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Intro [00:00:00] Hello and welcome to Episode 26 of the English Waffle, a podcast for English learners looking to improve their listening skills by listening to real conversations. This week, I'm joined by special guest Desta Haile. Professional musician, language teacher and founder of the language learning tool Languages Through Music. Desta is currently in Brussels where we recorded this conversation, although I'm in London, er, and though the recording of our conversation is pretty good for the most part, there may be parts where the conversation, the connection is...is a bit poor, so please be patient. I've added some extracts of the music that Desta and I talk about during our conversation and you can see links to the artists on YouTube in the Language Analysis part of the English Waffle website. Back at the end to wrap things up and for some more waffle chat. But for now, sit back and enjoy the conversation. Desta and I languaging and musicking.
Jingle [00:01:08] Welcome to the English waffle, where we talk about random stuff. We'll take you on a journey where you'll find out soon enough. That listening to the waffle is an entertaining way of sharing with you foreigners the things that British people say. So join us on the waffle and strap yourself in for 10 whole earthling minutes of English listening.
Mike [00:01:37] So, Desta, for our listeners, we met through... we've not met in person. We've met through the powers of the Internet, which is the next best thing to meeting in real...real person
Desta [00:01:53] It's the future its the future. Now we have to get used it!
Mike [00:02:01] This is what we've got. Yeah, so we we connected via LinkedIn. And I'm super grateful that we did. Because I think our interests are very aligned in the in the world, if you like, of language learning. So for our listeners, just by way of introduction, you are the founder and creative director of Language Learning through Music. Which helps people to learn language through music and culture, I guess? What made you come up with the idea behind this?
Desta [00:02:42] Yeah. It's really just my two favourite things. So I've been a professional musician and vocalist for quite a while. A good fifteen something years.
Mike [00:02:56] So long ago ago that you can't recall where it all began!
Desta [00:03:03] Yeah, and then really at the same time I started teaching languages. So it was kind of my first two jobs. So I started teaching languages to kids. And then I got my TEFL and then I got my CELTA and teenagers and adults. And so I've always been writing music or doing backing vocals or lead vocals or playing the bass or making playlists, like I've always been a real musichead. And I've always been into languages. And then it was I think, yeah, 2014, I thought, well, you know, why don't I just combine the two, because that's what helps me learn. I never got anywhere with traditional school lessons. I was never interested in, like, you know, a grammar book or grammar exercises. And I thought, music gives you everything you need, grammar, vocabulary, pronunciation, everything and a whole lot more because it's it's fun. And you get to, you know, travel the world and learn about different cultures and different. You know, I think schools can be so narrow minded sometimes, you know. But with music, you can get different accents and slang and you watch music videos and you discover artists from, you know, not only present day, but vintage artists. You can learn so much in one song. And I think people were really sleeping on that fact. You know, it was always kind of a song could be part of a super structured lesson... And you pick the song according to what, you know, grammar point. you're covering that lesson. I just find that really dry. It didn't speak to me. And I learned Portuguese solely through music, really, and I learned some Turkish and I learned Dutch, anything I learned, I learned through music.
Mike [00:05:01] So that's that's great. And so resonant with what you do. Do you like, what are the languages you speak first of all, just by way of introduction?
Desta [00:05:12] I was born in Bangkok. So I spoke Thai first. But then I forgot it because we moved to Barbados, which is where I guess I learned English and...
Mike [00:05:23] So, your parents are English speaking?
Desta [00:05:28] Yes. So my mom's English and my dad's Eritrean. And there we spoke English at home as my dad's English was perfect. Then my mom's Tigrinya. Not so much.
Mike [00:05:37] Tigrinya is the language from Eritrea, right?
