I’m trying to get my twelfth graders ready for their bagrut but they’ve already had enough of ‘boring material’ so it’s time for me to design my own. I did a quick look up of ‘songs for ESL’ on google and firstly came across ‘You’re so vain‘ by Carly Simon, but despite the song being one I loved, I found the cultural references a little old-fashioned for my 17-year-olds.
Then I saw Sting’s ‘Englishman in New York’ and thought that this could be something they could relate to, having had me, an Englishwoman, teach them English for the past three years.
The song can be a springboard for the discussion of many topics, including differences between Brits and Americans, and applying that to how an Englishman might feel living in America. It could also be transferred to how they would feel in a ‘foreign country’ even if they knew the language well.
I think the goal of my lesson is basically to use the song as a springboard for social interaction, communication and exploring ideas. The song has some useful vocabulary, but it’s not rich enough for a vocabulary lesson alone.
In short, there are many things you can do with this song, but I chose the following.
- Access prior knowledge: have the students brainstorm stereotypical attributes of Americans verus Brits and fill in the chart.
- Vocab practice – there are few words in the song that they might not know such as ‘notoriety’ and ‘sobriety’. Pre-teach and do exercises.
- Guessing what the song might be about (don’t tell them the name of the song)
- Have them listen to the song, filling in the gaps (give the words to weaker students)
- Discussion. What is the song about? What are the feelings of the singer? Can you explain the expressions ‘manners maketh man’ and ‘a candle in the dark burns brighter than the sun’?
- I chose to add a bit of fun here. I googled ‘manners maketh man’ and found a reference to a scene in ‘Kinsmen’ which reveals a very stereotypical perception of the true Englishman. Play the scene and have them draw parallels in the song. They can discuss how true they think this stereotype really is.
- A follow-on activity might be to write a day in the life of a foreigner living in a strange city. They could write about what he misses about home, and how the people around him are different. Alternatively, students could conduct an opinion survey about people’s perceptions of Brits and Americans. Do all people from their country have the same assumptions?
Here is the worksheet I designed. Enjoy!