Monday 8 April 2013

Motivating Students in the Languages classroom: Language is Music

Over the past few months I have been looking at different ways to use music to engage my students with French and Spanish language learning.

I started on the premise that music is a powerful mood-modifier and even I was amazed at some of the students’ responses…
Why music? I have always had this idea that if music is a language, conversely, language is music-and languages represent a range of music with different pitches and rhythms.
I have used music in a wide range of ways to grab students’ attention, sneakily modify their moods and get them engaged with the language and its related culture.
Just music-no words
It is up to the students to come up with words! The music is then used as a brainstorming tool.
Music associated with key parts of the lesson
Great to minimise instruction time and reinforce routines
Music as a link into a new topic
Students listen and/or watch and figure out what the new topic is. The clues can be in the lyrics or in the video. I have a French and Spanish playlist on Youtube (isabellejones)
Just music and words
I have used karaoke versions of music video for students to concentrate more on the words and to reinforce the learning of specific structures.
Made-up songs
I have used songs with a clear or repetitive structure as a stimulus to get students to write their own made-up song/ rap/ poem. Playfulness with words is the beginning of serious language manipulation.
Singing pronunciation
Go off-piste and slow down-sing to the students and help them remember the pronunciation of longer/ trickier words to a tune.
Parallel texts, translations  and cover songs
If the song studied has a cover version in English, compare the two versions and get the students to spot the differences as they are listening. Is it a straight translation? Why isn’t it a straight translation? Any important differences in meanings?
Students’ responses were varied but largely positive. Although I am passionate about using music in languages lessons, I do understand that some people will not respond to it. What I have tried to do is to use music in such a way that it cannot just be associated with a specific type of listening, speaking, reading or writing activities. Music is a very versatile tool and using it as a way to reinforce patterns or routines or as a mood-modifier is just as powerful.
A number of ICT tools have supported my use of music in the classroom:
I really like Amara, which can be used to subtitle videos. The only issue is that subtitling a music video is extremely challenging for non-natives and there is a lot of typing involved. An alternative activity would be to use background music and subtitle a short video in the style of old-fashioned silent movies. The choice of background music could reflect the characters’ feelings or the ups and downs of the story.
Freeplay music is a great site with free music to match moods (select by key words/ instrument/ style of music).
If you want to keep it simpler go for ibeat, free beats you can use to practise new vocabulary and key words-great to focus on pronunciation.
A good rhyming dictionary-online or as a mobile app- is essential to support the writing activities and it will also help students memorise the correct pronunciation of the new words if they are learnt in rhyming clusters.
Finding the words of up-to-date songs can be tricky but I found that using mobile apps like Lyrics + saved me a lot of time: find the sound, get the lyrics, copy and paste into a word document and use for cloze exercises and more…
Downloading YouTube videos was also of use, particularly as online tools like Amara do not really work well directly with You Tube. Using  or the mobile app iboltdownloader were the easiest way to do this.
Last but not least, how do you keep up to date with the music of the different Target Language countries?  I found a great mobile app called MusicTube to do just that. You can visit the top 20 songs for a range of countries and each song is linked to a corresponding YouTube video. As the lists are updated regularly, this is a fantastic up-to-the-minute resource ready to be used in the classroom…         
More resources can be found here


Señora Hitz said...

For more fun with students creating their own song, try the AutoRap app. It will provide the music plus alter how it is said to create a rap.

Isabelle Jones said...

Thanks for the comment! I also like Songify to do that kind of things-this is lots of fun...

Blog de Ana said...

What about lyrics training

Isabelle Jones said...

I love Lyrics Training! This post is just a summary version of a training session I am preparing for 15th June-funnily enough Lyrics Training was on my list... (watch this space for more)

Languagenut said...

Hi Isabelle, great post. I have wonderful memories of using K'naan in the classroom to teach Spanish (they rewrote the song Waving Flag with their own lyrics) and also to teach my year 7 students about refugees and asylum seekers. I love music in the classroom!

Spanish Simply said...

Great post! I love incorporating music into my lessons. I try to look on youtube for videos of songs, then I play a game with the songs (like a modified freeze dance game that has them saying targeted vocabulary) then watch the video and have students shout out the target vocabulary when they hear it.
Thanks again for sharing!


Noah Geisel said...

Great post! Discovered some awesome tools I didn't know about and have some fun new projects to keep myself busy. ¡Gracias!

Ray Bonetti said...

Good post, great idea to combine music with language learning. Thanks for the heads up about MusicApp, I'm looking forward to discovering some new music.

Joe Mitchell said...

Some great ideas here for incorporating music into your language learning. There are so many interesting ways to go about learning a language these days.

In my school days learning a language was all about reading, writing and grammar. It's no wonder so many people failed at learning a language (myself included) with those traditional and boring and in my opinion ineffective methods of learning.

It's great to see people such as yourself experimenting with newer and more interesting ways of teaching languages. Keep up the good work.


Isabelle Jones said...

Thanks for all your comments. Do share what you are doing with music in your classroom either via this blog or via Twitter.

Jade O'Neill said...

I couldn't agree more with this! My children especially love language within music (usually via Dora the Explorer), so i think it is certainly a way forward.