“Songs and Music in Teaching English to Young Learners” proffers a methodical material with suggestions of how to use songs and music in teaching English. An important part of the thesis is created by the description of various pre-listening, while-listening and post-listening activities whose subjects are songs and music.
Keywords: Teaching English, young learners, songs, music, pre-teaching activities, while-teaching activities, post-teaching activities
Music creates an inseparable part of a culture of each country. Songs have accompanied people both at work and in their free time from everlasting. Therefore, singing and listening to music is a very natural human need. Music and songs on recordings or played on a guitar or a piano can be used as “a ’filler’ activity to change the mood or pace of a lesson” [Scrivener 338]. It is also sometimes used as a reward for pupils’ hard work. Nevertheless, teachers should be aware of a great potentiality of songs that can be usefully integrated into lessons and help children acquire the new language more easily and naturally.
The musical intelligence is the very first one emerging in young learners. It is evident that a lot of children tend to hum or sing a learnt tune or they even invent their own melodies. Therefore, it is beneficial to build upon their musical interests and so make the learning process more natural and also effective.
Concerning language learning, the use of songs at schools brings two major advantages:
- “Music is highly memorable” [Murphey 3]. It has several reasons. Music is based on rhythms that partly correspond with basic body rhythms. Memorizing of songs is mostly realized via a relaxed receptivity. Moreover, listening to lyrics is often connected with an emotional experience. In relation to children’s songs, they include a great number of repetitions [Graham5].
- Music “is highly motivating, especially for children, adolescents, and young adult learners” [Murphey 3]. Music creates a part of students’ lives, it is everywhere and they are used to listening to it, in contrast to many other techniques that teachers use in lessons. Many songs invite listeners to accompany the music by movements, by clapping, tapping, etc., which brings positive energy [Graham5].
Tim Murphey also mentions other reasons why the usage of songs in learning foreign languages is meaningful. He writes that it may be surprising how quickly learners are able to remember a new song. Moreover, it is commonly known that when a pupil studies a foreign language and then they don’t use it for several years, after a lapse of time they forget nearly everything except the few songs they learnt.
According to Murphey, other benefits of songs may be the following:
‒ It seems to be “easier to sing language than to speak it”.
‒ Songs probably “precede and aid the development of language in young children”.
‒ The singing of songs is similar to egocentric language, which is children’s talk “with little concern for an addressee”.Simply said, they like hearing themselves repeat.
‒ Songs (especially children’s songs) use simple, informal and familiar language, with lots of repetition, which is appropriate for learning a new language.
‒ As Murphey writes: “Most importantly, perhaps, songs are relaxing. They provide variety and fun, and encourage harmony within oneself and within a group”.
‒ Furthermore, songs are short and they have self-contained texts.
Another reason for using songs in English lessons may be the fact that playing the song influences the class atmosphere immediately. It can even help break down barriers which can exist between a teacher and pupils or among pupils themselves. Moreover, singing songs engages both sides of the brain, and therefore, it is a perfect learning tool.
Teaching new songs
Undoubtedly, many songs presented in English lessons may be familiar to children. Nevertheless, it is sometimes necessary to teach them also new ones to reach the expected goals. Although new songs do not have to be always presented in the same way, Isenberg and Jalongo [229, with a reference to Paquette and Rieg]recommend the following steps for teaching songs, which helps to make the process of learning new songs faster and easier:
‒ “Play the song in the background for several days so it is familiar when it is introduced to the children.
‒ Teach children the chorus first while you sing the verses.
‒ Sing along with a recording and have children join in when they feel most comfortable.
‒ Use lined poster paper to create a song chart.
‒ Create a rebus song sheet to help children remember the verses of songs.
‒ Teach the song one phrase at a time. Then, combine the phrases. Teach the actions to an action song first and then teach the words (or vice versa).”
