Friday, June 13, 2008

English Songs in China

From a Chinese college student's blog:

“I find that I begin to love English songs very much.And when I listen to the English song that can make me dance,I always feel very happy. Now,I think I fall in love with English songs,and I start to love this subjuct-English....So,from now on,I will try my best to study English grammar and listen English songs in my spare time in order to improve my English speaking and writing skill."

The notion of "English songs" has been fascinating to me ever since I came to China, for two reasons. First, I have for the most part never heard any of the songs that students listen to, know, and love, as "English songs," which makes me wonder where these songs come from, how they got to China, and why they are popular here. Second, a lot of students seem to have the belief that listening to these songs is a good way to improve their English. (The same is said of watching movies in English.) Whether this is actually true remains to be seen.

I have a suspicion that the construction of "English songs" as a genre has something to do with "English culture," itself a construction that has a lot more to do with prestige, economics, ice cream, romance, and brand-name clothes than it does with the English language. (This is just a thought-doodle, not a genuine scholarly observation, mind you.)

Some questions that interest me:

- Why are the most popular "English songs" in China songs that most people in "English-speaking" countries are unfamiliar with. For example, some of the most popular "English songs" among my students are: "She" by a German group called Groove Coverage; "Pretty Boy" by a Norwegian group called M2M; "Take Me to Your Heart" by the Danish band Michael Learns to Rock.

- Somewhat more unscientifically, why are the most popular "English songs" songs that I totally hate? Chinese pop music is mostly what we would call "adult contemporary" and/or "teenybopper," and the English-language music that is popular here tends to fall along those same genre lines. Westlife, Backstreet Boys, Celine Dion, et al are hugely popular.

- What exactly do students believe is the benefit of listening to these songs vis-a-vis their general English abilities, their performance in English classes, their scores on exams, etc?

- What are some non-academic reasons that students like to listen to "English songs" ?

More thinking about this subject to come, which, unfortunately, means I probably should start listening to more of it.

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