Music is great, it was one of the things that first drew me to Spanish as a beginning language learner. I loved the rhythms and melodies and I would imagine that I could understand all the words. I couldn’t, I still can’t, even though I am fluent in Spanish at this point, but hey, I can’t understand all of the words in English and that is my first language. I remember as a child every Christmas I would loudly and happily sing “one-horse soap and sleigh!” while singing Jingle Bells until one year I stopped and listened to myself and thought, that makes no sense. Why am I singing about soap? There are whole articles devoted to misheard lyrics and they are hilarious! Here is one about the 40 most misheard song lyrics in the UK. I particularly like the one in which people hear "farting carrots" instead of "14 carat".
So if most people can’t understand all the words in songs in their first language, why is music such a great thing to use when teaching beginners?
7 Things you can do with Music in Beginning ESL Classes.
1. Listen for the word. Even if your students can’t hear every word in the song, they probably can hear one or two words. Have students listen for specific vocabulary, how many times do they hear it? Then have them talk to a small group who listened for other words. Together figure out the most to least heard words.
2. Cut up the lyrics to a simple song, listen to it, put it back together, and then act it out. Music makes us move our bodies and moving our bodies helps us to remember things like grammar and vocabulary so get your students up and moving.
3. Song and Video match. Put up listening stations around the room using QR codes. Let each group listen to 1 or 2 songs and write any words they can hear. It is important that they only listen, don’t watch the video yet. Then play the first minute of each video without sound. After each minute, have the groups discuss if they think the video went with their song or not. They have to have a reason that they think yes or no. After going though each song, play the rest of the songs with sound and listen to hear if they were able to match the song with the correct video.
4. Make your own songs. Give students a short list of vocabulary words and then give them a choice of different kinds of music (classical, rap, rock, heavy metal etc.) Ask them to pick 2 different kinds and create lyrics for both using the vocabulary words.
5. Introduce students to 5-10 vocabulary words in a song before listening. Then give them either picture cards that represent those words or written words. They must put the word cards in the order that they heard them. Then have students compare what order they heard and see if they can recreate any of the other words. Then give the students the lyrics to check if they put them in the correct order or not.
6. Choose an easy song and then play like Weird Al Yankovic and change the subject of the song. Create a funny music video to go with it. You could show students the Micheal Jackson Beat it and Weird Al’s Eat it for inspiration.
7. Use music to teach pronunciation. The brain processes music differently than it processes speech. For a list of 11 songs that will help your students with pronunciation, check out this blog from Pearson. You can look at where the stressed parts of the words are and how that changes the way they sound. I have found that one of the biggest problems in pronunciation is on the stressed syllable. If someone puts the stress on the wrong syllable it is almost impossible to figure out what they are trying to say.
Resources that will help you use Music in your Beginning ESL Classes
Simply Ieva has a wonderful blog in which she shares lots of ideas on how to teach ESL including how to use music in the classroom. She also has a post on where to start when teaching ESL to beginners.
JasonFluency MC uses music to help students learn all kinds of English. Check out his YouTube channel.
Beginners can be so much fun to teach. I feel that one of the biggest jobs a teacher of beginners has is to inspire a love for the language they are teaching. Music is a fantastic way to do that. Visual images are also very important so be sure to check out this post on How to Teach ESL to Beginners Using Photography.
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Hi, I'm Kia.
I help ESL / EFL teachers create fun, effective courses that students love.