Popular Culture and English Language Teaching: A Bridge and Not a Barrier in the Second Language Classroom

Popular Culture and English Language Teaching: A Bridge and Not a Barrier in the Second Language Classroom

Georgette M. Delevante (University of the West Indies Mona Campus, Jamaica)
Copyright: © 2019 |Pages: 19
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-9228-0.ch012
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Traditionally, the application of methods pedagogy has been limited and ineffective in capturing the imagination of today's students. Students have echoed, especially in a globalized and technologically-driven world that traditional content based on existing curriculum is irrelevant and inapplicable to their lived experiences. As a result, the paradigm shift offered by post-methods pedagogy is one which empowered teacher autonomy and provides a meaningful context in which popular culture represents a bridge rather than a barrier between the student's world, of which popular culture plays an important part, and the English language classroom. By creating synergies thematically and historically with popular music, film, and social media, a bridge to providing a fresh perspective to traditional content is explored.
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The first language landscape has emerged through its many evolutionary phases as a rich expression of cultural diversity. Globally culture and its many forms of manifestation represent the blueprint upon which unique people have framed their identity. It is this historical backdrop that gives credence to the expression of cultural identity as a ‘melting pot’. Students within the primary demographic being discussed of the United States (US) and the Caribbean are both culturally diverse and classrooms have students of various backgrounds. It represents the reformulation of the original imprints of a people seeking individuality and the creation of a unique cultural identity through interaction with everyday life and language. We may view the rise of popular culture within this broad framework.

Traditionally, students within the cultural ‘melting pot’ adopted readily to expressions that represent what is popular as it relates to music, dance, film, language and other cultural forms of expression. Students want to engage with current internet-generated content, modern music and speak the latest ‘slang’ from their environment. As a result, the unique language form of creole created by the people emerged. This is the first language of these students. Gained organically from the home environment, they embraced this indigenous native language as the first communicative language tool. Invariably, it is the native or natural cultural expression that forms a part of the popular cultural movement.

Juxtaposing the traditional with the modern manifestation of the first language context, globalisation and technological advancement has increased the speed and ease of communication which internet technology has facilitated. Therefore, students have become experts of sorts in social media communication, video sharing, instant messaging and other emerging technologies. These innovations facilitate the spread of modern culture and shifts in the language matching the 'trends' among teenagers globally. The saturation of these students in this modern culture has caused students to have feelings of alienation from the target English Language or second language acquisition because many students embrace their first language from birth until school attendance. It is expected by school administrators that students must learn the second language and discard the first one. This is very difficult to achieve without more. As a result, teachers have found it difficult to surpass what they deem to be a barrier to second language competencies. It is this traditional perspective that will be challenged to show that the modern or popular culture should not be alienated from the English Language classroom. Conscious efforts must be made towards integration to provide a bridge between students and effective second language acquisition strategies.

In many regions of the world, the first language of students is an English Language vernacular or a different language form. It evolved from a deliberate attempt by its people towards a separate and unique identity. Within previous colonial states, evidence suggests that it was this thrust for a unique identity that forced the immersion in the breakaway culture which represents the operation of the people to exclude the dominant or second language which they view as the language of the oppressor. In the modern classroom also, students view standard English as the language of ‘the system’ and not of their everyday lives. Irrespective of the reasons, a teacher must use all aspects of the student’s lived everyday experiences to transition them into the school-based content without attempting to alienate them from their life experiences. Students will invariably take into the classroom discussions about the latest social media trends and any attempt to ignore this is futile.

Within the Caribbean, this thrust has birth Caribbean culture. This is not always the case, however. There are other contexts in which the individual is attempting to speak a more internationally accepted language. English becomes the primary language or lingua franca that is the currency to unlock international doors of commerce and trade. Within this context also, the teacher must build a meaningful bridge to foster a transition and scaffolded learning from the language of the people to the target or second language competencies. As explored later in the chapter, students feel valued when their experiences are acknowledged and included by teachers in the classroom. The World is becoming more integrated, why not our classrooms? Embracing a more constructivist student-focused approach by integrating popular culture can enhance critical thinking and advance second language competencies.

Key Terms in this Chapter

High Culture: Possessed by persons of the upper social classes who embrace the fine arts, canonical literature, and opera to the exclusion of low or popular culture.

Mobile Learning: The use of mobile devices in the teaching and learning process.

Popular Culture: Consumed by the masses and includes popular movies, music, television shows, social media, and lifestyle.

Post-Methods Pedagogy: Classroom practices and strategies which extend beyond methods pedagogy and include student-centred approaches to teaching and learning.

Culture: A particular way of life, whether of a people, a period, or a group. It includes the works and practices of intellectual and especially artistic activity.

Low Culture: Possessed by the masses who favour mass media instead of the characteristic valued by the social elite.

Methods Pedagogy: A fixed set of classroom practices that serve as a prescription in the Language classroom and does not allow variation.

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