Using songs to teach foreign languages
Language teachers can and should use songs as part of their teaching repertoire in the classroom. The songs contain authentic language, are easy to access, provide vocabulary, grammar, and cultural aspects, and are fun for students. They can provide valuable speaking, listening and language practice inside and outside of the classroom. Some key reasons why songs can work extremely well in the foreign language classroom include the following:
1. Songs almost always contain authentic, natural language
This is often in contrast to the contrived and stilted language found in many student texts. Of course, songs can also go to the other extreme by using language that is too crude, obscene, or obnoxious. With careful selection, an extensive library of songs usable for language learning can be compiled.
2. Students can be introduced to a variety of new vocabulary through songs.
Looking to increase students’ vocabulary with useful phrases, vocabulary and expressions? The songs are almost always aimed at the native-speaking population, so they often contain contemporary vocabulary, idioms, and expressions.
3. Songs are usually very easy to obtain
Despite Cibemba and Silozi, the songs are usually not that hard to come by. Local sources may be available, including the students themselves. There is always the internet that can hook you up with song downloads in all but the most obscure languages.
4. Songs can be selected to meet the needs and interests of the students.
Especially in English, there are so many songs available that selecting songs with suitable themes, levels and vocabulary is not difficult at all. Allowances can also be made for the complexity or simplicity of the language, depending on the students, by selecting and using appropriate songs.
5. Grammatical and cultural aspects can be introduced through songs.
Most, if not all, of the songs have a recurring theme or story. Therefore, extracting cultural elements is often a possible, but often overlooked, aspect of using songs. I still use “Hit the Road Jack” sung by the late Ray Charles to illustrate spoken contractions. It uses spoken contractions on virtually every line in the song.
6. Time duration is easily controlled
Whether you have an hour, 30 minutes, or just 15 minutes, you can use a song in the course of a planned lesson. The use of songs is very flexible.
7. Students can experience a wide range of accents
The good thing about songs is that you can expose students to many different types of English. British English, American English, and Caribbean English are widely available through songs. Accents are also well represented by songs from different regions and in a variety of types and formats. Gospel, soul, R&B, Pop, Rock, Reggae, Jazz and other styles change not only the accents, but also the vocabulary and usage.
8. Song lyrics can be used to relate to situations in the world around us.
The songs have been used as vehicles of protest for civil rights, workers’ rights, even prisoners’ rights along with an untold number of other causes. They have expounded on pollution, crime, war and almost every social issue or cause. We won’t even mention how many songs deal with, relate to, or explore the subject of sex.
9. Students think that the songs are natural and fun.
Well, actually they are, aren’t they? Funny, even silly songs abound in English. Some singers actually made a career out of them. (Ray Stevens, anyone?) They make fun, offbeat changes of pace with classroom use.
These are just a few of the many reasons why songs are useful in the language learning classroom. They contain authentic language, are easy to obtain, provide vocabulary, grammar, and cultural aspects, and are fun for students. They provide enjoyable speaking, listening, vocabulary and language practice both inside and outside of the classroom. Therefore, EFL, English as a Foreign Language, ESL, English as a Second Language and Foreign Language teachers should consider using songs as a regular part of their classroom activities.
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