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Hip Hop Diplomacy x Language Learning: DAM

February 9, 2010 1 comment

In a conversation yesterday with my Imagination Age colleagues, Rita J. King and Josh Fouts, the question came up of how to use Hip Hop Diplomacy to promote language learning and I immediately thought of this amazing video from the Palestinian rap pioneers DAM, in which group leader Tamer Nafar spits a series of rhymes off of each letter in the Arabic alphabet.

It’s a remarkable video, stylistically and lyrically, and it deserves a moment of appreciation. First of all, it uses a research-proven method of language acquisition, linking words to images, the audio to the visual. Going a step further, Nafar carefully selects words (and the director matches images) that signify certain cultural and political themes, including Muslim-American icon Muhammad Ali, Hip Hop bling, images of Palestine, snapshots of fellow Arab Hip Hop stars, such as Canadian-Iraqi MC Narcicyst, Egyptian supergroup the Arabian Knightz, and Palestinian R&B singer Shadia Mansour, not to mention political figures such as the Ayatollah Khomeini and Hosni Mubarak. But the best part is the simplest, when a buzzing bee flies across the screen as the sound “zz-zz” is repeated, to illustrate the sound of the letter ز (‘z’ equivalent). I wish I’d seen this video when I was first learning Arabic. Not to mention the fact that it’s set to some of the best American rap instrumentals of the past 2 decades (by Kanye West, Swizz Beats, Just Blaze, et al), which is only increasing my intrinsic motivation to absorb the sounds, letters, and images I’m seeing. That, my non-linguists, is the golden ticket for language learning. If you’re motivated (eg. to earn money, to make friends, to pick up chicks, etc.) and if you’re immersed in meaningful content, you’re gonna absorb more and more quickly than by just reading from a book, all by your lonesome. If you don’t believe me, just ask Noam Chomsky. But I doubt if Tamer needed to read Chomsky or Howard Gardner (Theory of Multiple Intelligences) or Stephen Krashen (Acquisition-Learning Hypothesis) to create a video that would entertain, educate, and inspire a global audience to learn his native tongue. He just did what he does naturally: crafted clever rhymes over dope beats and then portrayed them in a next-level video, mixing text and image and self-reference, like what DA Pennebaker did with Bob Dylan for the “Subterranean Homesick Blues”, though I can’t be certain that this was an influence either.

Either way, it’s one of the most creative and innovative language learning videos I’ve seen in my language learning life. Props to Tamer and the boys from DAM! Teachas, all a y’all.