Mind your (pop) listening: thoughts on listening material

They are back…together! New Kids On The Block meet Back Street Boys! Since 2011 the two iconic boy bands – now NKOTBSB – have been sharing the same stage – how exciting is that?!

If you are in your mid-thirties/forties you remember well the phenomena NKOTB and BSB; and if you’re a woman you might have dreamt about one of those guys. And they didn’t have to strip off or behave provocatively on the screen. They were just so cool.

Take NKOTB, for instance. They were part of a generation in which pop was not yet contaminated with such large doses of obscene language, sex appeal and sensuality that the music industry throws at us today.

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Isn’t it great to look back and laugh at yourself being a silly billy and associating songs only with the possibility of being famous one day, or just performing in front of the mirror when you were on your own?

Learning from experience

It’s amazing the massive role that pop music played (and still plays) in my English learning. When I was in my teens it was magical not only to be able to string one or two sentences together, but also to grasp what the songs were all about. Most of them were clean and pleasant (and silly!).

But little by little (or Step by Step ooh baby) we learn – or we should – how selective we have to become in order not to allow any material to be ‘source’ of learning. We have plenty of good choices from which to learn. There’s no need to waste time with songs and video clips with little spoken/sung English and full of images that add absolutely nothing to intellect and leave very little to imagination.

Not a matter of learning?

You might think I’m being too prudish. Isn’t it true that we learn lots of slang and idioms through songs? Isn’t it true that it’s a great way to bring together pleasure and learning? Isn’t that what we should do in order to make learning more interesting and appealing?

Yes… for all other non-rubbish listening material available. Fortunately, there are quality options. Look at Adele – what a voice and what a songwriter! Other pop options such as Olly Murs bring me some hope too (I love his style and how brilliantly he mixes old and new!). If you are into other genres you might enjoy the likes of Michael Bublé (pop/jazz), Rascal Flatts (country)…I’m sure you will also come up with other good examples too. Especially the guys that might be thinking this article is too romantic. By the way, what about singing along with Olly?

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Selecting and recycling

We have to separate the wheat from the chaff. The music industry might dictate and control their contents, but we don’t need to buy them all. On the contrary, we do well to choose and save. Internet has compiled such a great deal of resources that saves us an awful lot of money, and the efforts to get what we want are minimal. We can decide to learn virtually anything and have it halfway done at our finger tips.

Let’s listen to good stuff and consider the oldies. When the world lacks creativity it always goes back in time in search of good stuff. Something good that has always been there. In this case, the good don’t die young.

See you next time.


Erica De Monaco Lowry

Erica De Monaco Lowry has been living in Ireland since 2008. She is a teacher, an interpreter, a translator, a tour guide and an insatiable learner. Her favorite pastimes include reading, travelling, socialising and catching up with her family.

Mostrar 29 comentários

  • 07/05/12  
    Espresso English diz: 1

    Great article! I love Adele’s music and have used it in several of my classes.

    Although I agree that studying lyrics can be good for learning slang/idioms, one potential problem is that not all the slang or expressions found in song lyrics are commonly used in daily life. Instead, they are included in the song because they are poetic.

    As an example from Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep,” phrases like “crystal clear,” “reap what you sow,” and talking about someone being “played” are things you’ll hear in regular conversation. But “rolling in the deep” just isn’t an expression that people generally say. So in my classes, I try to make sure students understand what is and isn’t common usage.

    (of course, another problem is that common usage changes over the years, but that’s another story!)

    • 08/05/12  
      Erica diz:

      That’s true. We have to make clear to students that each singer will choose a different approach and way to convey their ideas and messages. I love the fact that we can teach more than only ordinary and common expressions. Because of something called ‘poetic licence’ (also known as dramatic licence, historical licence, poetic licence, narrative licence, licentia poetica, or simply licence) it’s always good to remind the listeners that the artists do different things with the language. The beauty of the language… ;-)

  • 07/05/12  
    Danilo diz: 2

    Erica, I loved your post. It reminded me the good old days. When NKOTB came out, I was just a kid and I liked to listen to them.
    I liked your point of view about learning through songs, and I couldn’t agree with you more. I use to listen to U2, Pearl Jam, Nirvana, Metallica, REM, and so on.
    I hope I can read more post from you. Cya!

    • 08/05/12  
      Erica diz:

      Thanks Danilo. Listening to songs is a fascinating way to add fun to learning. See you. ;-)

  • 07/05/12  
    Carlos diz: 3

    Hi, It´s such a good article. I enjoyed reading it today in my e-mail. I hope that you send more short texts like this one. Bye bye.

    • 08/05/12  
      Erica diz:

      Hi Carlos. Thanks a mil. I hope to be more around as well. ;-)

  • 07/05/12  
    Flavia Magalhaes diz: 4

    Alessandro, quando tento assistir o vídeo está aparecendo “O vídeo não foi disponibilizado em seu país pelo usuário que fez o upload” Mais alguém reclamou disso?

