Songs in the classroomHow often do we encounter a song which, having entered our consciousness, refuses to leave? This is one of music’s more interesting aspects: the ability of a song to trigger, within the individual listener, any number of sensations which leave one unable to force it from his mind. This quality of music is rewarding in its own right, but when used towards a specific goal, in this case learning english, the captivating quality of a favorite song has the potential to serve students beyond simple listening pleasure in areas as diverse as expanding and deepening understanding of language, aiding in pronunciation, and teaching new vocabulary and idiomatic expressions.
In addition to a song’s ability to grab a listener’s attention and not let go, songs are well-suited for use in an english classroom by virtue of the fact that music is a nearly universal pleasure of human beings: almost everyone likes listening to music. While it is true that not everyone likes the same music, which requires that a variety of songs be provided for study, this variety of songs can provide natural opportunities for group work and rapport-building. For example, in a class of 12 students, the teacher can provide three songs, selected on the basis of language ability, propriety, and varied interests of the students. Students break off into groups according to their preference and work with their group mates on a variety of tasks. Additionally, songs can provide a great outlet for extra-curricular study and language practice for students who would like to focus on a particular song that interests them most.
There are plenty of activities that provide natural opportunities for group work, but studying a song distinguishes itself in a few key areas. For the sake of brevity, the remainder of this article will focus on two of these: teaching/reviewing vocabulary and grammar, and providing students with an opportunity to deepen their understanding and usage of the english language.
We listen to songs we like over and over again, often several times in the same day. When a student begins to study a song, he will consciously or unconsciously review vocabulary and meaning every time he hears that song. Studying in a traditional sense (sitting at a desk, memorizing vocabulary and grammar) can be replaced by active listening, and language production in the form of singing. Reviewing new words and grammar patterns on such a frequent basis is a major help when it comes to adding these new words to one’s productive vocabulary. As a volunteer living in the Northeastern region of Thailand, the author was faced with the challenge of learning the local dialect, for which reliable study resources are scarce. Studying songs, and later singing them, was proven to be an extremely effective means of language acquisition in this case.
Also, songs are a very unique type of authentic material in that a song can have several meanings, often stacked right on top of each other. Take, for example, “Life in the Fast Lane” by The Eagles, suitable for a high-level intermediate or advanced class. The song uses fairly straightforward vocabulary, which could be easily found in an advanced dictionary. But simply knowing the meaning of each word doesn’t mean you know the deeper meaning of the song. On the surface, “Life in the Fast Lane” appears to be a song about a couple living an exciting life and driving fast in their car. However,when examined at a deeper level, it reveals itself to concern a couple spiraling out of control in a materialistic lifestyle. The study of a song’s use of metaphor and deeper meaning can assist students in achieving a broader and deeper understanding of the english language in a way that studying other types of authentic or created materials cannot.
Whether sung, read, or simply studied in the english classroom, it is easy to see the applications
of songs in the language-acquisition process. Perhaps even more important than in-class activities is the potential for english-language music to become a part of a student’s life outside the classroom, thus making the study of english a round-the-clock activity.