Hip Hop Vocabulary: A Foreign Language Learning Exercise?


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Music stimulates human brains: Image by oxymoronical

Second and foreign languages commonly taught through songs

If we view AAE as a ‘foreign’ language, numerous research findings show that the human mind picks up new knowledge more quickly when contained in a song with an appealing rhythm and theme.

For instance, two studies, Little, 1983, and Domoney and Harris, 1993,  investigated the prevalence of pop music in the lives of students learning English as a foreign language. Both studies found that music is often the major source of English outside of the classroom.

Professor Suzanne Medina, 1993, proved the positive effect of music in English language acquisition among nearly 50 2nd grade children and concluded that music and songs  can be used to aid language acquisition. In her 2003 research, she emphasizes the fascination and motivation that songs create in second language learners over oral stories.

Accordingly, one of the popular methods adopted by teachers of English as a second language (ESL) and foreign language (EFL) is teaching vocabulary through songs.

Is Hip Hop vocabulary hard to acquire? No, it’s just a brain-teaser

Hip Hop perhaps seems incomprehensible to those who are not fluent. However, research confirms that the human brain’s sophisticated mechanisms respond, perceive, and over time, decode language and music sounds into comprehensible chunks. AAE’s double entendres, vague language, uncharacteristic sentence structure and unique lexical items are essentially straightforward brainteasers for a cognitive system to crack.


Crystal, David. The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language, Second Edition. (1997). CUP.

Chelsey, Paula. You Know What It Is: Learning Words through Listening to Hip-Hop. (2011). Plos One. Accessed January 22, 2012.

Christophe, A. et al. Reflections on phonological bootstrapping: Its role in phonological and syntactical acquisition in Cognitive models of speech processing.  Psycholinguistic and Computational Perspectives on the Lexicon. ed. Gerry T. M. Altmann. (1995). Psychology Press Ltd.

Domoney, L & Harris, S. Justified and ancient: Pop Music in EFL Classroom. ELT Journal. (1993).  47, 234-241.

Lany, J.  and Saffran J. R. Interactions between statistical and semantic information in infant language development. Developmental Science 14:5 (2011). 1207–1219

Little, J. Pop and rock in the ESL classroom. TESL Talk . (1983). 14, 40-44

Medina, Suzanne L. Acquiring Vocabulary Through Story-Songs. MEXTESOL Journal . Vol.26, Number 1, Summer 2003.

Medina, S. The effect of music on second language vocabulary acquisition. (1993). New York: Longman Group Ltd.

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