language Learning and Teaching II (1994). Web. 4 Nov. 2014.


"Hip-hop." Encyclopdia Britannica. Encyclopdia Britannica Ultimate Reference Suite. Chicago: Encyclopdia

Britannica, 2011.

Hofs, Martin. "ESL Teacher Interviews: Jason R Levine." Kaplan International Blog. Kaplan International English

Blog. Web. 6 Dec. 2014. <>.

"Humanize" Def. 1. Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English Online, Longman, n.d. Web. 01 Dec. 2014.


"Jason Levine - Mextesol Selected Interviews." YouTube. YouTube, LLC, 21 May 2014. Web. 5 Dec. 2014.


Kanel, Kim. "Teaching with Music: A Comparison of Conventional Listening Exercises with Pop Song Gap-fill

Exercises." JALT Journal 19.2 (1997): 217-34. Print.

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Krashen, Steven. Principles and Practices in Second Language Acquisition. N.p.: n.p., n.d. Stephen

Krashen. Web. 10 Nov. 2014. <>.

Levine, Jason. "Fluency MC." Web. 6 Dec. 2014. <>.

Levine, Jason. "Jason R. Levine." Wiziq. WizIQ Inc. Web. 2 Jan. 2015. <>.

Salcedo, Claudia Smith. The Effects of Songs in the Foreign Language Classroom on Text Recall and Involuntary

Mental Rehearsal. PhD dissertation, Louisiana State University, 2002.

Schn, Daniele, Maud Boyer, Sylvain Moreno, Mireille Besson, Isabelle Peretz, and Rgine Kolinsky. "Songs As An

Aid For Language Acquisition." Cognition 106 (2007): 975-83. Web. 12 Dec. 2014.


Segal, Beth. Teaching English as a Second Language through Rap Music: A Curriculum for Secondary School

Students. Thesis. University of San Francisco, 2014. N.p.: n.p., n.d. USF Scholarship Repository. Web. 10

Dec. 2014. <>.

Sisario, Ben. "Classic Hip-Hop Is Spreading on the Radio Dial." The New York Times 15 Dec. 2014. Web. 19 Dec.



Weinstein, Susan. "A Love for the Thing: The Pleasures of Rap as a Literate Practice." Journal of Adolescent & Adult

Literacy 50.4 (2006): 270-81. JSTOR. Web. 10 Dec. 2014. <>.

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Appendix I

Relax, Repeat, Remember

The microphone I
take (took, taken). You shake (shook, shaken). Take shake
Wake (woke, woken) to the style I'm creating. Wake
Think (thought, thought). Seek (sought, sought). Think seek
Listen to the lesson that I teach (taught, taught). Teach

Don't sleep (slept, slept). I creep (crept, crept). Sleep creep

I sneak (snuck, snuck) up. You leap (leapt, leapt). Sneak leap
I keep (kept, kept) having fun. Keep
I'm never beat (beat, beaten) ; I win (won, won). Beat win
Do (did, done). Begin (began, begun). Do begin
Shoot (shot, shot)no, I don't own a gun. Shoot
I lead (led, led) so I can feed (fed, fed). Lead feed
The knowledge you need, straight to your head.
When I bring (brought, brought) it, bring
you catch (caught, caught) it. Catch
Sit back and relax. Don't fight (fought, fought) it. Fight

Please don't

freeze (froze, frozen) when I speak (spoke, spoken). Freeze speak

It's real. You can feel I don't steal (stole, stolen). Steal
I choose (chose, chosen) the very best rhymes and Choose
write (wrote, written) them into my lines and Write
into your mind. When we meet (met, met) Meet
I'll bet (bet, bet) I won't let you forget Bet forget
(forgot, forgotten). I get (got, gotten) Get
every head nodding. Don't think about stopping
just come (came, come). Come
This is Hip-hop. I don't sing (sang, sung). Sing
I sting (stung, stung). I cling (clung, clung). Sting cling
On each and every word, you hang (hung, hung). Hang
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It's not enough to

dream (dreamt, dreamt); you've got to spend (spent, spent) Dream spend
time on your goals. Please lend (lent, lent) me your Lend
ear. Come near and I'll lay (laid, laid) Lay
Down this new sound that I make (made, made). Make
I hope you don't say that you think it's junk. Junk
I hope you don't think that I stink (stank, stunk). Stink
If you're thirsty for English, come drink (drank, drunk). Drink
Because I sink (sank, sunk) all competition when they Sink
hear (heard, heard) that I give (gave, given) Hear give
encouragement when I spit (spat, spat). Spit
Never quit (quit, quit); don't sit (sat, sat). Quit sit
Yeah, I like it like that. I'll even kneel (knelt, knelt). Kneel
And beg you to express what you feel (felt, felt). Feel

I rise (rose, risen) when I drive (drove, driven) through Rise drive
the beat; tap your feet as you ride (rode, ridden). Ride
Those that hide (hid, hidden) I find (found, found). Hide find
If you flee (fled, fled) then I'll track you down. Flee

Now you see (saw, seen) that I mean (meant, meant) See mean
Every word of the message that I send (sent, sent). Send
I show (showed, shown) I can fly (flew, flown). Show
Now you know (knew, known) I shine (shone, shone). Know shine
I'll throw (threw, thrown) you the ball. It's your turn. Throw
Grow (grew, grown) with the verbs that you've learned. Grow
Grammar through lyrics I draw (drew, drawn). Draw
Peace to ELLs, now I go (went, gone)! Go
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Appendix II

Pre-class Questionnaire

Dear student,

My name is Sari Hamoud. I am an MA linguistics student at the School of Language, Literature &
Culture, JNU. The main aim of this questionnaire is to collect data about your opinion concerning
the teaching of English using American hip-hop songs. In this research, your contribution is very
significant and will certainly improve the process of teaching English at JNU. Please, answer the
following items carefully and honestly. All the information you give will be kept confidential and
will only be used for scientific purposes.

1. Name: .
2. Sex: Male Female
3. Age:
4. Nationality:
5. Mother tongue (the language you speak at home):
6. Field of study..

7. Do you like music in general? Yes........ No...

8. Do you like American music? Yes........ No...
9. Have you ever heard American Hip-hop songs? Yes........ No...

Check () the option that reflects your opinion DISAGREE

10. English is difficult.

11. I feel really bored when I am studying English.

12. It is impossible to master the English language.

13. Students who speak English are just showing

off their knowledge.
14. I feel embarrassed when I speak English in
15. I do not like to speak because others will laugh
at my English.
16. It is difficult to learn new English words.

End of Questionnaire 1. Thank You Very Much

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Appendix III
Post-Class Questionnaire

Check () the option that reflects your opinion STRONGLY


1. Studying English with Rap Music is Easy.

2. Studying English with Rap Music is interesting.
3. Studying English using Rap Music makes it easier to
master the language.
4. Studying English using Rap Music makes it easier to
learn new words.
5. The lesson activities were easy to understand.
6. The lesson activities were interesting.
7. Studying English using Rap will make me able to
speak better.
8. I want to download these Rap songs on my phone/
9. I want the teacher to use Rap in the next classes.

Express your feelings by selecting () a smiley Really Bored Bored Neutral Happy Great Other
face: :-|

10. My feeling when I watched the Rap video

11. My feeling when I listened to Rap Music
12. My feeling when I sang Rap


End of Questionnaire 2

Thank you very much