Songs are a useful tool in language acquisition. Language teachers can use them to open or close their lessons, to introduce topics or themes, to add variety or change the pace, to present new vocabulary or recycle known language structures.
Simple, repetitive songs often contain a recurrent grammatical pattern which is useful to teach (especially with younger children). More difficult songs often contain interesting vocabulary and idioms. Also, there is often a message, a theme, or a story underlying a song which students can discuss, explain, debate, and write about at almost any level.
According to Gardner, students classified into ‘aural/musical’ category will have a lot of benefit from learning through songs as they are strong in singing, picking up sounds, remembering melodies and rhythms. They like to sing, play instruments and listen to music.
This is not to say that learners with other learning styles cannot benefit from songs. Of course, they can, because in the activities we use songs, we can dance and act (physical learning style), read, draw and do puzzles (spatial intelligence), tell stories, and write (verbal learning styles).
What makes songs so useful in language learning context:
Songs have characteristics that help learning a second language. Some of them are as follows:
- Songs often contain common, short words.
- The language in songs is often conversational.
- The lyrics are often sung at a slower rate than spoken words and there is repetition of words and grammar.
- Songs address the affective side in learners so they can motivate them to learn.
In addition, songs contribute to learners’ development in the following sides:
Singing songs in and with a class is a social act which allows learners to participate in a group and express their feelings, no matter what their English is like.
Songs provide a great opportunity for young learners to move around. Clapping, dancing and playing instruments stimulate memory, which makes it possible for learners to hear chunks of language as they sing and use them in different situations later.
We all know the phenomenon of the song-that-is-stuck-in-my-head. With the right kind of song, it is easy to use this phenomenon to get learners to know what to say and to produce language rapidly without pausing.
Songs used in English classes can, in that way, shed light on interesting musical traditions in countries, but can also teach teens, young adults and adults to appreciate other cultures. For adult learners, songs can be “a rich mine” of information about human relations, ethics, customs, history, humor, and regional and cultural differences.
Through singing authentic songs, learners would have the opportunity to listen to pronunciation in a wide range of varieties of the language. Songs will help learners become familiar with word stress and intonation, and the rhythm with which words are spoken or sung. Again, this will enable learners to remember chunks of language which they can then use in conversations or in writing. As language teachers, we can use songs to practice listening, speaking, reading and writing.
How to use songs in English classes:
Start with a focusing activity: anything that will get students thinking about the subject of the song. Have them think about the title of the song, in groups of pairs. Find a picture that relates to the subject of the song and have students guess about it.
Put the important words from the song on the board. Present what each word means. Then, have students give you simple sentences that include these words.
Write the song on the board. Students listen to it. You can stop the song before a word you want them to guess or after each part of the song.
Cutting the song into strips, give each student one strip to memorize. Students put the strips in their pockets. They get up and tell each other their part of the song, without looking at their part or showing their part to anyone else. Students then organize themselves in the right order, speak the song and then listen again and check. You can also have students put the strips on a table in order.
Ask students some questions about the song (about the words, about the topics or about characters in the song).
Change words (adjectives, adverbs, nouns, names, places or feelings), and invent new lyrics for the melody. If you have karaoke versions of the songs, you can then let students sing their own versions.
The possibilities are endless. Music and songs are fun, and most people enjoy them. Make songs a regular feature in your lessons!
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