Desta [00:05:42] Yes, that's right. And so I speak English mother tongue and then French, Portuguese and I'd say, those are my three. Portuguese and French I'm very fluent. Those are the two I teach the most. My Spanish I'd say is good, intermediate. Turkish. I used to do backing vocals for a Turkish artist, so I had to learn 20 songs in Turkish, which gives you actually a ton of vocabulary. And then I did a one month kind of intensive course in Istanbul. So my Turkish is OK. And then I did a bit of Dutch studies and I learnt so I speak Dutch as well. And I was studying it in Africa. And i've been studying Tigrinya for ages, but I don't feel like I speak it very well. I mean, I've studied tons... I've had teachers for Japanese, Tagalog, Arabic, and so I've studied quite a few of them. Not necessarily being able to have conversations in all of them. But yeah, I just love, love learning languages.
Mike [00:06:50] I don't know about you, but for me, the idea of learning through music helps you get this idea of forming of a relationship with words, that you kind of build an emotional connection with certain sounds and certain words and their meaning, which is so far, it's so different from maybe, reading in a text or reading like, I dunno, is something in the sound and the way it's trans, trans something in music. It helps.
Desta [00:07:25] Yeah. Absolutely. And I think it speaks to all kinds of learners. You know, so people go, oh, I'm not really musical. You know, I can't sing. It doesn't matter at all. That hearing is the first sense we develop in the womb, you know. We connect to it whether we like it or not.
Mike [00:07:42] With the heartbeat, yeah.
Desta [00:07:46] And so, you know, if you're a visual learner, which I am, you know, being able to watch some music video filmed in some faraway country and tune into the visual cues of that. And then you get the audio, you learn all that. And what I get, you know, from doing a workshop, one of the revision activities is, you know, if it's with younger learners, especially is once they've learned the meaning, you know, for the kinetic learners, I let them make a choreography, you know, that's informed by what the lyrics mean. So it's really. And then you go, oh, how do you get grammar? How do you get this will be if it's you do far more likely to remember, you know, if it's emotionally connected or is it a story of what's funny or if it's then you're like she's asking, you know, where were you last night? Oh, so that's OK, past simple. OK. So I think it really speaks to all kinds of learners. And also, it takes you know, I think one of the big things when you're first starting out is you're shy or you're afraid of your accent or you sound silly or whatever. And if you're blasting a song and just trying your best to sing along to it, like even just the refrain, that really builds your confidence. And I think confidence is the most important part. And even if you get a little accent right.
Desta [00:09:15] You know, a lot of cultures, if you can say a few words in a pretty good accent, theyre like wow amazing, good job and getting that feedback is like, oh, cool, I'm going to learn a bit more. I'm going to, you know, learn a few more songs. And then also you have something to talk about, like, oh you're from Brazil? Oh, I just learned this song by Gilberto Gil. Ah no way you like Gilberto Gil, like it gives you it gives you, you know, stuff to talk about.
Desta [00:09:39] And I think if, you know, you know, the top ten country, the top ten artists that a country loves. Over the past hundred years, you know a lot about that country.
Mike [00:10:24] Completely. And do kids and adults respond to this in the same way defined that adults are open to this idea of playfulness and everybody likes music, right? So there isn't anybody out there who's like music, that's not my bag at all. It can't be.
Desta [00:10:42] Funnily enough, I've had two students who told me nah I'm not really that into music and i'm like why you coming to me then?!
Mike [00:10:50] You got the wrong address!
Desta [00:10:55] And then they told me, well, you know, I thought it was it would be kind of different for me, would be a different challenge. You know, it hasn't worked with the ways I've tried.
Desta [00:11:04] So maybe if I tried music, you know, it'll work. OK, great. That's so cool. I think so brave of someone to try something they don't necessarily feel comfortable in to already learn a language which isn't necessarily a comfortable place to be.
