Asking Personalized Questions About A Song

Duke was in today and observed. He shared a great idea that I would like to expand on a little here. My level 2 students had heard so much auditory CI in level one that he suggested my asking what they thought about the content of the song (Aicha by Khaled Sahra) we were working with. Which of the two in the song, the man or the woman, do you like best. Why? Is he sincere? Is she more sincere? What does he want from her? What does she want from him? What do you want from a boy? What do you want from a girl? Are you sincere? The thing that I was taken aback with was that these second year kids could discuss this stuff. After all, some of those questions, since they ask for personal opinions, are getting the discussion on up the taxonomy. I have never done CI with a second year class (ten years of middle school or first year only describe my history with Krashen based instruction/TPRS) and now, to see this rather big leap forward by some of the kids (some others are still in the silent period) into discussing preferences in relationships, kind of boggles my mind. But Duke saw that they could do it and reminded me in class that I could ask such questions. Who would of thunk it – we can talk to our kids in French. I guess that all the focus on input in level one has led to some degree of output here in level 2.



31 thoughts on “Asking Personalized Questions About A Song”

  1. This is the good stuff Ben…the really good stuff. Duke is right…songs are perfect for this. If we don’t talk to students about their thoughts and feelings we aren’t talking to students.
    with love,

  2. Laurie –
    Duke and I spent some time today talking about ways to make the CI ratio as much as 20% us and 80% them. He thinks it can be done. He was talking about designing ways to get them to talk to each other in class, so that we can kind of fade out to the side of the conversation. This is so novel. Talking to them, but not just like in the first year, controlling the input at all times – talking to them about their thoughts and feelings. Them talking to each other in the target language. Whoa. I guess the next thing is to devise an assessment instrument for same, right? We can measure their progress. Oh, I have an idea! We could just talk to them in the target language about their thoughts and feelings! No…that might give skewed data.

  3. A weird thing happened in my room today…we sang a song about a girl who lost her boy to the war, and the kids talked about it! So on-target with your post here! What was weird was that I’d tried to get them to talk about it the other day, when we first sang the song. I didn’t push it, but they just seemed to be not into it. Today they were suddenly into it. I am now remembering what Jason said this summer: when you’re giving new concepts in cultural input, don’t give any new vocabulary. Limit what’s new–either ideas/concepts/facts OR language. Now I understand that. I gave them both at the same time.

  4. That’s good advice. Thanks Michele.
    I’m eager to start with songs again, finally. I gave each of my Spanish 3’s a cd to listen to, and bring it back with their favorite song chosen. So, now they have chosen the curriculum, and I will simply pick out a few structures to circle via PQA/stories.
    I think the twexting thing is powerful per Duke’s mantra. Give them the lyrics with translation (or better yet, have them twext it themselves, which I plan to do) and have them memorize the song, listening to it over and over, in and out of class. Talk about a brain break from teacher-given input. I know Duke likes several songs per week, but I think I’ll go one per week to start.

  5. Duke can take a motivated learner via twext and have them more conversant with the language in a matter of weeks than anything I could have imagined. But yes, we have students who should be limited in their twexted songs to one or two a week max. We spent the class period yesterday on Aicha. Today, my first class right away asked to hear it again, and, echoing Michele, today we limited our discussion to the message of the song (respect women even in Algeria) and it was just great. The song had sunk into their minds overnight and it seemed more alive today. Jim, do you remember a few years ago when we were trying to figure out how to get the music thing going? There was so much going on with all the other stuff! But now, I feel that the music thing is going to happen now, finally. Carol we have to talk about this. Without the twexted music from Duke, though, I don’t think it would work, as per what you said above, Jim. Twext kicks ass.

  6. I don’t have a category up for twexting yet. I can ask Duke to write something here. I’ll ask. Or maybe Carla can find it. She can find anything. She told me this summer that if you google ben slavic blog twext it might be more efficient than the categories for finding blog entries from the past.
    Martha I just thought of another thing that is cool about the personalized (what do you think about this..?”) kind of discussion that comes from twexted songs. It is that, whereas in stories we kind of hinge all the discussion on events (therefore hard to move up the taxonomy), in songs we work the discussion off of an emotion.
    When the master singer Khaled Sahra tells us that this Algerian woman refused all the gold and pearls and ivory and even the rays of the sun, that all she wants is to be truly loved and respected, it sets the CI bar in the classroom much higher.
    This is raw emotion – the stuff of good conversation. In one level 2 class today the discussion moved from there right into the area of who in the U.S. – what minority – is the most/least respected.

