Discovering the language of the performing arts

Students from the Catholic Intensive English Centre (CIEC) at Holy Spirit College Lakemba have been expanding their English vocabulary – learning the language of dance, drama and music.

The 15 secondary students from Syria, Cook Islands, Vietnam, Ghana and Ecuador, new migrants or refugees to Australia, were participants in two workshops recently led by CaSPA – Sydney Catholic Schools Performing Arts.  The focus of the workshops was on introducing the students to words used frequently in the performing arts syllabus and providing them with an opportunity to understand those words through dancing, acting and singing.

Before the workshops began they were given lists of words used frequently in the three disciplines such as structure, improvisation, character, dialogue, dancing, acting, phrasing, space and time, which they discussed with their teachers.

For music, they explored words like singing, verse, chorus, lyrics, score and tempo.

“We also threw in some Italian words,” said CaSPA Secondary Coordinator Elizabeth Mullane, “because they are words you use in the language of music.”

A key component of the CIEC is on learning the English required in the range of subjects the students will study in secondary school and preparing them to cope in the mainstream classroom, which they return to after two or three terms at the CIEC.

Ms Mullane said the workshops weren’t just a fun exercise – they very much followed the performing arts syllabus and there was no dumbing down of the content and language.

“The students really rose to the occasion and went beyond our expectations in terms of enthusiasm in taking part, commitment to learning the words and creativity in their self-expression when they joined in the dance, drama and music activities.”

After trying the three performing arts disciplines at the first workshop, the students could choose to concentrate on one field in the second workshop.

Four of the boys chose dance and in a video recorded on the day they spoke about what dance meant to them.

Fourteen-year-old Jackson George from the Cook Islands said: “Dancing is a way how I can express my energy. It is a way how I show my feelings and also tell my story.”

Desmond Larty, 13, from Ghana, said dancing is very exciting. “It helps me find my emotions, feelings, power and freedom. And it makes me happy and makes people smile.”

Thirteen-year-old Elias Albaba from Syria, said break dancing was his favourite form of dance. “I like it because we can make beautiful movements,” he said.

Eric Tran, 14 from Vietnam said: “Dancing makes me feel relaxed. Also, it makes me become a cool guy too, and be myself when I am dancing. And the most simple reason I chose dancing, is that I love it!”

Ms Mullane said the workshops were preparing the students for when they return to the regular classroom at Holy Spirit College or at other Sydney Catholic schools they are enrolled at.

“There are so many words they need to learn but when they are in classes in dance, drama or music they will be more familiar with some of the regularly used terms.”

Ms Mullane said those of us not from an English as a Second Language background take so much for granted about the meaning of words.

“In the first workshops, we talked about the performing arts and what it meant and at first many of the students thought it was drawing. It was such an eye-opener of how much we take for granted with language and how we need to break it down.”

Antonina Munzone, Coordinator at the CIEC, said when students enjoy an activity they naturally want to talk about it.

“Through pre-and-post language learning activities, students were able to describe, discuss and evaluate their CaSPA experience. More importantly, the language learnt remains part of their known vocabulary.”

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