Using Songs to Teach Foreign Language
Language teachers can and should use songs as part of their classroom teaching repertoire. Songs contain authentic language, are easily obtainable, provide vocabulary, grammar and cultural aspects and are fun for the students. They can provide valuable speaking, listening and language practice in and out of the classroom. Some key reasons songs can work exceedingly well in the foreign language classroom include the following:
1. Songs almost always contain authentic, natural language
This often contrasts the contrived, stilted language found in many student texts. Of course songs can also go to the other extreme by using overly crude, foul or otherwise objectionable language. With careful screening, an extensive library of usable songs for language learning can be compiled.
2. A variety of new vocabulary can be introduced to students through songs
Looking to boost student vocabulary with useful phrases, vocabulary and expressions? Songs are almost always directed to the native-speaking population so they usually contain contemporary vocabulary, idioms and expressions.
3. Songs are usually very easily obtainable
Cibemba and Silozi non-withstanding, songs are usually not that difficult to obtain. Local sources may be available including the students themselves. There’s always the internet which can connect you with song downloads in all but the most obscure languages.
4. Songs can be selected to suit the needs and interests of the students
In English especially, so many songs are available that selection of songs with suitable themes, levels and vocabulary is not at all difficult. Allowances can also be made for complexity or simplicity of language, depending on the students, by selecting and using suitable songs.
5. Grammar and cultural aspects can be introduced through songs
Most if not all songs have a recurring theme or story. So excerpting cultural elements is usually 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. He uses spoken contractions is virtually every line of the song.
6. Time length is easily controlled
Whether you have an hour, 30 minutes, or only 15 minutes or so, a song can be used in the course of a planned lesson. Use of songs is very flexible.
7. Students can experience a wide range of accents
A good thing about songs is that you can expose the students to many different kinds of English. British English, American English, Caribbean English are all widely available through songs. Accents too are 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 accents, but vocabulary and usage too.
8. Song lyrics can be used in relating to situations of the world around us
Songs have been used as vehicles of protest for civil rights, workers rights, even prisoner’s rights along with an untold number of other causes. They’ve expounded on pollution, crime, war and almost every social theme or cause. We won’t even mention how many songs are about, related to or explore the theme of sex.
9. Students think songs are natural and fun
Well actually they are, aren’t they? Fun, even silly songs abound in English. Some singers actually made a career out of them. (Ray Stevens, anyone?) They make offbeat, fun changes of pace with classroom use.
These are only some of the many reasons songs are useful in the language learning classroom. They contain authentic language, are easily obtainable, provide vocabulary, grammar and cultural aspects and are fun for the students. They provide enjoyable speaking, listening, vocabulary and language practice both in and out of the classroom. So EFL, English as a foreign language, ESL, English as a Second language and foreign language teachers should all consider using songs as a regular part of their classroom activities.