Fluency MC Interview (Part II): How to Use Rap Music to Learn English

This is second part of our interview with all-star teacher/ rapper, Fluency MC. In the first part (Rap Music That Teaches English), we introduced the different aspects of his international music project, his passion for teaching, and we let him tell us about his story with music and how he synthesized it with teaching.

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Today we will discuss with Fluency M.C. (also known as Jase Levine) everything from his background, inspiration and teaching credentials, to his music and methodology. We’ll also discuss the power of social media to help people learn, and the world tour he’s currently on in order to perform, teach, and conduct teaching workshops.

He’s been all the way from the U.S.A. to the Middle East, Africa, and now he shares enthusiasm about the possibility of a future tour to Brazil. Maybe we can help spread the word and get him down here!

If you haven’t had a chance to connect with Fluency MC and his project, you can find him here:

Without further ado, here is Fluency MC!

How did you end up teaching English as a Second Language, and then what inspired you to integrate your passion for music into your teaching?

After graduating from Vassar College in 1992, I did a brief stint in the music business; I then enrolled in a PhdDprogram in psychology at Temple University. I left there to go back into the music biz before doing the CELTA and landing in an MA program in TESOL at Hunter College.

My research and teaching interests in psychology addressed issues in applied linguistics and language development. As an MA student and ESL instructor, I developed a passion for materials development and second language acquisition theory. I loved working with folks from all types of cultural backgrounds, in particular international students with dreams of going to college or grad school in the States.

I ended up quitting the PhD program because I wanted to do something more practical, something outside of academia. I’d been a drummer and dj for years so I tried the music business for a bit; but I knew I was a teacher at heart. I just wasn’t sure where I fit in.

I fell in love with ESL the first time I taught a class. It was with a group of immigrants from Central America, factory workers living in Brooklyn, New York.

As for how I began using music in my teaching, the idea evolved gradually. I was a hip hop DJ and English teacher for years before I combined my skills to create Fluency MC. I’d always used music in the classroom but never my own. I think the main reason why it took me so long to start writing rhymes is that I never imagined myself as an MC (rapper); I was just a DJ and a fan of rap music. But as I was already creating so many ESL/EFL materials, I decided to make them into songs called ColloTunes.

Can you explain COLLOTUNES, the importance of COLLOCATION, and why English teachers and learners should use them?

ColloTunes are the songs and videos I make for teaching and learning various subjects and ESL-EFL in particular. I think the best way for teachers to use them is with the materials I provide in my activity book “Rhyme-On-Time!” or by creating their own materials based on their learners needs and interests.

ColloLearn is my teaching approach, the name for my materials, and the name of my company. The approach is grounded in the concept of collocation (what I call Collo, for short). Collocations are high-frequency word “chunks” (e.g., go online, make coffee, in a good mood). ColloTunes are full of collos. ColloCards (coming soon) are card decks full of Collos.

Collocations are so important because they are the essential building blocks of language learning. We learn our first language this way: when my five year-old daughter learns the collo “do homework” she doesn’t consider the meaning of ‘do’ nor the fact that this verb is followed by a direct object in the active voice. She learns it by hearing it over and over again. She might say “make homework” until she hears “do homework” enough times.

 Tell us a little about the 3 Rs (RELAX, REPEAT and REMEMBER), and why they are they so important for learning?

First and second language learning are actually quite similar processes; the big differences typically are:

(1) the amount of input a learner receives

(2) how comfortable/motivated a learner is with the language.

Under normal circumstances, children get a lot of input in their L1 and do this in a relaxed and motivated state, where they are not concerned with making mistakes and find language learning natural and fun.

When we hear a commercial on TV or a song we like over and over, the words stick in our heads; we remember the content naturally as opposed to memorizing it consciously. Memorizing is not as useful because it’s stressful and usually results in our forgetting whatever we memorized months, weeks, or even days later. Songs easily stay in our heads for a lifetime!

What kind of feedback have you gotten from learners who really become fans of your work? How does it impact their English and their lives?

The feedback I get most frequently from fans who are learners is that my materials make English fun for them and that they can easily remember new vocabulary and structures this way. I have some die-hard fans who are on the Fluency page every day, communicating with me and other teachers and learners. I’ve seen their proficiency skyrocket!

I’m fortunate to have a large following of teacher fans. They often tell me that what I do motivates them to teach and inspires them to come up with activities to do with my materials or to create their own materials. This sort of feedback, naturally, is incredible inspiring for me and really keeps me going.