As it was already mentioned, a teacher does not have to follow this pattern always. Another possibility is to work with the lyrics at first as if it is a poem, and then present the music. Also this strategy may be enjoyable and challenging. This strategy corresponds with a recommended process of dealing with a new “Listen and do” song by Şevik. He divides activities connected with the usage of songs in English lessons into three sections: pre-teaching activities, while-teaching activities and post-teaching activities:
At this stage, it is important to prepare the learners for what they are going to hear later. A teacher should motivate the learners, so they get interested in the song. They may be given a picture or another realia related to the topic of the song. The teacher can let them guess what the song will be about. Şevik reminds that it is possible to tolerate a bit of mother tongue as the learners are beginners.
In the next step, the pupils work with the title of the song. They read it altogether. The teacher may help the learners to understand the title via various visuals or actions and then ask them to think up as many English words related to the title of the song as possible. This may be implemented as a whole-class brainstorming and also as a competition of individuals or groups.
And finally, the teacher should explain the unknown vocabulary that occurs in the song.
At this stage, the learners get acquainted with the text through activities. It is necessary to play the song for several times. Şevik suggests listening to the song three or four times and fulfilling the following tasks:
1st listening — “free listening”: The aim of the first listening to the song is to give the learners the opportunity to enjoy the melody and the lyrics without any interruptions and assigned tasks. After free listening, the pupils look at the lyrics (e.g. in the hand- out, textbook, or poster). Afterwards, while the teacher is reading the lyrics aloud, the children are listening and following the text in the hand-out. Then the lyrics are read line by line and the pupils are supposed to repeat it after the teacher. Concerning “Listen and do” songs, in the next stage the learners should get acquainted with the actions for the song. The easiest way of how to teach the motions to the pupils is to let them imitate the teacher. Children are usually very good at doing that.
It is important for the teacher at this stage to ascertain that each pupil understands the lyrics of the song and knows the movements connected with it.
2nd listening: While playing the song for the second time, the children are only supposed to listen to it and do the actions. The teacher guides them both by singing and doing the movements. This leads to an elimination of potential feelings of shyness and lack of confidence.
3rd listening: The children are supposed to sing the song along with the recording or the teacher line by line. The aim of this phase is to work on the correct pronunciation of the language.
4th listening: The pupils sing the whole song along with the CD and meanwhile they are also doing the accompanying movements. As the children are usually eager to sing the complete song and do the actions, the final listening can be carried out several times.
In this stage, the focus moves on from listening practice to other language skills, such as reading, listening and writing. Using songs in a foreign language classes has an unquestionably positive influence on pupils’ pronunciation. It is interesting and unbelievable that pupils are sometimes able to sing difficult phonemes that they cannot say correctly. “As music therapists have observed, most students are able to reproduce phonemes correctly while singing.” Students feel safe when they are singing in chorus, whereas if they are asked to speak by themselves, they often feel pressured.
English belongs to languages with a syllable-timed rhythm, whereas English is stress-timed. This leads to the frequent unnatural intonation used by English speakers that is far from the correct pronunciation principles in English. “The natural rhythm of songs, with a regular recurring beat between which are a varying number of unstressed syllables, happens to be the stress pattern of spoken English.” Therefore, singing songs help learners to establish a feeling for the rhythm of spoken English.
One of the indisputable assets of learning English via the usage of songs is acquiring new vocabulary in a natural way. This vocabulary is more meaningful for pupils because they perceive the context in which the words are used. Pre-listening activities often start with a presentation of new vocabulary. Later, new words are practiced whenever pupils are singing the song. A teacher also includes them into follow-up activities.
Using songs in English classes causes better and more long-term knowledge of vocabulary, which is supported by a few researches.
In my future career in teaching English to learners at primary or language schools, I will use music and songs as much as possible because it is an effective teaching tool that motivates pupils and helps them acquire the foreign language in an enjoyable and natural way.
- Graham, Carolyn. Creating Chants and Songs. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006. Print.
- Murphey, Tim. Music & Song. Oxford: University Press, 1992. Print.
- Scrivener, Jim. Learning Teaching: The Essential Guide to English Language Teaching. 2nded. Oxford: Macmillan, 2005. Print.