Earworms

Teacher’s aren’t doctors but sometimes we’re made to feel like we are 🙂

I was at a conference recently and a teacher came up to me with a wry smile on her face. ‘I have a problem,’ she said. ‘You know that chant you did in your workshop last year? It goes like this …Juha! Juha! What are you going to do? The cat came home and ate the meat and nothing’s left for you!.…Well it’s become a complete ear worm for me. It keeps coming into my head when I’m trying to concentrate on something else. Please give me something to get rid of it!’

Earworms can certainly be frustrating. I’ve been listening to a lot of music by the Cuban musician, Silvio Rodríguez, recently and I have an earworm for part of this song at the moment.

My earworm goes like this..

Que maneras más curiosas
de recordar tiene uno,
que maneras más curiosas:
hoy recuerdo mariposas
que ayer sólo fueron humo,
mariposas, mariposas
que emergieron de lo oscuro
bailarinas, silenciosas.

Mariposas is a very beautiful song and the words are beautiful too. In English it means something like this…

What most curious ways
of remembering one has,
what most curious ways:
today I remember butterflies
that yesterday were only smoke,
butterflies, butterflies,
that emerged from the dark,
dancers, silent.

I’ve probably just heard it too many times and I would quite happily fill my head with other things, but this little snippet keeps popping up, especially when I’m trying to write. It’s driving me a little crazy.

But if we think about it from the perspective of the second language learner  (I am a lapsed learner of Spanish) then earworms might actually be useful. Could it be that they are part of the cure rather than the affliction itself? I very rarely hear spoken Spanish these days, so having a stretch of naturally connected speech that I keep turning over in my head can only be a good thing in terms of giving me a connection to the language. If we are in a situation where we don’t get that much exposure to the language we are learning, (which is the case for many learners around the world) then an earworm is way to provide some quite focussed listening practice, albeit from an internal, rather than external, voice. If I listen to Silvio Rodríguez singing I can hear that my version isn’t the same of course. I can’t play it on the guitar, I’ve got an English accent and I can’t do it anywhere near as fluently as he does. But the point is that it is MY voice in my head that is singing Mariposas, and by doing this I’m constantly reaffirming to myself that I’m a fluent speaker of Spanish. At least in my head I am! 🙂

One of the things that I’m trying to stay focused on at the moment is turning the Hands Up Project into a charity. It’s the right thing to do because it will allow me to access other sources of funding, but it’s also quite a complex and time consuming process. While this is going on, and while the kids in Gaza are starting their summer holiday, I’m going to take a break from writing these blog posts for a while. In the meantime here’s one of the chants from the Stories Alive book, performed brilliantly by a student in Gaza. If it becomes an earworm for you then the blame lies with me, and I apologise in advance!

Jbēne! Jbēne! As white as cheese! Come with us to the Christ-thorn trees.

Jbēne! Jbēne! Stuck in the tree! You can’t get down. You can’t get free.

Jbēne! Jbēne! As black as night! Stay with the sheep till the morning light.

Jbēne! Jbēne! As white as cheese Marry me! Marry me! Marry me please!

Jbēne! Jbēne! As white as the moon. Marry me! Marry me! Marry me soon!

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9 thoughts on “Earworms

  1. Of course, there are benefits. You can get more benefits by replacing it with a new earworm. Thus, you get rid of your old earworm and learn some new language ( a new earworm).
    Have a nice day, jukebox 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I like that Amal! So one of our jobs as teachers might be to go around putting worms in our students ears? (metaphorically speaking of course 🙂 ) Actually it’s probably better, isn’t it, if students get inflicted with their own ear worms based on the songs, raps and chants that they choose to listen to. So that means lots of exposure to this kind of material. If they’re not getting this exposure outside of class we can do a lot to provide it inside class.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Another issue that comes out of your comment Amal is how long do we need to be host to an earworm before we can move on to another one? Or can we have multiple ones during the same period of time? I did read somewhere the idea that we develop earworms because we can’t quite remember the next part of the song – so we just keep repeating in our minds the bit that we know. If this is true then maybe there is a case for challenging learners to go beyond where the earworm ends and remember more? ( thereby turning their earworms into earsnakes 🙂 )

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  3. Hi everybody . I wrote a comment before and I wonder where it is .Any way ,I really like this idea of ear worms and I really advise teachers to try hard to create an ear worm for all students to help them learn any new language or even any new piece of information .This ear worm makes language acquisition easier .

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  4. Thanks for your comment Sereen. I haven’t seen the other one. Maybe it is stuck in your ear? 🙂
    The question is can we actually create earworms for students, and if so how? I wonder if earworms are in fact a highly personalised event. Things may become earworms because a particular student likes the rhythm or the sound of a particular stretch of language, or, as I said earlier, just because they can’t remember the next bit. What is an earworm for one student, isn’t one for another. Maybe all we can do as teachers is make sure the learners are having lots of exposure and practice with language that is very rhythmic and melodic?

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  5. It strikes me that another role of the teacher in all this is to try to cure fossilised ear worms (that sounds like a really nasty affliction 🙂 ) . The words to this beautiful song https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uoXyN9R51n8 in Arabic should go like this….

    Kelma helwa u kelmeten
    Helwa ya baladi
    Ghenwa helwa ou ghenweten
    Helwa ya baladi

    but I recently realised that in my head I was singing kelma helwa u helwaten over and over again (which I guess is completely meaningless)
    As teachers we can cure these fossilised ear worms by making sure students get internal language out of their heads sometimes and perform it to others.

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  6. “Singing Mariposas,…I’m constantly reaffirming to myself that I’m a fluent speaker of Spanish.”
    What an interesting comment among many. Of the many problems that teachers do face in their classes, I think students lack of confidence is a huge one. Shyness of the language usage and fear of making mistakes.So, having an earworm could be a good strategy in teaching English and having fun, bearing in mind including different worms depending on the students’ diverse modes.By the way, my worm these days is stuck to (Adele’s song)-Hello 🙂
    Thanks Nick
    It has been an interesting topic really.
    Regards

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    1. Thanks for your interesting comment Kifah. I think you’re right in that the issue of confidence is massive for language learners all over the world. Having a bank of accurately repeated chunks of language in your head is one way to help with confidence, but, like everything in language learning, it’s probably not enough on its own and needs to be done in conjunction with more communicative activities too.
      There is a different kind of confidence of course which comes from feeling that you are able to communicate with people and make people understand what you want to say, even if you are inaccurate. These is a link between these two types but one doesn’t necessarily lead to the other.

      By the way, I’ve also had that song stuck in my head, especially this version by ‘Walk off the earth’ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t-Z2BDDogCI. My earworms for this song tend to be the instrumental bits though for some reason.

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