  7. Cheb Khaled is the singer’s name. We got confused by album art. He’s awesome. Watch the youtube and you might wanna get video going in the classroom, there are powerful emotive/mnemonic hooks in the imagery, par exemple “regarde moi”.
    Ben, thank you for letting me sit in on class, I learned so much. Especially from Thug. Processing it all after a brutal travel today, I hope to have feedback organized for you tomorrow. The fact that you’re asking us what we feel/think about the song message is great. Now us learners can own more of the learning. Like peers just shootin the breeze. We’re all in this together, no?
    Jim, lotsa songs may be good for brain prep. YouTube playlists are super easy. In class, it’s great to focus on a single message, or even a single chunk of language use for use out in real life. Outside of class, it’s also useful to get us listening to lots of songs and sounds and messages and meanings. Let learners bring us the songs they want. Give’us what we want, help us all discuss it together and our job gets 10x easier. Results? We’re can measure them, with specific targets.
    Martha, where are you? What language do you teach? What language(s) do your students speak? Twext might work between a variety of language pairs. We can test any language pair now.
    Laurie, I’m with you. My only beef, ever so slight, is we tend to put “thoughts” before “feelings”. In my opinion, Feelings are primary. Real. Thoughts are typically mendacious. Is that true?
    Michele, it’s so cool that one day people act like they don’t care, then the next they’re asking all kindsa questions. Maybe it takes time to separate wheat from chaff? We’re consciously dealing with unconscious processes. How do we listen to that?
    Bertie, thank You. Language is Acoustic.

  8. Thanks Duke. Cheb Khaled.
    That language is only secondarily a function of the intellect, and is firstly acoustic, limbic, emotional, as per Duke above, then that sets the table for the language acquisition discussions of the 21st century.
    When Duke sat to my side through the day on Monday, he gently reminded me that I don’t have to work so hard. When we walked out of the building (I had asked for honesty) he said that he saw me doing 80% of the work. Not 50% as my rules say.
    He thinks that it is possible for us to work at 20% of the effort, with, if the emotional piece is in the instruction, the kids doing 80% of the (must be emotive) work. They, via the twexted songs, can get their minds 20% around the grey (translated) twext and 80% around the target language text and it’s sound.
    They can live in the sound, in the beauty, in the emotion of the song, and therefore acquire the language as per Seigal-Cook and Krashen. It doesn’t have to be about them sitting there trying to “figure out” the story. They can live more in their hearts, even in school.
    Aicha – listen to me!
    Aicha – don’t leave!
    Aicha – look at me!
    Aicha – answer me!
    The scene is captivating. She will not listen to him because she has her dignity. Every girl in the room, also, has her dignity. The guy in the song wants her because she is beautiful. This is a mirror of high school life. It is a story, but a story in sound. More spatial, right hemisphere, emotional. Less linear, left hemisphere, intellectual.
    It doesn’t have to be a story. When I played the song the second day the kids started complaining because my voice, my singing of the above stanza, which was from my heart in joy (I couldn’t keep from singing), kept them from reading along and following along the twext. I was interrupting their French learning. But I couldn’t help it. I was taken by the moment. I was feeling it. I wasn’t thinking it.
    Yes, Bertie. It was so great, a fine moment in my life, to finally meet you in Los Alamitos. Thank you thank you. Language IS acoustic.

  9. Simply put, singing is a great idea for the classroom because it is FUN and leaves strong emotional memories behind. My former students almost ALWAYS mention the songs I’ve taught them, and they rarely mention anything about adjective endings, for example.

  10. Duke, I’m in Japan , I teach English. Would love to hear what songs your students like. I watched the videos a while back they were great.
    Ben, what me, emotion? What do you think I think???I am all over that part of it , but I still don’t understand the twext part of it.

  11. You think emotion, Martha, it is true. The twext part is hard to explain and when Duke gets rested back in Mexico he will, I’m sure, write something here for us. It is his invention. In my classes on Monday, we had some “twexted” songs – similar to bilingual side by side translation in concept but radical and much more effective because the print size and darkness is unexpectedly different. It creates in the kids’ minds, when they are reading a twexted stanza in a song, a situation that allows translation but frees the mind to focus mostly on the target language and its connection to sound. Like I said, it’s hard to explain and I’ll let Duke explain it. But, personally for me, it streamlines the reading and translation process so that the student seems to be able to get right into that limbic/emotional place with the song, and still know what is going on – it focuses the mind really well. I have seven other twexted songs and will be using them for the next few months and will know later how it is all working – in a few months.

  12. Usually one can access “” and use the tools there to twext stuff, but the site seems to be down at the moment. Perhaps because Duke is on vacation and I think he’s still looking for someone to run the site. Anyways, once you’re there, you can follow the directions that will take you to a subsite for twexting. The program is pretty cool, and will even translate text for you, very efficiently and pretty accurately.
    From there you can get a pdf copy of what you twexted. One thing I learned: The program always expects there to be a title, so make sure you put a title in it, otherwise it will transfer the first couple words of your text into a bigger font and on a separate line at the top. Maybe you can edit that on the pdf, but I’ve never been able to figure out how to.
    I gave my Spanish 3 students the url, and had them twext something for me, and they did pretty good, minus some translation errors they didn’t correct.

  13. It’s very frustrating for me. I’d love to use the twexting, but I have no access to YouTube at school, so I cannot get any of the embedded videos and music. Yes, I can still do the lyrics, but isn’t the music itself a very important piece of it?

  14. I have an itouch and Bose speaker and the twexted song. I don’t go the YouTube route at all. (I don’t like machines sitting in my classroom). If a child wants to go check out a song on YouTube they will do that at home.

