When you think of someone instructing a class in English as a second language, what do you imagine? Is it a guy who uses hip hop to reach his students? Probably not, but you would most likely be interested to know that there is one ESL teacher who has found a creative niche and way to incorporate hip hop into the classroom. In fact, his videos on YouTube have become popular in many parts of the world. Jason R Levine, known as Fluency MC, has been using hip hop flavor to reach his students for years. I don’t mean he just plays a cd of Run DMC. He actually creates his own songs and perform them during lessons. Hence the name ‘Fluency MC’.
Based out of New York, where he has taught ESL for over 17 years, Jason has recently been traveling around the world and promoting his brand of teaching in parts of Europe, Asia and South America. He is Ambassador and Knowledge Entertainer at WizIQ, where he recruits teachers and develops online courses. He also continues to make videos and educational material for Oxford University Press. He is most known for his videos on YouTube that have become known in the international community. Some of his videos, such as ‘StickStuckStuck’ have received over two million hits. Levine maintains his videos at ColloLearn YouTube channel. Since his videos began going viral, Jason has gained some well-deserved recognition and has an online fan base following him that use his videos to learn English. His videos are particularly popular in Europe, South America, and Southeast Asia. He says that he’s often contacted by individuals from various countries telling him how they learn through his videos and offer their gratitude. “People ask me who my students are now. My students are mostly online. They are watching my videos and that is great. That makes me feel good,” said Levine.
Levine began using hip hop in the classroom over 15 years ago in New York. Having completed a master’s in TESOL, Levine says he felt frustrated that his students were having trouble picking up the natural syntactic flow of the English language. He believes that English as a second language is often taught in a way that is ineffective since it ignores that natural collocation of words, intonation and flow of speech. Levine feels that there needs to be a balance between grammar repetition and understanding the rhythm and nuances of the way in which English is spoken. “Music brings out collocations of the English language that the students can hear in a natural way,” said Levine.
Prior to teaching ESL, Levine had been a DJ in New York and was heavily influenced by hip hop. Being that his life revolved around music, it was only fitting that he began using hip hop to engage his students early on in his teaching career. “It was almost like second nature for me to start using hip hop during my lessons and I wanted to do something different. Of course, I don’t use it during the entire lesson, but as a way to reinforce what we learned and to let the students hear collocations in context, “Levine said. He argues that the key to learning English effectively and quickly is understanding the way in which certain words are paired or grouped together. Levine is an advocate of using hip hop over more melodic music since it is closer to the authentic flow of spoken English. He also said that ESL students need different types of exposure to English and language cannot be taught in a sort of generic, redundant manner.
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Levine says that despite his unconventional approach to teaching, his students have generally enjoyed his style over the years. “It’s not like I just use hip hop all the time,” said Levine. “We work on grammar, pronunciation and vocabulary in many different ways, just like any other teacher. However, learning English cannot just be about repetition nor just about sticking to the communicative approach of conversation. There needs to be a balance between both and hip hop is a way to bridge that gap. My songs and lyrics emphasize repetition but allow learners to hear the collocations rhythmically.” He says he’s had students from all backgrounds and walks of life. While some students are hesitant at first to embrace hip hop flavor in the classroom, most of them quickly become fans once they realize the benefits of such an approach.
Levine says he loves what he does and plans to continue traveling around the world promoting his Hip Hop Flavor to ESL.