What Lady Gaga can teach you about learning English as a second language

Sassy, CC BY 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons.

Lady Gaga is a world-renowned singer, but more than that, she's an excellent teacher, in that the way she sings makes it very easy to understand her. What's more, she's a great reminder that we're not all perfect when we speak English.

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Lady Gaga and Learning English As A Second Language

Lady Gaga, the amazing American singer, songwriter and actress, has been described as a “post-modern diva” who combines elements of Madonna, David Bowie and Freddie Mercury. Now that’s a pretty impressive description! But we think Lady Gaga can also teach you something important about learning English as a second language and speaking it whilst you’re in England.

Lady Gaga is one of only a few artists who sing really clearly in English. She has great pronunciation, and she enunciates well, which means that you can usually hear every word she sings very clearly. Some great examples of Lady Gaga songs with really clear lyrics include:

Now that’s useful if you’re learning English and you like listening to her songs. But that’s not all.

What’s curious is when she speaks in interviews, Lady Gaga has good days and bad days – which is very similar to what it’s like when you’re speaking another language. Sometimes your English just flows, other days, it feels like it’s a struggle to put a sentence together!

If you contrast these two interviews

you’ll see that at times she’s very confident, sometimes she’s been super hesitant.

After the second interview on the BBC, a lot of newspapers commented how she found it very difficult to speak, and that the interview was awkward for the interviewer. Not so. In fact, it says more about her personality. She’s a very successful artist, she’s deeply creative, she is empowered and strong, and yet, sometimes she hesitates and stumbles over her words.

You hear her saying “err….” quite a lot. She speaks quite slowly at times. She doesn’t always speak in full sentences, but also uses sentence segments. Short phrases. She sometimes pauses, repeats a word or two. At the end of the BBC interview, she takes a really long time to think about what she has been asked. Partly because she wants to get her phrase exactly right, partly because there are some things she doesn’t want to say.

So what’s the connection with learning English in a school in the UK?

Language Schools: Learning English In England

What we find interesting about Lady Gaga is the difference between how she sings (super-rehearsed), and what she’s like when she’s speaking, both when it’s been rehearsed, and when she hasn’t thought through her responses and she’s speaking in a spontaneous way. In the Jimmy Kimmel interview it actually feels that they’ve rehearsed it all already – she’s almost too fast with her responses. It might make for very slick TV, but it’s not really a good reflection of real life.

This is actually very similar to how you might approach learning English in England.

If English is your second language, then you can borrow some strategies from Lady Gaga when you communicate with other people, especially when talking to English people where you might feel more nervous.

Learning English in England: Rehearse what you’re going to say

When Lady Gaga records an album, she is famous for not using autotune (the device which makes your voice sound more harmonious). She practises and practises until she gets it totally, totally right. In her case, that’s not just the lyrics (the words of the song), but also how she looks, her eye contact, her facial expressions and her posture.

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When you’re in England, you are hopefully going to meet a lot of English people. The kind of questions people ask you in England if you’re from a different country are maybe quite predictable. In fact, if you have spent a few weeks here in Eastbourne already, you might already have noticed that you’ve been asked the same question a couple of times already.

Remember those questions, and note down your answer! Then work with your English teacher at school to create a perfectly scripted reply. This is the equivalent of Lady Gaga’s rehearsed interviews and song lyrics.

Like her you can practise your script until it’s just right. The good news is that you don’t always have to repeat the exact same words every time. But if you have rehearsed a really good answer, you’ll find that if you’re having one of those days when English is just not flowing (we all have them!), then at least you’ll have one version of your answer ready and waiting.

We know that this is not something to do instead of learning English in a school. The English lessons you take with your teacher will make sure you can improvise, move phrases and vocabulary around to express yourself more accurately, but sometimes, just having something you’ve practised can really help.

Speaking English in England: Enunciate like Lady Gaga

Enunciate just means “say things clearly”. So whilst you’re practising your phrases and answers to questions, maybe check your pronunciation with one of your teachers. When you speak, your enunciation makes a big difference. Also, think about your intonation and how you link some words together when they appear in a certain order. Ask your English teacher for help if you need it.

The more clearly you speak, the more confidently you’ll speak, and that will change how people respond to you. There is something so powerful about Lady Gaga’s confidence on stage, singing the words she knows with total confidence. Even though some of her songs and videos are pretty crazy, you never doubt her confidence when she’s singing a song.

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It’s OK to be unprepared too when you’re speaking English

During the BBC interview, Lady Gaga clearly wasn’t expecting some of the questions. Particularly the ones about the United States elections. Even though she knew the interviewer, she hesitated, and left long silences between her sentences, even though she was on live TV.

What’s great about this is that she didn’t seem to care that much. But just maybe that is our perception. Maybe it’s because she’s so very confident on stage (when she has practised), that even when she’s uncertain, she makes it sound like it’s planned. Even when she hesitates, it makes us think “she’s really thinking about the contents of her answer”.

When you are in a situation where you can’t think of what to say, maybe you just need a moment to think too, just like Gaga. If you’ve managed to use some of your well-practised phrases, you might convince the person opposite you that you are in fact really confident, and that if you’re hesitating, it’s that you’re just choosing exactly the right words, not that you’ve totally forgotten the word for something! In many ways, it’s all a show, and you can pretend like anyone else!

Learning English in England using frequently asked questions

What are some of the questions that English people might ask you? Here are some of the ones we think are asked quite a lot (but you might have a different list).

  • Where exactly are you from? What is it like there?
  • Why did you decide to learn English in Eastbourne?
  • What do you like about Eastbourne?
  • Where are you living?
  • Are you enjoying it?
  • Are you a student?
  • What family do you have back home?
  • What do you want to do when you finish studying English?
  • What do you think of the English weather/food/people?

So remember. Write down your answers, get them checked by your teacher, then practise your answers. Practise in front of a mirror. Give yourself eye contact, smile and be confident. Your answers don’t have to be long, but try to remember at least two or three sentences for each reply.

The more you practise your responses, the more you will start using English without thinking. Then you’ll find you can stop worrying about what you’re saying, and start noticing how people are reacting. What interests them? What makes them smile? What entertains them?

If you get the same interesting reactions to the same answer with different English people, then maybe add a few more English phrases to that part of your answer. Before you know it, English conversations with real English people in England will seem easy to you. And you’ll seem really confident to them. Just like Gaga, you Little Monster.

To find out the meanings of some of Lady Gaga’s songs, you can check out this link http://songmeanings.com/artist/view/songs/137438984319/

The English Language Centre in Eastbourne is one of the UK’s leading English language schools, offering programmes for most ages, all through the year.

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