Desta [00:11:17] So, yeah, I mean I think kids are. Yeah. They're more up for a sing along maybe. But I've had mostly adult students and the workshops have been in places like Southbank and Beaux Arts here in Brussels. So you know, adults. And also what I think is important, like when I was learning and the teacher would try and include music often it was a children's song or some some song I wouldn't want to be listening to at home. And that didn't appeal to me at all. I think even when I'm teaching kids, I don't really pick children's song, you know, per se. I pick songs that would be slower and easier, simpler, but not I don't baby them.
Mike [00:12:09] Not nursery rhymes
Desta [00:12:11] No. I find that's really easy in a way to find online. But you don't necessarily get that explanation of like..You don't get that. Yeah.
Mike [00:12:25] Nursery rhymes are quite narrow like limiting aren't they. They're normally just. I don't know, I'm just thinking back to what nursery rhymes I know, but they all are quite sort of.. babyish , as they are for babies, right?
Desta [00:12:41] Yeah. You know who's in the workshops, who's bringing the babies? It's the parents. Right. So I want to I want to choose music that the parents will be happy to play at home and not tortured by some Peppa Pig or.. you know. something that the whole family can learn or enjoy or, I don't know, learning's learning. I don't really think there should be a huge difference between how we learn as adults and how we learn as kids. And I think that's a way that a lot of adults shoot themselves in the foot because, you know, are allowed to learn with colours and fun and, you know, painting and music and songs and theatre and like and then...
Mike [00:13:47] Language can be fun. Language learning can be fun guys
Desta [00:13:49] Exactly. There's this really unnecessary divide, I think. And you know, I did French for twelve years at school and I graduated and I couldn't even have a kind of easy conversation. But two months into, I started music work and then, two months into, you know, learning some French songs and doing backing vocals for French artists or I found I finally found a CD I really loved in French because at school we weren't really encouraged to explore artists or create our own relationships to the language or find, you know, materials that spoke to us or, you know, it was this really and I mean, I feel sorry for teachers because they often have a lot of checklist that they have to just do and they don't feel like they have the time or space to necessarily explore other ways of teaching. And also they are up against all this like, oh, learning through music's not serious. It's super serious. Actually!
Mike [00:15:17] So talk to us a little bit more about the resources that you've got at the moment. You've got these e-books that are translated into different languages. Right?
Desta [00:15:28] Yeah, so I'm trying to create a lot of resources to help people learn. So I'm working on these e-books so that people can have a nice playlist, a good 20 songs and a good twenty to twenty five key words picked out of each song. So to really support their learning and then I'm adding all these links to it so they can, you know, click through to a music video, click through to the full lyrics, click through to a documentary by the artists. So it's really kind of supporting their own learning.
Desta [00:16:10] And I'm trying to record a lot of kind of support material, so I'm trying out this podcast thing myself. So I just got the approval email from Apple today.
Desta [00:16:22] So, people, you know, if they want to hear the song kind of gone through, then they can go to the podcast and then otherwise. I have mainly private students on Skype for the moment. But to embrace this whole lockdown business, I'm going to start next week and I think I'm going to start kind of group lessons on Zoom try it out. And also not only for the ones I teach, but I'd like to, you know, for example, improve my Turkish, improve my Arabic. So I'd like to find a teacher who run those sessions and people can join. Like on a pay what you can on basis and, you know, bring their own songs so that it's a kind of weekly discussion and through the Facebook group really kind of build the resources and encourage people to share resources, because how many songs are there in the world that would be great if people shared their own their own...Ideas, keywords helped each other. Because its such a wealth, you know, and I think it's something from me about languages, which I always thought was really a shame that there's this whole. kind of elitist thing in the UK. You know, you have to be wealthy to learn a language or, you know, language lessons are quite, you know, expensive or exclusive or, you know, I went to lots of language fairs. I didn't see people who looked like me. It didn't really seem very, you know, very encouraged or open or inclusive or. I was talking to a friend, too, about making sites inclusive, like, you know, for blind people. You know why? Why isn't it? think language is the most inclusive thing, really. So it should be available for everyone and it should be encouraged because it opens so many doors and it enables so many friendships and opportunities and makes you express yourself differently. So I'd be really happy to see more people given that confidence and power to do a few lessons or listen in on a few of the podcasts and say, hey, well, I can start building my own resources or I can, I have Internet, I have Spotify or YouTube or and I can tap into this group here and connect with people who are also passionate about learning through music.
