Rhymes and Reasons

There once was a little girl who was fond of music. She was fond of pitch, volume, sounds, tones, and all the shades of colours created rhythmically alternating notes and silences. She could feel this texture, see it and enter it. So, when her father played his Beethoven LPs, she sat alone, dreaming, imagining, wondering and wandering.

One day, she entered the kitchen to drink some water when something on TV caught her attention. There was a young woman wearing a large straw hat and singing a song in a language she did not know. Her mother was also singing, even though she was a terrible singer and she had no idea of what she was saying.

The song was so interesting to the little girl that she immediately memorised its melody and, believe it or not, its sounds. So, she kept on singing this song in this strange language, which for no reason she supposed to be English, for years and years.

When she was 11 she started studying English at school. All she had to do was translating dialogues and learn them by heart. Copy and translate, copy and translate, copy and translate. Grammar exercise after grammar exercise. Spelling, spelling, spelling. The girl could see no difference between English and History; they were both about learning tons of boring information to repeat to the teacher to make her happy. What was worse was that her English marks were quite bad and her English teacher was not happy at all.

The girl was very disappointed. She could not understand how the English language could reveal so different from the song she was still singing in her brain. She was working hard, though.

One day, her English teacher had the idea to copy the teacher’s audio-cassette to all of her students, so they could practise at home. The girl went home and immediately played that cassette. She was over the moon!!! Here were the sounds she was looking for!!! Here was the melody!!!

Now she could listen to this special music, she could analyse it and sing it. She could understand the sense of grammar, she memorised functions and structures and even her spelling mistakes disappeared. Was it magic? Not at all, it was guerilla!

She could also connect the strange sounds of her favourite song to words and she even knew some of them!

The girl now realised that only what sounded made sense in her way of learning. Was this because of natural inclination? Was this because of passion? Was this because of a different ability? She did not know and did not care; she could learn that language by playing it, and that was a fact. And so she nearly forgot about books but she would play the language year after year.

One day that guerilla schoolgirl became a young guerilla English teacher. The first thing she told to her students was forgetting about books. She said: ‘Well…. books are a useful support, but they aren’t alive! A language is not a language if it isn’t spoken and used! So, play your language, play with your language! Use what you want… computer games, films, music, videos, forums, chat rooms, … don’t trust your books, trust yourselves and find your way!’.

This teacher strongly believes that a teacher must be a coach. Her guerilla continues, she continues to sing that song, sometimes even to her students.


Storyteller: Silvia Tobaldi, University of Tuscia, Italy — partner in the Erasmus+ project GuLL

More info about GuLL: www.pleasemakemistakes.eu

Guerilla Literacy Learning is a project co-funded from Erasmus+ (Agreement no. 2014–1-BE02-KA200–000472)