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Posts Tagged ‘music’

R. Kelly, Vocabulary Instructor

Sunday, November 18th, 2012

kellyEnglish, baby! and R. Kelly have always had a lot in common. We both have extended web soap operas with shocking plot twists. R. Kelly’s Trapped in the Closet explores how long one man can keep the same riff going, and our As The World Learns is a meditation on how English idioms shape our lives.

But I just become aware of something truly amazing thanks to Aziz Ansari. In his new stand up special, Dangerously Delicious, Aziz explains some fans had a hard time understanding R. Kelly’s song, “Echo.”

“So what do you do if you’re R. Kelly in that situation?,” says Aziz. “Are you going to post a video online defining the word “echo”? Yes. That’s exactly what he did.”

Considering one of the things we do here at English, baby! is enlist the help of famous musicians in teaching English, I immediately looked up the video. Sure enough, R. Kelly went ahead and did our work for us this time.

Aziz goes on to imagine R. Kelly defining other terms. “Alright, some of y’all don’t know what a cheeseburger is. You know when you go to McDonald’s and you order a cheeseburger? That’s a cheeseburger.”

While he undoubtedly has a way with words, R. Kelly’s echo video could indeed use some help in the teaching department. He doesn’t even touch on the slang use he’s using in the song! That’s where we come in.

R. Kelly–we are here for you. Based on our soap operas, we clearly think alike. Anytime you want to continue your video dictionary, we are ready to help. Contact us anytime. If you need a reference, maybe you could give one of the guys from Bone Thugs a text?

Girl Talk Teaches Slang

Tuesday, April 12th, 2011

Gregg Gillis, who makes music under the name Girl Talk, is a really smart guy. His music alone gives that away–it can’t be easy to mix parts of more than 300 songs into one very danceable album. Before Girl Talk became his job, he was an engineer, and you can hear how scientifically he speaks in these English lesson videos we recorded with him during his tour stop in Portland.

First, we talked about the phrase “out of the blue” and how his latest album, All Day, surprised everyone.

Then, we talked about the term “sample.”

It was so nice of Gregg to spend 15 minutes or so with us both in his dressing room and up on the stage. He really seemed to get the concept of our Celebrity English Lessons and said he had watched the one with Bone Thugs-n-Harmony and liked it.

Interestingly, before this interview with Gregg took place, we had been planning to run a music English lesson about Girl Talk anyway. We recorded a conversation about him for the dialog. You can listen to me and Ella from the Ebaby! cast chatting about All Day below. And don’t forget, you can always download the album for free!

Growing Up with Weird Al Yankovic

Sunday, February 6th, 2011

It’s funny that Al Yankovic’s new book for children is called When I Grow Up, because when I was a kid, I pretty much wanted to be Weird Al when I grew up. I remember the first time I saw the “Amish Paradise” video on TV. I thought I had lost my mind. I simply could not believe something so cool and hilarious could exist and be on TV.

Naturally, I was thrilled when Weird Al agreed to do an English lesson for English, baby! We cover two meanings of the phrase “grow up” in his lesson.

If you’ve listened to Weird Al’s music, you can tell he’s kind of a genius, so I knew he would be a great English teacher. There were so many good vocabulary words in this interview, that it was hard to choose which to highlight. In fact, I’m sure some ESL students will have to watch it a few times to get it. Luckily, the topic of jobs and careers is relatively easy to understand.

The same goes for Al’s book. It’s surprisingly straight-forward. His name appears on the cover as simply “Al Yankovic” and the book isn’t especially “weird” or experimental. The language is really creative. It might be a little advanced for some kids (or ESL students), but the tougher words, like “hydraulic torque wrench calibrator” have fun sounds so you can enjoy them even if you don’t know what they mean.

While if it didn’t have his name on it, you probably wouldn’t guess the book is by Weird Al, the voice is clearly his. It’s easy to picture him reading the book aloud. And in way, the story is a metaphor for his body of work. The book follows the imagination of a kid who runs through many possible careers, some outrageous (giraffe milker) and others more common (teacher), and never picks one. Al is the same way–his music covers every genre and he has also studied architecture, been a filmmaker and now a writer…and lucky for us, an English teacher!


Greg Graffin of Bad Religion teaches English

Monday, December 20th, 2010

Usually, Greg Graffin, who has a PhD from Cornell, teaches life sciences and evolution at UCLA. But at a recently appearance in Portland, he gave an English lesson for the ESL students of English, baby! as part of our Celebrity English Lessons series.

Greg was on tour with his band, Bad Religion, while also doing events on the side to promote his new book. I met with him at the book signing at the Bagdad Theater in Portland and, in addition to getting a book signed and one for a friend, asked him to explain what “against the grain” means, since it’s the title of a well-known Bad Religion song and album.

It’s interesting–while talking about “against the grain” Greg brings in another, similar idiom, “swimming upstream.” It’s probably because after 20 years of singing the song, the two are closely related in his mind. Take a look at the lyrics of the chorus:

Against the grain: that’s where I’ll stay.
Swimming upstream, I maintain against the grain.

I discussed the carpentry origins of the phrase in the lesson intro on Ebaby!, but it’s actually helpful that Greg brought in another image so that the English students on the website will have an easier time remembering the meaning of the phrase.

Bad Religion is actually my favorite band, so I was extra thrilled that Greg was willing to do this. I interviewed him once over the phone back in 2007, but it was an honor to meet him in person!