Mike [00:19:51] So I've just been nodding my head the last five minutes!!
Desta [00:19:54] Sorry, I go off on one when it’s my two favourite things...
Mike [00:20:01] I haven't really got much to add because I agree with all the sentiments that you’ve said. But I do have some…three quick-fire questions to wrap this up, because…so quickly without thinking about things too much. What is your favourite language? It’s a tough one.
Desta [00:20:20] Portuguese right now.
Mike [00:20:24] Portuguese. OK.
Desta [00:20:25] Yeah, in terms of teaching, I really think it's so musical. And there's so, there's just so many great Lusaphone artists. Brazil, Angola, Cape Verde, I just love the music from Portugal. And I think it's a very musical language in itself.
Mike [00:20:45] So rich. Right.
Desta [00:20:48] Yeah I think it’s gorgeous.
Mike [00:20:50] Wha…and this is a trivia question. What is the first instrument ever to be invented?
Desta [00:20:56] Ooh. Wow. That's a very good question. Well a drum, I would assume.
Mike [00:21:05] I would say a drum as well, I'm gonna Google it because I don't know the answer myself!
Desta [00:21:13] I thought you were gonna drop some, you know, 5 string lute...
Mike [00:21:21] Oud of some description. No. Erm, favourite word in any language? Do you have a favourite word?
Desta [00:21:31] Oh, gosh! I have so many favourite words. When you asked me that, my brain just went...
Mike [00:21:41] Yeah, yeah, crashed, ok. I mean…
Desta [00:21:45] Yeah. I have to restart. What's your favourite word?
Mike [00:21:49] Like…I just remember the…I haven't thought about that question for a long time. My favourite word.
Desta [00:21:57] The first one that came to my mind was ma'ri which in Tigrinya means my honey. So ma'ar is honey and ma'ri is my honey. So it's really in Tigrinya we use it a lot with friends and fam. Yeah. its my honey, my love, my sweetheart.
Mike [00:22:22] That's lovely. I remember learning Arabic and my teacher saying to me that the the word kelp is Dog. My pronunciation might be a bit dodgy, but there's Qualp and Kelp and the same thing is if you put the i at the end of it you get my. So if you say Klbi it means my dog and Qualpi my heart, my darling. So you can really get them too confused. My darling or my dog. Kind of different things!
Mike [00:23:02] Well, we could go on for hours. We could…I could certainly talk to you about a whole host of things. But that's a nice little taster for our listeners to understand a bit more about what you do.
Desta [00:23:19] Thank you so much for having me and for reaching out in the first place. So nice talk to you.
Mike [00:23:21] Absolute pleasure. And I hope to get you on again soon. And good luck with all these your things. I’m gonna put links into into the show notes about the work that you do. And hopefully you…just please guys check it out cause Desta is great and...I think you're a pioneer. I really do. I think you're a pioneer in like what we're doing.
Desta [00:23:50] Thank you so much. I appreciate it.
Here are some of the bits of Language that we at English Waffle think you may find interesting...
(00:4:34). vintage artist (adjective)
1. something old or classic
2. relating to good quality (e.g music/wine)
(00:06:17) a ton of (idiom)
Means a lot of something , Not exactly a ton but you know... a large amount!
(00:12:09). nursery rhyme (noun)
Traditional song or poem used for children
00:13:15). shoot yourself in the foot (idiom) - to make situation worse for oneself
Desta here says that in not allowing themselves to be playful with language learning, many adults 'shoot themselves in the foot' - this means they are not doing themselves a favour, self-sabotaging .