I know some of you may remember this popular Joan Jett’s hit. Some others may not know it and probably only half of those will look it up.
On the other hand, many of you may share this feeling about rock music and many others will totally disagree because you prefer other genres, less prone to virtuosity and leaning more to the fun of dancing and/or simple lyrics. No offense! But you can’t deny that some pop music lyrics are a bit on the silly side.
In any case, good old rock ’n’ roll and many of its variants seem to be decreasing in popularity in certain areas and among certain groups of people. But before you rush to either praise me or crucify me, let me tell you one thing:
Rock music can play a relevant role when it comes to learning English as a second language.
I am sure the same could be said of other genres. But generally speaking, rock music lyrics are often harder to understand than those of other genres, so listening skills develop differently…. It’s a stretch, I know. Just looking for excuses here.
Some rock songs also have a deeper meaning than their non-rock counterparts, so you are learning something more valuable than just phrases like “I miss you, I love you, forever and ever” and the like. And some even have a certain poetic level that can be more challenging when you are learning a foreign language. This applies to other styles too, such as folk, traditional Irish music and even some old country classics.
But back to rock ‘n’ roll…
If, like me, you found yourselves in an ideologically repressive environment, then rock music would also give you a sense of freedom that few things are capable of. Sometimes I wonder if Levi’s “I was saved by rock ‘n’ roll” clothing line was inspired by the feelings of generations of young people behind the iron curtain. But this blog is not about politics, so let’s put that aside and return to language which, after all, is what this post is all about.
Regardless of the genre, anyone who has ever learned a foreign language can relate to the satisfaction that emerges when you realize you are understanding a song, a movie, a sign, a video game or anything else originally created in that language for the native speakers of that language.
For me, that happened early in life and it soon became a passion to try to get the lyrics, copy them from album covers, look up words in dictionaries, memorize them, etc. Too bad Google did not exist at the time! But the only Internet my generation used to have was called “encyclopedias” and rock and roll lyrics are usually excluded from their pages.
So, as a teenager, listening to and learning the lyrics of songs almost became a hobby. Then, some translation skills started to be developed too as some friends asked what such and such meant or whether it was true that such song was about this or that subject.
All in all, among the favorite lyrics of the time were numerous tunes by Bob Dylan, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Police and a few others who wrote decent words for their songs. There were also many others who were less gifted in the poetic sense but whose music was captivating enough to catch an avid listener’s attention.
And it’s rewarding to say that I was not the only one. Many in my generation were doing the same. Later on, in college, everyone who was in the English translation/interpretation or pedagogical courses spent a good portion of the week using lyrics to boost their language skills.
So, to all rockers from the US, the UK and Australia (because AC/DC can’t be excluded, ha!)… Thank you very much for your unintentional contribution to the quality of English teachers, professors, translators and interpreters in Cuba and the rest of the non-English-speaking world.