Learning English on the Job with E-40

Monday, October 18th, 2010

e40 003
Our friend Cool Nutz did us a big favor and recommended to his friend E-40 that he do an English lesson with us. E-40 is a very well-known rapper from Oakland, California. He is actually the first artist to be the subject of a regular Ebaby! lesson made of a conversation between our actors and later to personally appear in an interview. We met with him when he played at the theater just down the street from the English, baby! offices in Portland earlier this month.

Maybe it’s his clothes, or maybe it’s the way he walks and talks, but any room instantly gets cooler as soon as E-40 walks into it. Before we met with him, he was signing autographs for a large group of fans. You could feel their excitement over meeting him.

E-40 is a natural fit for a Celebrity English Lesson because he uses a lot of interesting slang in his music. In fact, he used a lot of slang in our interview with him. We tried to include a lot of the simpler phrases and terms he used in the editing of this video so that English students with an intermediate level could understand it. I think it came out well. It’s interesting having a celebrity do an English lesson about time and work–subjects you would actually see in an ESL text book!

When I was preparing for this interview, I learned that E-40 invents a of slang phrases. You know the phrase, “What it do?” Apparently that’s his. I asked him what his latest slang creation was. It didn’t make the final cut of the lesson, but here’s E-40 explaining “for the energy.” You should be hearing this one on a daily basis in a year or two.

Finally, I love how E-40 threw up the metal sign for this photo. We didn’t even talk about metal, but somehow he must have known I am a metalhead. Maybe it had to do with the fact that Tech N9ne was running around looking like a member of Gwar that day.
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Visit E-40 online.

Far Out: Learning English with Tech N9ne

Monday, October 11th, 2010

Tech N9ne
When we got on Tech N9ne’s tour bus, there were a few guys sitting inside. I didn’t recognize them, so I asked where I might find Tech.

“I’m the one you want to talk to,” said a voice from a scary mask. At first I was a little skeptical, but he proved who he was by showing us the tattoos on his arms. Once we started talking to him, the mask kind of made sense. We were there to help the English-language students who use English, baby! learn the slang idiom “far out,” and well, that mask was pretty far out. You can see the whole English lesson on Ebaby! or watch the video here:

It was cool that Tech rapped a little during the interview. It’s clear he’s a really smart guy. He makes a good English teacher.

After the interview, Tech showed us around his bus. In the back, he had a full bedroom with a king-sized bed and a granite shower. He bought the bus from Kid Rock.

I attended Tech N9ne’s sold out show that night and was really impressed. I didn’t expect to stay the whole time, but the hour and a half passed quickly because the crowd was so energetic. You can see what I’m talking about in the video. We interviewed another rapper that night as well, so watch the Celebrity English Lesson page and you’ll find out who it is soon!
Visit Tech N9ne’s official website.

Learning English with Sheryl Crow

Tuesday, August 10th, 2010

Sheryl Crow
Our latest celebrity English teacher is one of my favorite musicians: Sheryl Crow.

I went to Sheryl Crow’s concert to write about it for our local newspaper, The Oregonian. It was an incredible performance. She had so much energy that all 6,000 people there were standing and many were singing. Read my review if you’d like to hear more about it.

Backstage, Sheryl agreed to do an interview for English, baby! I tried to explain it to her beforehand as best I could, but she looked a little surprised when I mentioned her teaching English once we started recording! She was a great English teacher though. She’s very mellow and down to Earth. She seems like such a nice person.

The video was a hit with our members. Many of them are big fans of Sheryl Crow. When I teased them with one of her lyrics on our facebook page, a lot of them guessed correctly which artist I was talking about. But I was surprised to see some comments on the English lesson from members who hadn’t heard of Sheryl Crow before. I guess there are some corners of the world she hasn’t rocked yet!

I was happy to see that some Sheryl Crow’s longtime fans here in the US were into the video too, even though they’re high level or native English speakers and don’t need the English tip. My/be Angels, a Sheryl Crow fan site that has been around for more than 14 years, added us to their video page. Probably the most unexpected place to pick up the video so far was this Argentine Rolling Stones fan site. They picked it up because Sheryl talks about playing with Keith Richards in the interview.

We’ve got more famous English teachers lined up so stay tuned!

Sheryl Crow

Is Christmas Always a Rerun?

Friday, December 19th, 2008

I used to wonder why the same Christmas specials were shown on TV and the same Christmas songs played on the radio year after year. But now I understand.

We made a week’s worth of holiday lessons last year for English, baby! and did the same this year. But when I went back and looked at what we did last year, I realized a lot of it is still good! (Of course, check the site all next week because the new stuff is better, but still.)

It’s no surprise that people often go home for the holidays. The holidays are themselves a home in a way. We return to them every year and they’re largely the same. There’s a trick to creating holiday content that is timeless. I did it a couple of times last year, and made a couple of our lessons more dated. Have a look at last year’s holiday lessons and see which ones you can tell are a year old!

Jingle all the Day

I was particularly proud of my ability to work a photo of Twisted Sister into last year’s holiday music lesson. Did you know they have an actual holiday album?



Broken Bulb

Of course, I had to include some holiday decoration flirtation on the soap opera last year. This is filmed on the roof of our office building.



Christmas Movies

Since so many of the movies discussed in this lesson are classic, it hardly seems outdated. OK maybe the part about Queen Latifah.




This year’s slang is “ham.” I guess there’s something about the all the cheer this time of year that makes me think I can get away with puns.




Dang it. I should have done something Kwanza this year.