Category Archives: Anglobubble

Wake me up – I mean really Wake me up. Or how, deep in the Anglobubble, language learning can be surprisingly motivating

Today I want to focus on a youtube sensation I have stumbled across that says a lot about how to motivate English-speaking teenagers to learn another language. I’ve quickly become addicted to the clips in question (taster clip below) and find them not only entertaining but intriguing and inspiring.

So here’s the back story:

Deep in the Anglobubble, kids whose first language is English have to learn a language till completion of secondary school. It’s a struggle. Many don’t like it – they don’t see the relevance and teaching methods tend to focus on the written form, rather than on interactive use of the language. Outcomes are poor, despite the apparent effort, and educators wring their hands at what to do (sound familiar?). At least languages education in this part of the Anglobubble is compulsory …..

A residential summer language school that needs to keep high school students busy and interested when it’s too wet outside to do anything in the breaks decides to do something different. The lightbulb idea is to translate the lyrics of famous pop songs in English into the language the kids are learning, and then get the kids to sing the songs, record them and put them online – to share with everyone around the world. They start with Thriller in 2010 and over time build up an expanding repertoire – all available on Youtube. Their video clips are clever – sometimes they ‘revoice’ existing clips of famous singers/bands in the new language, other times they make their own clips with the kids front and centre. By 2013 they’ve hit the big time – a number of their translated music clips go viral: people are sharing them around the world, the media get interested and more tellingly the pop megastars in question express their delight at being ‘reworked’ in a language you’d be hard pressed to pick and you’ve likely never heard.

Amongst the biggest viral successes is Wake me Up – in translation (3.5 million hits and rising). Have a listen. It’s hard not to be intrigued – you recognize the music, you know the song but you have no idea what they are singing. You just want to know more.


The kids’ enthusiasm is infectious – and you really can hear their voices (the lead singer in this case is a teacher). It’s inspiring stuff, curiously addictive – and people around the world (in a range of languages) are interested. It’s all over the social media and has quickly made its way into the blogosphere, traditional press and media – including TV performances.

The original English version is the creation of the bilingual Swede DJ Avicii and was a smash hit around the world in the northern summer of 2013 –  including no.1 throughout the Anglobubble (including Australia). Here’s the first line of the chorus the song title is from:

So wake me up when it’s all over

It seems much more interesting in the target language and in the free translation:

So Lig mé saor ón suan ‘tá orm (lit. So free me from this slumber of mine)

Have you worked out what language the clip is in and what country I am talking about?

English monolingualism is strongly rooted here. I’ll leave you thinking and guessing for the moment.

As is clearly evident in the clip, significant physical/mental/emotional participation in the process of learning the song/language, making the clip, dancing and singing has clearly helped to motivate the students. Listen to the enthusiastic cheering at the end – that’s real!

Language teachers everywhere could easily do the same with their students: translate well-known pop songs into the target language, use children’s existing musical skills (if possible) as well as physical movement (e.g. simple choreography or free dance). You could easily create an end of term dance party if you had a repertoire. Even better, record the students and post on youtube, and on social media. Teenagers appear to enjoy a bit of online limelight.

What a great classroom/school project!

And more on other clips from this particular connection soon 🙂

Worked out the language and country yet? I might just leave you thinking a little longer.

I’ll come back in another post and do the big reveal. I still have a lot to say about this summer school/college and its fantastic work.

English or else – is this the new assimiliationism Australian-style?

It’s very disappointing to read press reports quoting federal Liberal politician, Sen. Concetta Fierravanti-Wells on language issues in Australia. It’s not the fact that everyone should be able to speak English in this country – we all know what the benefits of that are. It’s her particular exposition, if correctly reported, that is concerning.

The Age online (26/1/2014) has the headline Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells insists all migrants must speak English

Like I said, I have no doubt that having proficiency in English is important in Australia – that’s not the issue – it’s the bit in bold in the quote below that’s worrying:

“Senator Fierravanti-Wells said Australia Day was an apt time to discuss the ”personal responsibility” of migrants to learn English. But she went further, arguing that not only should migrants learn English as a second language, they should learn to speak it as their main language.

This is a position that takes us back to the 1950s and 1960s at least in the official sphere (and still a widely held view in large part of the private sphere – judging by some blog responses to the press coverage). It’s a little more subtle nowadays, but the effect is essentially the same: English or else as ‘personal responsibility’.

