Download resource

Please enter your details to download this resource
Login
Musical notes
Author: Dr Anne Margaret Smith

There are many similarities between music and language, in the way they are organised, processed and produced. Music therefore has enormous potential as a language-learning tool, and one that can be appealing to even the least engaged or confident learners.

Using music for language learning

Phonological awareness beyond the individual phonemes of English can be facilitated by tapping into students’ existing awareness of fundamental elements of music, such as rhythm, pitch change, volume and speed. This allows language-learners to refine their comprehension and production of spoken language, and to communicate more effectively.

There is also evidence to suggest that musical activities can help learners to develop good memory strategies for retaining vocabulary and grammatical structures, so that their working memories are freed up for other, higher-order functions. Some learners need a lot of repetition of a lexical item in order to remember it, to the point that it starts to become tedious, unless we present the repetition as part of a game or a song. In a study by Ludke, Ferreire and Overy (2014), learners who sang the target vocabulary were found to be better able to remember it later than learners who only spoke it, or spoke it rhythmically. 

Taking a tune that all the learners know, and asking them to sing some new words to the tune, will require them to think about the pronunciation of the individual sounds, where the stress falls in the words, and how they fit together. Some learners may need to go back a step before this activity, and spend a bit of time just practising the words separately, as in the ‘Pass the Parcel’ activity in the accompanying resource (from the ‘Language Learning and Musical Activities’ collection).

Summary

Using musical activities enables us to build positive effect and motivation, to calm or revitalise the energy levels in the group, and to offer students an environment in which they can find the focus needed to complete tasks. By introducing collaborative activities, it is possible to develop better group dynamics, and to foster a learning environment in which everybody feels part of the group, and is able to contribute according to their individual strengths. This is key to implementing genuinely inclusive practices in the language classroom.

You can download the resource accompanying this article by clicking here (PDF) and here (audio file).

Resources:

Evens, M. and Smith, A. M. (2019), Language Learning and Musical Activities. Morecambe; ELT well. Available here.

Ludke, K, Ferreire, F and Overy, K (2014), ‘Singing can facilitate foreign language learning’, Memory and Cognition 42: 41–52.

Further learning - Blog

Girl online learning
Created: Mon 1st Feb 2021

To mute or to unmute? To reply to one or everyone? To use gallery or speaker view?

Behaviour assessment using smiley flashcards
Created: Wed 15th Jun 2022

Getting behaviour 'right' is crucially important for all schools. Ensuring that we have a 'fit for purpose' behaviour policy that caters for all pupils throughout their schooling - including EAL pupils - is vital for the feel and culture of our schools, as well as for allowing pupils to feel safe and be in the right environment to learn to their full potential.

Child trying to pronounce
Created: Mon 17th May 2021

As school teachers faced with EAL learners in our classrooms, we often push the teaching of phonics down the list, especially at secondary school level. Yet communication is dependent on comprehensive pronunciation when speaking, and on decoding graphemes when reading. Consider for a moment the impact mispronunciation can have on accurate communication. For example, if I ask for soap in a restaurant, I might be faced with a blank stare! This error is caused by confusing two very similar phonemes in soap/soup.