Using Music in Foreign Language Instruction: Tips and Strategies

by multilingualmania on November 17, 2010

in Language Learning, Music

Music Was The Theme

Have you ever noticed how song lyrics get stuck in your head? That’s because of the incredible relationship between music and words that makes learning song patterns easy and effective. You can take advantage of this phenomenon in your classroom to teach foreign language in a fun, fresh, efficient way that covers multiple topics at once – grammar, vocabulary, pronunciation, reading and listening comprehension, and more. It’s one of the best devices you can use to get students interested in learning the language while boosting their confidence with consistent success. There are many ways to use music and language instruction, but first, let’s take a look at some tips for choosing songs.

Selecting the Right Songs

When you’re choosing music to use in your foreign language classes, choose songs that include only about 10% unfamiliar words – the other 90% should be right on the level you’re teaching or just barely above it. It’s also helpful if you can find songs that teach vocabulary on two related levels, introducing one broad category (like relationships) and several sub-categories, such as romantic, familial, and professional. This provides variety without confusing your students. To help your students internalize and maintain a solid understanding of the songs’ vocabulary words, choose music that includes repeated structures, such as choruses and hooks. This strategy will make sure that students hear the words in these sections correctly and consistently, increasing listening comprehension and making the songs more memorable. Pick out a few more things you could discuss about each song, such as subject-verb agreement, gender-number agreement, idioms, irregular verb conjugations, and more. No matter what you choose, make sure that it’s not beneath the listening and learning levels of your students – try not to insult them with children’s songs, but don’t pick songs that are overly complex either. There’s a delicate balance to achieve, but the above 10% vocabulary rule can help you significantly.

Implementing Songs in the Foreign Language Classroom

  • Listening Comprehension: You’ll only need one song for this exercise. Divide your classroom into teams and make sure that there are no dictionaries accessible to anyone. Give each student a copy of the song lyrics with about ten to fifteen words missing (replace them with blanks). Play the song twice or three times and have your students fill in the blanks, then give your teams two minutes to agree on what the missing words were. Starting with the first member of the first team, have the student explain the meaning of the first missing word. If the answer is correct, the first team gets a point – if not, the second team can move to steal the point. Once the first word has been successfully defined, move on to the second team and have another student define the next missing word. When all the words have been defined, count up the points and announce the winner – the winning team gets to define or defer the first missing word the next time you play.
  • Writing: Play a movie clip in class that includes expressive music. Divide everyone into two or more groups and ask them to write a movie script to fit the soundtrack. Once your students have spent about half an hour on their scripts, have them perform them for the class with the background music added at the appropriate time. You can have everyone vote for the best script after they’ve all been performed and award a few extra credit points to the winners.
  • Grammar: Create a worksheet of a song’s lyrics with missing verbs, including a word bank with at least two conjugations of each missing verb – this forces students to use their knowledge of conjugation rules to choose the correct words. Have each student fill out a worksheet (or divide students into small groups to collaborate on the worksheets), then play the song several times to see if students can correct their own mistakes by listening carefully.

About the Author: Maria Rainier is a freelance writer and blog junkie. She is currently a resident blogger at First in Education, researching areas of online colleges & blogging about student life. In her spare time, she enjoys square-foot gardening, swimming, and avoiding her laptop.

Further Reading:
Music, Language, and the Brain

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

sharie dewi January 28, 2011 at 11:24 pm

is there any relationship between song lyrics and vocabulary?

multilingualmania February 3, 2011 at 5:29 pm

I don’t have any specific research, but I imagine so. I know that songs, poems, chants, etc that have academic language and vocabulary help students practice the vocabulary in authentic ways.

Tommy November 17, 2011 at 9:44 pm

Very cool. Thank you very much for the tips on song selection and learning exercises. I run a blog called “Foreign Language Music”, where I basically select songs for self-learners, make rough translations, and provide vocabulary and grammar references.

Regarding the 90% “known” vocabulary idea, I was wondering how you evaluate this. Just in case, Dr. Alexander Arguelles also talks about this issue with reading foreign languages. It is sometimes hard to evaluate how many words or word families one actually knows, though…

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