You’ve been making quite an impact in the social media, with a YOUTUBE channel that has OVER A MILLION VIEWS, and a huge presence on FACEBOOK. How did this idea explode so quickly, and how do you see it evolving over time?

It surely doesn’t seem to me like it exploded quickly! For the first year I really struggled not to interest students and teachers in my stuff, but to reach large numbers of them. What made it happen on YouTube was the Main video for “StickStuckStuck”. What made it happen on Facebook was strategically posting content from YouTube and from lessons I was doing as a teacher and trainer and, most importantly, taking time to nurture a community of teachers and learners on the Fluency Page.

In the short term, I see the Fluency Family growing and getting more and more active in social media; over time, I imagine myself delivering video-based MOOCs, a mix of synchronous and asynchronous, for hundreds or even thousands of learners at a time.

[media url=”http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4Wt5N1BCsL4&list=PLA0BD7F759472E81E&index=3&feature=plcp” width=”600″ height=”400″]

How can the power of social media and charismatic “ESLelebrities” such as yourself change the way English is taught and learned all around the world?

MOOCs will have a enormous impact on how people learn foreign languages. Any learner with an internet connection and $1 or $2 to spend on a class will be able to learn from the best, most charismatic teachers in the world while communicating-and learning from-the brightest and most motivated students in the world. We are on the brink of something very, very exciting. Let the ESLebration begin!

What would you recommend to somebody who loves English, but doesn’t have the money to learn it in a school?

For now, avail yourself of all of the awesome free stuff out there on the Internet. Google and YouTube searches still primarily turn up the most popular ESL/EFL materials/teachers; if you put “TOEFL speaking” into a YouTube search, for example, you can be reasonably confident that what comes up, the most watched videos, are made by the best folks. Also, of course, follow Collo and Real Life English–partners in promoting FLUENCY!

Tell us a bit about your RHYME ON TIME activity book, from COLLOANDSPARK.COM and how it’s helped teachers and learners apply your vision to the classroom.

Rhyme-On-Time is my first book + songs package for the English learning classroom. It’s a PDF book (115 pages) with song lyrics, activities, worksheets, and exercises for 14 ColloTunes (plus instrumental versions) that come as mp3 downloads. The book is re-printable and photocopiable so schools and teachers can use it as much as they want to!

Teachers who have used the materials in the book have sent me very positive feedback. Many have also reported the book has helped guide them and give them confidence in using my songs in the classroom.

Can you tell us a little about your role in the Facebook group, H2E- HOW TO IMPROVE YOUR ENGLISH, one of the most popular and successful online English Learning Communities in the world?

H2E, as we call it now, is one of the big FB Eng learning groups to emerge out of the Arab Spring. I joined it a year or so ago, along with many others, chiefly to promote my videos and FB page. A few months back, I noticed that students were very active there but there was no teacher holding it all together. I noticed that someone made me an Admin so I just stepped up. It’s an amazing group. I encourage all to join us!

I understand you’ve DONE SOME TOURING to perform your work and conduct workshops. Where have you been, and what are some of the highlights?

In 2011 I went to Morocco and this past April I was in Tunisia. The highlights were being with warm and energetic groups of students and teachers wherever I went (and I was in a new town or city practically every day!)

WORD ON THE STREET (or the internet) is that you’re preparing for another WORLD TOUR. What are your plans for that, and what are you most looking forward to?

I’m doing a series of three programs in the Middle East and North Africa. Right now I’m on Day 4 of 40! I’m in Bahrain until Oct 19 when I go to Oman for a week. From there it’s off to Israel, Palestine, Jordan, and then Morocco.

Can you give us an overview of your TEACHING WORKSHOPS? What have been the most enriching things about these?

I’m always with new groups of teachers, most of which have little or no familiarity with my materials; so I focus on introducing them to the theory and practice behind them before demonstrating them and getting them involved. The most enriching thing: how quickly they take to my materials and how much fun we have together in our sessions.

And finally, given the fact that Real Life English is based in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, could you ever imagine yourself visiting/ touring these parts of the world? 

When I began teaching English in NYC, my students were predominantly Brazilian. I’ve wanted to go to there-and I mean BADLY wanted to go there-for fourteen years! I’ve heard through the grapevine that several RELOS (Regional English Language Officers at U.S. Embassies) in South America are interested in bringing me down there. I sure hope one of them in the RELO in Brasilia! Fingers tightly crossed!

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  • Laia Papaia says:

    Have a look