It’s a rap: Teacher finds method in mu­sic


Man­darin can be a mas­sive chal­lenge for peo­ple try­ing to pick it up as a sec­ond lan­guage, but a Lon­don teacher has in­tro­duced a novel way to teach it — by rap­ping in Chi­nese to make classes mem­o­rable and fun.

Adam Moor­man, a teacher at For­tismere School in North Lon­don, said rap­ping makes things easy to re­mem­ber, and Chi­nese has a good rhythm, so it is nat­u­ral to com­bine them.

“As Chi­nese words are mono­syl­labic, and there’s a very lim­ited num­ber of sounds in Chi­nese, many words rhyme with each other. If you dis­count tones, there are about 400 sounds in Chi­nese, com­pared with more than 10,000 in English, so it’s eas­ier to come up with rhymes in Chi­nese than in English,” he said.

Moor­man first got his class to rap in Man­darin as a way to pre­pare stu­dents for their speak­ing ex­ams. He said rap made it eas­ier to mem­o­rize longer pieces of text. Writ­ing and per­form­ing rap gives stu­dents mo­ti­va­tion to find new ideas, learn new words and ex­press their mean­ing. Rap­ping re­quires stu­dents to be cre­ative and in­de­pen­dent, all of which helps flu­ency.

Tamzin Sherzad, a sixth-form stu­dent at For­tismere, likes the new way of learn­ing.

“Through the process of cre­at­ing rap lyrics, I have fa­mil­iar­ized my­self with so many new, pop­u­lar phrases and I feel that I have re­ally ex­tended my vo­cab­u­lary of the mod­ern lan­guage Chi­nese young peo­ple use,” she said.

As a re­sult, Sherzad feels more con­fi­dent chat­ting with her Chi­nese friends and feels bet­ter pre­pared and ex­cited about her gap year in China.

Moor­man said that in­tro­duc­ing rap to sixth-form stu­dents im­proves their flu­ency “by com­bin­ing rhythm, rhymes and rep­e­ti­tion in an en­joy­able and mem­o­rable way that shifts the fo­cus from painstak­ing book­based learn­ing, but achieves the re­wards of in­de­pen­dent re­search, draft­ing and prac­tic­ing”.

Keisha Asare, an­other stu­dent who has stud­ied Man­darin for five years, said: “In or­der to write the rap I had to learn and search for new vo­cab­u­lary that I oth­er­wise would not have known. The raps are also very catchy and this makes it eas­ier to re­mem­ber the new phrases and vo­cab­u­lary that I learned.”

Asare be­lieves rap­ping and lis­ten­ing to raps in Man­darin can ben­e­fit stu­dents who are learn­ing Man­darin, “be­cause whilst cre­at­ing the raps, stu­dents can ex­pand their vo­cab­u­lary and bet­ter their tone as I did”.

So far, Moor­man has been able to com­pile an al­bum of 12 orig­i­nal tracks, all fea­tur­ing raps on var­ied top­ics such as healthy life­style, so­cial me­dia and the en­vi­ron­ment.

With the fund­ing he re­cently won from the Lon­don Teacher In­no­va­tion Fund, which is fi­nanced by the Mayor of Lon­don and run by educa­tion char­ity Shine, Moor­man launched the Man­darin Rap Pod­cast to help stu­dents learn Chi­nese with rap.

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