A cultural studies approach to Spoken Word English Studies

My courses have taken a Cultural studies approach drawing on IELTS methodology (for vocabulary, grammar, listening and comprehension exercises). Cultural studies is an interdisciplinary approach that draws on post-structuralist and post-Marxist theory and approaches language as a broad range of representational systems.

This is teaching not just conversational English (as in, for example, a pure IELTS course) but facilitating a reflexive engagement with language as culture, and an understanding of the way that language works in Anglophone culture and society (primarily America, England, Australia).

My courses use a range of popular culture texts, such as American and Chinese movies and tv series, documentaries, newspaper articles, social media items (for example, avatars, selfies) as content for students to develop their spoken word skills. Each semester has a learning theme, the content and methodology of which is aimed at facilitating student’s ability to express complex ideas fluently.

The courses facilitate learning through practice, encouraging students to engage in critically informed discussion appropriate to their level (undergraduate) and fields of study (for example, English majors). The courses require students to do the readings and viewings and thereby immerse themselves in Anglophone culture as preparation for their class discussions.

The freshwomen course work progresses from individual reviewing presentations to team reviews and reports. The sophomores course begins with individual debate presentations and progresses to team podcasts. Over the two years the course facilitates students’ development from individual self-expression to expressing and exchanging a point of view within a group.

The cultural texts chosen are designed to be relevant to and interesting for the age group, and thus aid learning through emotionally and actively engaging in learning. Part of this learning strategy involves the use of materials and methods that cross-over with other English/humanities studies (for example, reviewing and debating, using novels studied in literature courses). This cultural studies methodology is particularly appropriate for undergraduate humanities/social science majors.

Cultural Studies + IELTS

IELTS exercises form an important part of the course and are useful. But the Cultural Studies+IELTS method should produce a better result than a pure IELTS method because it is a targeted form of immersive learning:

Cross-over learning works by building on students’ immersion in their field of studies (involving related courses as well as Anglophone and Chinese popular culture).

IELTS works best when the student is immersed in the social environment of the language. For example, if I am learning Chinese and live in Tianjin, I can practice the street directions class in a real environment as I navigate the city (for example, on the bicycle on the streets, via train, subway, buses, pedestrian walkways). I reinforce the class learning through having to use the words and phrases in the real environment, and that maximizes my learning cathecting (emotional or active engagement with the concepts and words).

But if I don’t have that environment to practice in, my learning (cathecting) will be significantly less. In contrast, by using a cultural studies methodology we are bringing the immersive cultural/academic environment to the students. We can’t take them to New York physically, but we can immerse them in that city/other Anglophone places via cultural texts like movies etc.

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