    • 07/05/12  
      Alessandro diz:

      Oi Flávia,

      Você é a primeira pessoa a comentar isso. Eu consigo assistir aqui normalmente.


  • 07/05/12  

    nowadays the music scenery appeal to sex .
    the industry of beer and cigarette use theirs
    power to influence and sold their products.
    the sillybilly of past was beutifully.

    • 08/05/12  
      Erica diz:

      So true, Rogerio. The good old days. Isn’t that great to have such memories? ;-)

  • 07/05/12  
    Stan diz: 6

    I LOVED IT!!!!!

    • 09/05/12  
      Erica diz:

      Thank you Stan. I’m happy that you enjoyed the reading. :-)

  • 07/05/12  
    silvano e josi diz: 7

    Hi, We would like to thank you for the good article, my wife and I love to listen musics.

    • 09/05/12  
      Erica diz:

      I’m happy to know that Silvano & Josi. Music is a balm for the soul.

  • 08/05/12  
    Mirna Paixao diz: 8

    Hi, Erica…
    I loved your post today. By the way,minutes before I read it… I was talking about the subject with some friends.
    Backstreet Boys was the reason why I started to learn english, I really wanted to understand their lyrics, I still like them
    I also like Micheal Bublé, Colbie Caillat…
    I guess it’s easier to learn when you enjoy what you are doing, as listening to music.
    Thank’s for the post!!!

    • 09/05/12  
      Erica diz:

      Hi Mirna. It’s amazing how much these guys had to do with our interest in studying English and getting to know more. Thanks for reading it. :-)

  • 09/05/12  
    Leonardo diz: 9

    Olá Erica, parabéns pelo excelente texto, concordo plenamente com você! Acho que se não fosse pela música eu jamais saberia inglês hoje, pra mim é a melhor e mais divertida maneira de aprender. Uma banda que sempre recomendo por suas letras é o NOFX (pra quem gosta de punk rock/ska principalmente), o vocabulário deles é muito vasto e culto, alem de jovem (usa bastante gírias) e possuem infinitos trocadilhos nas letras, que no geral são bem inteligentes.

    Mudando totalmente de assunto, o que são CAE e CPE??? Obrigado!

  • 10/05/12  
    ROGÉRIO LUQUES diz: 10

    HI folks!
    talking about CAE CPE AND TOEIC.
    I would like to receive hints about books.
    thanks Rogério

    • 11/05/12  
      Erica diz:

      Hi Rogerio. I recommend the Cambridge, Oxford and Longman books for your preparation.
      For CAE e CPE I strongly recommend ‘Grammar for CAE and Proficiency’ by Martin Hewings, Cambridge. You can prepare for both exams using the same book. For you to become familiar with the format of the exam ‘Cae Practice Tests’ and ‘CPE Practice Tests’ (Longman and Cambridge have good ones with these titles)
      You can do all the mocks in the books, which will give you a great boost for your preparation.
      For all other exams you can check these publishers and I’m sure you’ll find out what you’re looking for. I got all my books on Amazon. I wish you all the success!

  • 11/05/12  
    emerson diz: 11

    I hope that you do not criticize me, I like listening Tupac Shakur, Eminem, Dr Dre between others rappers. But I like so much Shania Twain, I often understand your songs, because she sing very clean, so Alan Jackson I would recommend to everybody that enjoy American Country music.

    • 11/05/12  
      Erica Lowry diz:

      Hi Emerson. I would never criticise you. What you like is part of you and we all have different tastes and preferences. Everything that I listen goes way beyond what it’s in the article. In this subject I am not different from you; I enjoy Alan Jackson and yes, Shania Twain! Have you ever heard Gary Brooks (one of my favorite songs ever is ‘Standing outside the fire’)?. One of the best country singers ever. Great stuff. :-)

  • 11/05/12  
    ROGÉRIO LUQUES diz: 12

    thank´s ERICA.
    the post was fantastic.
    bye bye.

  • 11/05/12  
    Erica Lowry diz: 13

    Rogerio, I forgot to tell you about this website: http://www.examenglish.com/
    Great! See you.

  • 11/05/12  
    Davi diz: 14

    Olá, como vai? Bem, que tal um post sobre palavras que remetem a responsabilidade social?
    Ano passado tentei o Programa Jovens Embaixadores, fui semi-finalista, mas não fui aprovado. A Embaixada ofereceu outro programa chamado: English Immersion Program, onde passarei uma semana em imersão na cultura inglesa na cidade do Recife.
    Esse ano tentarei novamente o Programa Jovens Embaixadores, e acho que um post assim tanto me ajudaria, quanto ajudaria outros candidatos nas avaliações escritas e orais.