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Sing It! Songs as a Tool for Language Acquisition

By Ettie Zilber
Sing It! Songs as a Tool for  Language Acquisition

Notice how babies are soothed and respond to the melodies and lyrics of children’s songs. Observe how children, teens, and adults sing, whistle, or hum along with songs on the radio, TV, or iTunes. Sense how songs engage emotional and nostalgic reactions from times and events long past, as the lyrics are ingrained in memory many years later. Notice how the younger generation affiliates itself according to its taste in music, or to its adoration of certain performing groups. They are inordinately motivated to learn these lyrics and memorize the bios of the artists. They’re even willing record themselves in action. Just look at the success of “carpool karaoke” and many other YouTube clips. If songs are so socially and emotionally engaging and so instrumental in the cognitive and physical development of children’s first language, think of how useful they could be in teaching and learning multiple languages. If you invest effort into researching and using popular songs as teaching tools, you will find enormous outcomes in your students´ learning of any target language, and at any age. The following criteria should be considered when introducing songs into your lessons: 1. The song offers a relevant theme or content: this is an opportunity to use the song as the prompt for an engaging discussion about topics of interest to the age group, aligning it with the curriculum. Students relate these themes to their lives, using vocabulary and grammar picked up from the song. 2. It is relevant for the age group and the culture of the school: you should screen each song for appropriateness, respectful vocabulary, and content. 3. It introduces and reinforces a grammatical expression through the lyrics: this is an enjoyable way to reinforce correct grammar, vocabulary, and sentence structure, and it will never be forgotten. 4. It is popular, an old familiar standard and/or current: the more times the students hears the song repeated on the radio, TV, or iTunes, the more “free” reinforcement the students receive outside the classroom. In addition, the students are motivated by the popularity of the song or the singing group. You can also introduce follow-up activities, such as practicing selective listening comprehension; studying grammar; reading songs, articles, or books for linguistic purposes; composing songs; writing an article about a song; writing a letter to the vocalist; discussing the meaning of a song; translating the song to your native language; writing dialogues using the words of a song; imitating the dancing that accompanies the video clip of the song; doing role plays; dictating a song; using lyrics for fill-in or cloze activity. Singing then analyzing songs is also a useful activity for group project work; to energize or relax classes; to practice pronunciation, intonation, and stress; to break the routine; for choral repetition; to develop greater vocabulary; to teach about culture; to learn about your students and to have fun (Murphy 1992). Need to add some zest to your classes? Ask students to bring their favorite song to class. This is one homework assignment kids will not forget. Enjoyable, interesting, and stimulating subject matter and activities lead to successful learning outcomes. Introducing popular songs into your daily lesson plan or unit plans is guaranteed to be all this and more. Your students will love it, especially if you sing along. The outcomes will be immediately obvious.

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