Echoing their lives: teaching Russian language and culture through the music of Vladimir S. Vysotsky

Jones, Ruby Jean, 1947-
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Using vocal music in the foreign language classroom to teach language and culture can become the foundation of an approach specifically geared to encourage students to take charge of their own language learning, and thereby improve their overall language competencies. Many researchers have already noted that the usual classroom program of instruction does not provide sufficient exposure time for students to achieve a level much above the ACTFL Intermediate level. Most students who enter university language programs with plans to major in a language have certain expectations, usually elevated, and the problem is exacerbated by commercial products which promise that, “You will speak like a native in months!” The problem is compounded by the disappointment experienced when these high expectations are not met, and students cease trying before they approach the levels to which they originally aspired. One way to help students not go through this dismotivation phase of language learning, is to help them improve their language skills beyond that usually attainable through classroom instruction alone. Training in the use of learning strategies, increased time spent listening to authentic vocal music, and the anticipated personal satisfaction gained by attaining successful results can all be positively related to an increase in motivation. By introducing students to the music of Soviet bard/poet/actor Vladimir S. Vysotsky, early in their language-training career, and using his compositions as supplementary material in a syllabus, the Russian language teacher can provide versatile authentic language material. Selections from the prolific output of approximately 700 poems and songs by Vysotsky can be used to introduce: a) language forms, b) pronunciation, c) cultural idioms and contrast, d) historicalpolitical items, e) social customs, and f) literary works and characters. In the case of language learning and metacognitive strategies, ignorance is not bliss: ignorance is the destroyer. Students who become aware of the strategies available (e.g., memory, cognitive, compensation, affective, social, or metacognitive) and pleasurable ways to improve their own language competence are more likely to be encouraged to continue studying the language and more likely to devote the extra time to the endeavor.