Rapping In Mandarin

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Having a second language is becoming increasingly important to employers, and having one on your CV can increase your job prospects dramatically. However, with many students who struggle with languages in class unable to access extra private tuition at home, this can be a problem.

That’s why Adam Moorman of Fortismere School in London has created some excellent teaching materials, using rap to teach students Mandarin. Adam won a grant from the London Teachers Innovation Fund in 2016 to expand the project and create resources that will be accessible to all schools in the UK from July 2017. Adam says of his materials, “the basic rationale is simply that rapping is very memorable, and also encourages students to be flexible and creative with vocabulary. It should be a novel and hopefully successful way of preparing for speaking exams.”

With the proposed changes to the Mandarin Chinese GCSE, there will be stronger emphasis placed on speaking and listening. But according to Adam, learning Mandarin is much easier than it seems. “Mandarin is a monosyllabic language with a much more limited range of sounds than English,” says Adam. “If you discount tones, there are around 400 syllables in Mandarin, compared with more than 8,000 in English. So it’s a lot harder to come up with rhymes in English than in Mandarin.”

In the project students are asked to create raps as preparation for their speaking exam. Guided on content by the key topics in the qualification and on complexity by the exam marking criteria, they write, practise and then perform the raps, which are recorded. Moorman explains that rap is a useful tool to get students talking for a number of reasons. First, he says that Mandarin is an inherently musical language, so it lends itself to the genre. Second, learning a language requires repetition, and keeping that engaging is tough – writing and performing a rap gives students a compelling reason to go over sentences again and again. Third, the nature of rap means that dexterity of vocabulary is rewarded – so there is an incentive to learn more phrases and be innovative with them.

“This approach combines rhythm, rhymes and repetition in an enjoyable and memorable way that shifts the focus from painstaking book-based learning, but achieves the rewards of independent research, drafting and practising.”

Adam’s students have taken to the project enthusiastically. “The initial reaction has been very positive, even with shy students. By having time to prepare, many chances to record and the option to work in groups, all are able to participate,” Adam explains, adding that all the expected benefits outlined above have been evident in his classes.

“The project aims to stimulate creativity,” Adam stresses. “I do not expect every student to become a rapper, but it might provide inspiration for their own innovative uses of the language.”

To find out more about Adam’s project, you can read his full interview with TES here. Or for more information about the London Teachers Innovation Fund and our other Teacher-Led Innovation projects, visit this page.