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Studying English with Ukraine's "Carol of the Bells”

Last week, the Ukrainian Bandurist Chorus of North America and the Ukrainian Children’s Choir joined forces under Oleh Mahlay, artistic director of the Bandurist choir, “to perform a slew of Ukrainian carols” at Carnegie Hall in New York City. From this large number of carols, one rang out exactly 100 years after its U.S. debut: the “Carol of the Bells.”

This article and podcast from National Public Radio follows the history of “Carol of the Bells,” originally written in 1916 and entitled Shchedryk, to its debut at Carnegie Hall in 1922 during a time of political unrest in Ukraine, to its journey into the Christmas music canon in 1936 via American composer Peter Wilhousky, and to its landing at the December 4th concert, during yet another juncture of political and cultural crisis in Ukraine.

I recommend this article and podcast for music students studying English as another language. In addition to its fascinating, relevant historical and cultural content, students might notice, study and practice particular features of English from this (tiny) list of suggestions:


· Use of both present and past tense in a news article

· Long sentences with various clauses

· Use of the em dash in writing

Vocabulary and Pronunciation

· a slew

· a staple

· I sing, therefore I am (riffing on Descartes)

· Light amid darkness


· Listening for main ideas and details

· Listening for new vocabulary

· Connected speech

· Focus words

· Rhythm and intonation

· Comparing information in a written article with a podcast

Writing and/or recording a spoken reflection:

Consider and write and/or record your voice: Is there a piece of music from your home country with a similar historical, cultural and political impact as “Carol of the Bells?” Use new vocabulary where possible.

Speaking and Pronunciation:

Students present the content from the written/recorded assignment above to the class, and perform the music on which it is based. Students ask questions of the presenter. Students summarize what they heard in pairs/small groups. Teachers can also provide a checklist of grammar and/or pronunciation features currently being studied for students to listen for and discuss afterward.


Students listen in pairs to an excerpt from the podcast and/or their classmates’ recorded reflection. Students transcribe what they hear, compare notes, and make corrections, noticing content and form.

Image attribution:

Image by <a href="" ></a>, <a class="external text" href="" >CC BY</a>

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