Music in Foreign Language Learning
I remember from secondary school that some of my classmates who weren´t any good at school, and in addition quite lazy, would score high grades in English, especially in communicative and oral English. How come?
It showed that they all either listened to a lot of English/American pop or rock music or they bought weekly English football magazines that they read page by page. They would look up words from the songs, lyrics that they didn´t understand and once understood, they sang along with it. The football “fans” and “hooligans” as well would look up most of the words in the football magazines and try to understand the rest of them from the context.
What can these experiences tell us about language learning, and how can they be used in English classes?
This shows several things:
- Exposure is one of the most important criteria in language learning.
- Listening helps pronunciation.
- Reading texts (in magazines etc.) help students picking up common native language, often informal and with a lot of idiomatic expressions, phrasal verbs, etc.
Reading also helps fluency in speaking (and writing).
Motivation is of course a general “issue” in all learning processes. Lack of motivation is an obstacle in a learning process, also in language classes, especially in classes for children and adolescents. Since most of them either like music or football or both, it should have a positive effect to use music in foreign language classes.
I´d like to share two experiences I have had using music in English classes. One was with a group of adolescents (13 – 16 years old), and the other was with a group of children (9 – 11 years old).
The adolescents:I got the idea from chatting with my students during the break. They asked me if I had listened to Spanish music, and what I thought about it. They told me about their favourite artists, and most of them performed in English. Coming back to class they wanted to continue speaking about music, and everyone was eager to express their like/dislikes. I asked them if they would like to present their idols to me and the rest of the group, telling us a little bit about the artist, play one of the artist’s songs. I had them print out the lyrics so we could all sing along. A fun, lively and noisy class, and the students, although they were tense before their performance, were proud of themselves after their first presentation ever in English.
The children: This was shortly after the 11th of September 2001, and the news on television sent horrible images from the terror attack in New York, while playing “Imagine” by John Lennon in the background. One day one of my pupils came to class humming the song and his classmates expressed that they loved this song. I asked them if they would like to know what the song was about, and they cheered up and said: “YEAH!”
Before the next class I downloaded the song and the lyrics, and we started the class singing the song several times and they were all participating fully. I broke down the different stanzas and had the children write down the words they didn´t understand.
We spoke about the meaning of the words, and I had them categorise them in the categories of “happy” and “sad”. It didn´t take long before words like war, peace, poor, rich etc. came up.
Finally, I had a project with the children on their ideal world, what kind of world they would like to create, what they wanted to have and not in their new, future world. (For example, should there be schools, laws, police, politicians, artists, footballers, bakeries and armies, etc.) Then I made a competition of it. The winners would be those who created a future world that I would like to get old in. From then on, we started and ended all classes with “Imagine” and if they behaved well, they could persuade me to sing it three times.
By the end of the term all my pupils knew the song by heart and had even taught it to many of their friends.
Try it. The students ‘motivation may increase immediately, and their language skills may improve in the long run.