  15. Profe Loca, the music is easy. Put any Youtube URL into and voila! Practically, getting music into the room is no problem. Morally, what we’re doing is creating a new use and value in music. As we do this, the music business won’t be suing us, they will be loving us.
    Twexted lyrics for printing on paper can be ordered through me. We’re in a research phase, which is showing that printed twext on paper helps people, especially younger people, to learn language. If anyone wants to research how language learners use Twext, please send me an email:
    Using Twext yourself is really the only way to understand it. It took me a long time to realize this. You can use Twext now to learn English, Spanish, French and Italian. has a temporary demo, which is about to go behind a paywall, so we can fund forward software development.
    If you’re not learning a language now, you can still try using it with us language learners. Just give us twexted songs we like. Help us mimic the sounds and the lyrics. Help us learn the songs by heart. Help us talk about what they say.

  16. I do a lot of music with all levels. I follow Susie’s lead which I learned in San Antonio in her music workshop. I use a side by side translation of the entire text. I don’t leave anything out, but that is a fascinating idea. My French 1 class told me at the end of the year that songs really helped them with vocabulary. Susie described it as laying down a carpet of language in their brains. It also sends a message that we have fun in class and they just love it.

  17. Jim –
    “I gave each of my Spanish 3?s a cd to listen to, and bring it back with their favorite song chosen. So, now they have chosen the curriculum, and I will simply pick out a few structures to circle via PQA/stories. ”
    I love this idea! Thanks.

  18. Yeah Toni, it works great when you’re organized and get the lyrics ready (and preferably twexted), but I’m not, and I haven’t.
    We have been listening to them though, one a week so far, and created a story yesterday using “let me ___” from Mana’s song Dejame Entrar. A girl in class was trying to choose a child from an orphanage, and they all said in different ways, “Let me be your daughter”. (They totally wrote that one)
    So, DEJAR (to let/allow) has been the big one this week, in several different forms. Today, I tried showing them a travel blog of a friend traveling around S.A., but the server didn’t let me enter the site. A great opportunity to get more reps of the verb, in a different context.

  19. As a time-challenged person these days, I have a new approach. I set up the lyrics in a double-column page, Russian on the left, blank on the right. The kids and I translate together. They’re really pleased when they get something before I type it. We work out better ways to say things. Then we print out the song and put it into alphabetical order in our classroom songbooks. We are running out of space in those songbooks–
    The other problem with songbooks is that while we’re paging through to find the song that we want to sing, everyone sees other favorite songs. Today one group suggested we spend an entire period just singing tomorrow. But now I remember that is the same group that pushed me to keep reading forever, once we started. Whatever we are doing, they want to do more of it. I keep forgetting to assess that group. I’m going to have to put in a lot of “culture” grades…

  20. I’d like to hear more about the class songbooks. Are they just the way they sound? pages like the one you described in some kind of folder/binder or is there more to it?

  21. I do it this way because of Susie…I tried twexting, but hadn’t started that way. I like having the kids look at only the Russian as they sing and look at the words when they need a translation. Vote is still out. A couple are twexted, and they work equally well. I keep meaning to ask the kids.
    The songbooks are our favorite songs in alphabetical order–from the ones that the kids brought in last year and that they’re bringing in this year. (We’re still missing some, but I’m working on it.) They’re in those folder report covers with the easy-slide off bindings. They come out and the papers shoot out whenever someone gets too excited, so we have to find a way to be able to alphabetize new stuff but a little more sturdy. We’re at the point where we could divide up the kids’ songs and the teen favorites. Or the folk songs and the current ones. But sometimes those overlap. I think we’re up to 38 songs.

  22. A quick note…and I hope to write more later…(hi Michele!!!) I also use right/left…and I think it just makes the brain “happier”. No real research so it could be a completely biased statement..would be cool to try both ways as action research and see what happens…..
    with love,

  23. 90% of twexted songs I use fit on a single 1/2 page. It’s normally easy to get 4 complete twexted songs on a single sheet of paper, printed both sides. 4 sheets of paper (legal-size) holds 16 songs. Add a cover sheet, two staples and a booklet folds up neat to fit pocket. Easy.
    It’s probably not hard to get 7 papers+cover for a 28 songs twext book. That can keep a learner busy for a while. My students claim that each song holds their interest for up to a cumulative hour. I use the papers to memorize the songs, so I might use each song for 3 or 4 hours total; 10+ hours per piece of paper.
    Many songs in a twext book is a good idea. Even if you can’t cover 16 or 28 songs in a few months of class, learners can still benefit. Dr. Krashen says FVR Free Voluntary Reading works. In my little experience, he’s right. With multiple songs you get a big picture with lots of little stories. And lots of same chunks repeated in different contexts. Many songs, good.
    Ben has initially reported that the twext pages are also useful in the classroom. After a whopping week of research, is that still holding up? How did AICHA compare w/ C’EST SI BON? What did the kids think? Tu veux ou tu veux pas? Would you recommend others to try any action research on student response to twexted songs?

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