There is no need for migrants to speak English as their main language – at the expense of their own. English and other languages can live happily side by side – with all of Australia benefitting from such an arrangement (I give an example of such a benefit below).

Millions of Australian citizens and residents speak more than one language – they need more encouragement not less. What is required is an emphasis on balanced bilingualism (or even balanced multilingualism) – where people’s language skills are just as good in their mother tongue(s) and in English OR in English (if it’s their mother tongue) and another language – and (this is critical) where all language skills are valued by society, and their benefits clearly understood.

The emphasis on English in this country is already HUGE and completely unavoidable – indeed I have never met a person in Australia who doesn’t want to speak good English.  If they can’t, it’s more likely because they haven’t been given adequate opportunity or support to do so. The government could do well by addressing those issues – in a positive fashion – without throwing society’s knowledge base out the window.

Jonathon Christley writes a useful comment, based on personal experience, in response to the Senator’s comments on the Sydney Morning Herald website:

Migrants need more help

Concetta Fierravanti Wells emphasises a migrant’s personal responsibility to learn English, but fails to acknowledge the government may also be responsible (“Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells insists all migrants must speak English”,, January 26). Under the Adult Migrant English Program, migrants and refugees receive up to 510 hours of English language training. ? This number was determined in the 1980s as the average time taken to be proficient in English.

The problem with only providing the average hours, however, is that approximately half of the students would be below average and would not become proficient.

Having worked with migrants and refugees over the last 20 years, I rarely see a lack of desire in a person to learn English. Instead, their learning is hindered by their life experience, and by the level to which their first language differs to English. Refugees in particular often have experienced trauma and upheaval, which has decreased their ability to concentrate and disrupted their previous education. Under the current system, some migrants and refugees are disadvantaged. Surely a better system would provide classes until a level of proficiency has been achieved, rather than stopping tuition after students have received an arbitrary number of hours. (Jonathon Christley)

Now back to the Senator’s position and her explanation:

“The importance of this, she said, was underlined by the experience of ageing postwar migrants, many of whom were suffering dementia and forgetting their conversational English.”

Dementia is an unfortunate illness of the brain. What the Senator (previously opposition spokesperson on ageing) completely overlooks is that active bilingualism is well known to delay the onset of dementia (by about 4.5 years). Emphasizing English at the expense of everything else is likely to matters worse not better…… Ageing bilinguals already save our national health budget a great fortune every year…..

Ironically, the Senator will likely to benefit on his front from her own bilingualism – she is Italo-Australian:

“Senator Fierravanti-Wells herself spoke no English when she first went to kindergarten as a little girl in Wollongong, several years after her Italian parents migrated to Australia. On her first day at St Francis of Assisi school, she said there were 75 children – three of whom spoke English. ”It wasn’t very difficult: within three months we had all learnt English, and we were all busy singing away with our Maltese teacher, who taught us.”

The current PM Tony Abbott, who won’t draw the same health benefit unfortunately is at least more understanding of Australia’s migrant community, specifically in response to the Senator’s statement. In the Telegraph article English needed for national life he is quoted as saying, amongst other things:

“Yes, it is important for people to fully participate in Australia that they master our national language,” he told reporters at the national citizenship ceremony in Canberra on [Australia Day].

“But as you can all see, there are lots of people who become Australian. From all sorts of cultures, all sorts of backgrounds.

“We don’t have any expectations on anyone except that they join the team and that they become Australian in their own way and at their own pace.”

Elsewhere, even our hardline immigration minister. Scott Morrison, appears to attack the Senator’s position, without naming names:

“The ongoing development of our institutions and sense of nationhood does not require us to reject our heritage but to understand and appreciate it — perhaps less with a sense of judgment from a more advantaged age, and more with a sense of empathy for the difficult challenges faced by those who created this country and the inheritance that is now ours to steward and enjoy,”

It would have been just as easy to congratulate migrants for bringing their languages with them, for wishing to learn English and to participate in society, and for helping….. to contain our health budget. But it might not have garnered as much media attention……



The Anglobubble hits the road – literally and online

I have been formulating ideas about the Anglobubble for some time and had the first chance to present my initial musings – with a humorous take – at a regional language teachers conference in Wangaratta (Victoria) in 2012. The technology didn’t work quite as planned but people got the idea and there was a lot of laughing – and nodding in agreement. I have had the chance to find new clips and thoughts since then….

