'Red is rojo. Green is verde. Blue-Azul, Negro-Black'? As a high school student I opted to take a foreign language course in Spanish. Honestly, I do not remember a lot of the language (and I even took four years!), but what I do remember are those elements that were taught through the use of song. The example above is sung (and continues) in the tune of ?Are you sleeping?? In this same course we became familiar with a few popular Latin American songs; one such song was ?Amor Prohibido? by Selena. I may not be able to recall the meaning of all the words in the song, but I can still, nonetheless, successfully sing through the entire song with correct pronunciation. My experience and current research have shown me the immense power that songs can have in the acquisition of a foreign language when they are appropriately used. Looking at the three stages of a typical ESL class (engage, study, activate), I will try to show why a teacher would decide to use songs in the classroom.
During the engage stage songs are most beneficial as they can easily arouse the interest of the student. The teacher, having done his/her research, can choose a song that fits with what the students are interested in and with what the lesson for the day is about. For example, if the class is a group of teenagers perhaps the teacher could choose a popular song of the youth culture. According to Inna Shtakser, ?pop music [?] makes learning a foreign language more fun? (Shtakser). It arouses interest because the students can relate to a song that they experience in their everyday lives. In the engage stage the students can be asked to discuss the song: 'how does it make you feel'? ?What stands out for you??
Just as songs are useful during the engage stage(s) they are also helpful during the study phase(s) of a lesson. Songs can help with vocabulary, pronunciation, and grammatical structures as well as with cultural components (Tipton). The teacher must decide on a focus for the lesson instead of trying to cover all these aspects in one class time. If specifically working with vocabulary, it is helpful if the teacher hands out a list of specific words for the students to listen for in the song. For added difficultly the students could also be asked to identify the context of the word in the song. When the class is focused on pronunciation it would be beneficial to (after having been exposed to the song a couple times) hand out the lyrics to the song and have the students follow along and later do a choral repetition of various verses throughout the piece. This will also help to strengthen the listening skills of the students. Another aspect that could be focused when using songs is grammatical structures. One problem that has been cited when using songs is that often many ?pop? songs do not use correct grammar (Shtakser). However, this should not deter teachers as this is what the students are being exposed to. Instead, this could be used as a teaching opportunity to look at how to work with irregular grammar. Also, the teacher must know that not all songs are going to be useful in an ESL classroom.
The final phase to be discussed is the activate stage. The greatest way that I have seen songs be utilized is when students are encouraged to create their own songs. If the creation of the song is done in a pleasant atmosphere and the students are having fun doing it, these songs can be very memorable. Depending upon the class size the students can work in groups to either create their own song by placing the vocabulary used in the lesson to a familiar tune, or the students can come up with their own catchy tune. The key to creating a lasting and memorable song is to be repetitious with the songs and to have fun creating them! Actually that is the key to using songs in general. Songs can be motivating and stimulating for the students as well as memorable and fun!
Shtakser, Inna. Using Music and Songs in the Foreign Language Classroom. August 2001.31 December 2006. http://www.laits.utexas.edu/hebrew/music/musicl. Tipton, Stacey. Teacher's Guide to Using Songs in the Classroom. 2000. 31 December 2006. http://www.lessonplanspage.com/LAMusicForeignLang- UsingForeignLangSongsInClass48.
Author: Megan Calderwood
Date of post: 2007-04-18