Learning English through Music

Music items doodle icons set. Hand drawn sketch with notes instruments microphone guitar headphone drums music player and music styles letterig signs vector illustration isolated
Image source: www.bigstockphoto.com

No matter what language you speak, music has a universal tongue, wouldn’t you agree? Its power in bringing people together, no matter what language they speak, is priceless. So, if music has the ability to unite us, why not use it in the classroom to help your students learn English?

I have my kids to thank for inspiring this post, partly due to their love of watching Daniel Tiger’s Neighbourhood every day. You find inspiration everywhere.
On the show they sing the lesson of the day repeatedly throughout each episode. It sticks in your head and is really catchy, and the nice thing is that the lessons are useful for children in helping to problem solve or deal with certain emotions that may arise out of unpleasant situations. 

A few Internet searches later I found that learning a language (such as English) through music really helps to accelerate the learning and comprehension process. Nerd alert – it turns out that the side of your brain that processes language also processes music! That makes so much sense to me. Not only does music help with reading and listening skills, but it also helps improve speaking and even writing.

I can’t count the times I’ve suggested to – and at one point pleaded with – some of my students to watch English speaking shows to no avail. However, music is different. Even if you don’t know the language, you’ll be able to repeat and even memorize a certain song if it strikes a chord with you – no pun intended. 😀 And just about everyone listens to music, so it’s easier to encourage your learners to listen to the radio or borrow cd’s from the library and simply play songs for as long as their ears can tolerate.

The beauty about music is that you can listen to it in every situation, even when sleeping.  Some people actually sleep with instrumental music in the background to help them relax!

Things to consider when choosing to incorporate music into your lessons:

  • It goes without saying, but choose appropriate songs – nothing vulgar, foul, or with profane words or expressions.
  • Aim to use slower more melodic tunes for lower level learners and fast-paced songs for the more advanced learners.
  • Choose a song you’re passionate about; your passion for the song will translate into your lesson and your students will feed off of that energy.
  • Check out the ERIC Digests write-up on how music can greatly impact an ESL learner’s language acquisition and gain helpful tips on how to incorporate music into your lessons.
  • Finally, visit Busy Teacher and get your hands on over 1700 free printable music worksheets, many of which were written by other ESL teachers!

Who else uses music to teach English? Keep your comments and feedback coming. I love learning about what you do in your classroom with your students. 🙂

POST COMMENT 11

11 thoughts on “Learning English through Music”

  1. Thank you for these useful links! I used music a lot when I was teaching a pronunciation course. The students had a lot of fun listening to Shania Twain in order to get a handle on reductions and relaxed forms like “gonna, wanna, and getcha.”

  2. Thank you ! Music is all around us and in task based learning, being able to identify the sounds, songs, and adverts one experiences is like having a key to Pandora’s box. Thanks again for the reminder. Beverley

  3. Dear Laila,
    Your article is so true! I started to enjoy and to learn English at the age of 12 in my homeland in South America. I really enjoyed listening to songs and to repeat what their lyrics sounded like to me. I would repeat these sounds and had no idea what they meant, that is, what the lyrics meant to say. Today, 40 years later, I teach ESL here in Canada, and I enjoy using songs in my classes whenever I can. My students love it! I tell them that’s how I started to learn English and encourage them to do the same. Songs can touch our hearts and our souls and take us to a world that is a common ground to all of us. This world is where language and music speak the same tongue.
    Thank you for your article.

    1. That’s the beauty of music isn’t it? It resonates with all of us in some way. I loved reading your comment Carolina. And how wonderful that you chose a profession to help others learn English as you once did. Thanks for your comment 🙂

      1. Thank you very much indeed for this valuable article. I am with the idea of using music to teach English. Music the food of soul and it really affects so much on the students’ performance especially when a teacher plans the lesson well. Choosing the music and the songs plays a major part in the students’ performance. I do use songs a lot in my different classes; in lower levels and higher levels and I find them effective. We can teach the four main skills using songs and we can have fun at the same time. I would like to suggest some websites for teaching songs in the classroom.

        http://www.isabelperez.com/songs.htm
        http://busyteacher.org/classroom_activities-listening/songs_and_lyrics/
        http://www.esolcourses.com/topics/learn-english-with-songs.html
        http://www.esl-lounge.com/songstop.php

        1. Thank you for your comment, Abdulsalam! I couldn’t agree with you more. You said it perfectly – music is truly food for the soul. It affects us in different ways and in some instances, helps us deal with whatever emotional state we happen to be in. A big thank you for providing us with your resources! These will definitely be useful for our community. 🙂

  4. Thank you ! Music is all around us and in task based learning, being able to identify the sounds, songs, and adverts one experiences is like having a key to Pandora’s box. Thanks again for the reminder. Beverley

  5. I agree that exposure to music is a great way to introduce any subject. My question is; are students understanding the content of the words sung, the language or simply learning the song in rote with no real concept of the words.

    1. Any type of learning requires at a bare minimum some sort of rote learning – ie memorization and repetition of words/concepts etc. So to answer your question – it would be all 3 points you mentioned. It starts off not understanding the words or their meanings, but the ability to say them properly is achieved. Gradually our curious nature has us looking up words or asking others for meanings of certains words or verses. They start to make a general assumption of what a sentence means in the song based on words they recognize. Eventually, they come to understand what the song is saying (and at that point, realize whether what they were jamming to was actually a good song or not!) <- speaking from personal experience 😀
      The beauty of music is that most people don't mind hearing a song over again repeatedly – especially when it's a song they love. I believe anyone learning through music would gain tremendously because not only are they listening to the words, but they're also being exposed to the intonations, culture, and daily expressions of that language. So it's a win any way you look at it!
      Thanks for your comment, Mrs. H 🙂

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