One of the things I’ve discovered while teaching English as a foreign language is that students want to tell me things. They want to know if I’ve heard the latest song by so-and-so or watched that new movie starring whats-his-face or seen whos-ya-father on the whatchamajiga show. I quickly realised the obvious: kids are far more interested in what’s relevant to them than whatever their English Textbook might be droning on about.

Using pop culture in the EFL classroom is a great way to engage the class.

Live In The Now

It’s difficult for language teaching material to stay relevant. New editions of textbooks and workbooks aren’t published too regularly but in the modern age something can be hugely popular one minute and totally unknown the next. Therefore it’s up to the EFL teacher to inject relevant, topical things into their lesson.

This can take many forms. Popular movies and music artists can be placed into speaking exercises as dialogue choices. A listening exercise could revolve around a popular English-language song. Current news articles can be adapted for reading practice. Additionally, nothing fits the bill better than a writing exercise that lets students write about their interests.

Personalities in Japan

In a Japanese home the TV is almost perpetually on. As such there’s a constant lust for engaging content. It also means that there is an abundance of TV personalities and comedians who become well-known for their unique characteristics or particular routines. I don’t watch a ton of Japanese TV but I’m often introduced to new personalities or routines by students, who sometimes burst into full-fledged reenactments.

One of the earliest personalities I became aware of was Sugi-Chan, a gel-haired denim-wearing fellow with the catchphrase “ワイルドだぜ” (“I’m wild, right?”). I used pics of him in some speaking exercises for about a year before he basically dropped off my radar.

Last year there was a comedian called Atsugiri Jason. His routine climaxed with the catchphrase “Why Japanese people?” He was an American who would get on stage with a whiteboard and proceed to write the Kanji characters for numbers in Japanese. The joke being: “Look at these first few characters, they’re simple, they make sense, but then … WHY JAPANESE PEOPLE??” (after three the characters become more complicated). I remember seeing this skit on TV and thinking it was pretty funny. However, the side effect of his popularity was that any white male with glasses (such as I) was frequently greeted with loud bellows of that catchphrase.

Dance Dance Revolution

A number of Japanese comedy teams use dances as part of their routines. The most elaborate one I’ve seen recently was a group called Radio Fish, and their hit Perfect Human. It was super catchy and had a nice hook, hence its popularity.

There was another act that was popular for a while and the impact of their routine, Rasengorenai, made me realise how popular YouTube is with Japanese kids. The dance was simple enough for people to figure out and re-create but challenging enough for it to inspire a sense of accomplishment. Dozens of budding YouTubers took to the web to display their skills at mimicry.


The most recent sensation of this kind to come out of Japan is PPAP, a routine performed by comedian Pico Taro. There have been a gazillion remakes of it including a beatbox version, a Where? There! Teach. version, and my personal favourite, the Bollywood version. This thing’s so popular at the moment there’s even a PPAP cafe!

It’s understandable why it’s so popular. It’s got the catchy rhythm of Perfect Human, the straight-forward dance of Rasengorenai, and memorably simplistic catchphrase of Mr. Jason. It’s the perfect combo.

PPAP is of particular note from an English teaching standpoint because it’s the only performance I’ve mentioned that’s entirely in English. Plus, the language is simple and clear enough to be easily repeated by younger learners. This means it could function as a fundamental component of a classroom activity. This is exactly what a friend of mine did. By adding to the vocabulary of the song he got his Elementary School children practising the sentence structure of “I have ~”. Additionally,  the song uses both pen and apple in its lyrics. So the students are organically practising the correct usage of articles a and an.

Using Pop Culture in the EFL Classroom

Being aware of what’s popular in the area of the world that an EFL teacher works in can help them communicate effectively with their students. By discussing current trends or using items/people/topics that students like the teacher can transform in the eyes of the student. From “the stuffy educator” to being someone more on their level.

As well as making student-teacher relationships more amicable and normalised the use of pop culture in the EFL classroom should boost the learners’ retention. People are far more likely to recall moments they enjoyed or were engaged with than individually-irrelevant facts or dull topics.

So bring the popular into the learning environment. Use it as a chance to share your own thoughts and interests with students and to learn about theirs. Make learning English about more than just remembering words.

What elements of pop culture have you used in your lessons? What Japanese comedians/acts do you enjoy? Let us know below.

Thank you for reading! if you’d like some more tips to help in the EFL classroom take a glimpse over here.



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