More recently. The AFMLTA asked me to present at their most recent national conference in Canberra in July 2013 – I took the whole thing a lot further – and the technology worked really well. The audience was great (language teachers are very accepting of humour – we need to be – given the many challenges we face in the English-speaking world). Emails from teachers followed and I started thinking about creating a dedicated blog.

A couple of weeks ago, at the kind invitation of the MLTAQ, I spoke in Brisbane at their inaugural award night for exemplary practice in language. It was a great event – 11 teachers were formally acknowledged for their success,  and the Qld minister of education, the Hon John-Paul Langbroek, said some really positive things about languages education.  I even managed to get the 1st blog post up in time. Pity I didn’t have any other content at the time!

This week I spoke at the Archdiocese of Sydney’s inaugural Language Teachers Colloquium – and again I was really impressed by the enthusiasm and work of the many participants there. The networking value of such an event for teachers is tremendous. I even managed to add a post beforehand about our amazing yoga-posing Italian-speaking chihuahua – so people had something to think about and look at after the talk as well. I’ve also been assured every single Italian teacher present at the event (and there were many) will have shown their students that clip the very next day. Go Pancho!

Yesterday I also gave another talk to Year 9 University High students about the benefits of languages – and the Anglobubble got a detailed talking about. The kids were great – they got the idea straightaway too.

Already I have learnt through all of this that humour (including some shameless dancing on my part) really works and can change attitudes.  Technology remains a challenge (just as it sometimes does in the language classroom). Unexpected tech hitches of one kind or another have occurred on most occasions. Luckily with some patience on everyone’s part, we have been able to resolve them each time. But it all highlights why  the blog is a handy repository for people to use and visit when they wish 🙂

The Monolingual Mindset – what it is, briefly defined and exemplified for you…

“The greatest impediment to recognizing, valuing and utilizing our language potential is a persistent monolingual mindset. Such a mindset sees everything in terms of monolingualism being the norm, even though there are more bi- and multilinguals in the world than monolinguals” (Clyne, 2005).

Add to the monolingual mindset the view that English is the only language worth knowing, then it’s too easy to end up with an incredibly powerful combination leading to skewed thinking that’s self-generating and hard to crack.

Sad to say it but the monolingual mindset is common amongst inhabitants of the English-speaking world. Here’s a good example:

“The new national curriculum will, after establishing Italian and Chinese, also teach Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages. Why? Can’t someone explain to the bureaucrats and educators that this is a massive waste of time and resources? English, as anyone who regularly travels will tell you, is the universal language of business, diplomacy and entertainment.”

This quote is taken from an opinion piece by a Melbourne-based media personality and press columnist that was published by the influential Herald-Sun (Feb 3, 2011). It appeared in an article titled ‘Let’s ditch the study of languages’.

He’s critical of current policy on teaching languages in Australian schools – and there is no doubt there are many problems and failings.

But to claim stridently that English is the UNIVERSAL language of business, diplomacy and entertainment is just plain WRONG.  This person appears never to have ventured outside the Anglobubble……

I can assure visitors to this blog that LOTS of languages are used in business, diplomacy and entertainment – in every moment of the day….. Like many of you, I have seen it with my own eyes  – and much of it can also be observed from inside the Anglobubble.

Here are some simple examples:

(a) BUSINESS: Chinese trade networks operate internally around the world in Chinese (and are becoming stronger each day)…. Even where they use other languages to reach the public in other countries, e.g. French in France or English in Australia, the appearance of signage in Chinese characters common in Chinatowns around the world shows that Chinese business are also happy to take your business in Chinese wherever or whoever you might be.

Most people doing business of any kind in the world, down to a cash transaction in the market, do it in local/national languages.

(b) DIPLOMACY: the French have their own diplomatic network operating in French (alongside English and other languages when needed). French diplomats speak French to diplomats from Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco and many other countries. They call that network ‘la Francophonie’. The British call theirs ‘the Commonwealth’. The Russians have their own diplomatic network, centred on the former USSR, that operates in Russian….

(c) ENTERTAINMENT: Bollywood, well Bollywood does most of its magic in Hindi and other Indian languages……. The French do theirs in French… The Chinese in Chinese and the Koreans in Korean (it’s called the Korean Wave)…..

Enough said…..

It’s going to be a fun ride as we gather and dissect other examples of the monolingual mindset in the Anglobubble in future blog posts……