Christina Giannikas owns a chain of private language schools in Southern Greece. Here she talks about the benefits of using songs and music to teach English to teenagers.
There are many strategies and techniques that language teachers use in order to keep their teenage students interested and motivated. This specific age group can prove to be a challenge; for this reason, a teaching tool that would aid the educator is the inclusion of songs in lessons, specifically songs that the students can relate to.
Music and songs have been part of the human experience for as long as we can remember. The combination of music and lyrics has a very powerful effect on teenagers, therefore, the use of songs in the classroom can, in fact, be very valuable. Music tends to decrease anxiety and self-consciousness in language learners. Learning a new concept or vocabulary through a song is, without a doubt, less threatening and intimidating than a typical worksheet. Including songs in a language lesson can enrich teaching material and supply the lesson with more meaning. Students become more engaged, stay focused for longer and retain the information offered in the lesson.
One important reason for using songs in the language classroom is that they are excellent examples of colloquial English, that is, the language of informal conversation. Teenagers can be exposed to more informal language that can bring them closer to a more genuine usage which they may find more realistic. Furthermore, songs and music can often supply the language classroom with a context to better understand the target language. Pitches, melodies, rhymes, and phrases can function as musical context and can be a way of triggering meaning and comprehensibility. It has also been argued that through this teaching technique, teenagers can experience a wide range of accents, depending on the different songs they are exposed to. It could be British English, American English or any variety of regional accents. Consequently, through the lyrics, the accents and the artists, language learners are brought closer to cultural elements of the target language, a feature that could often be overlooked in the classroom.
Drawing from personal experience, after a ‘song session’, I leave the classroom feeling positive that a fun and prosperous lesson was delivered. The best part of it all is that my teenagers, this wonderful yet difficult crowd, enjoy themselves whilst learning. The teacher is immediately given the opportunity to develop a rapport with teenage learners, letting them know, in a way, that they may have similar tastes and that their teacher is not from another planet. In the process of this realisation, students develop their cognitive skills by being involved in various tasks connecting to the song at hand. An example comes to mind where a teacher could pre-teach unknown vocabulary, ask students to fill-in gaps in the song, spot ‘grammar mistakes’ the singer makes (such as ‘ain’t no sunshine’ or ‘I wanna dance’), guess what the singer would do next and discuss various scenarios. The possibilities are endless!
The selection of songs should complement aspects of a thematic unit and value, or a topic of interest that students have requested. It is not difficult; on the contrary, teachers find themselves enjoying it just as much as the students. If the teacher can employ a song with enough resilience to stick in the teenage mind long enough to experience triumph with language structures, learn an aspect of the target culture and/or achieve listening enjoyment, then the teacher will have reached their goal.