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Why you should be using music to teach English as a Second Language

What makes music such a great teaching tool is its universal appeal, connecting all cultures and languages.

Adam Simpson, winner of British Council’s Teaching English Blog Award.

If you’ve landed on this article it says one thing about you: you love innovating in the classroom. You’re not content to just follow the textbook, give hand-outs and bark at your students to quietly do their work.

You’re curious about how you should be using music to teach English as a second language . You’re curious to know what benefits it might bring to your students and how it can help them make deeper connections with the English language beyond just working from a textbook.

For that we applaud you!

Keep reading to see how music can transform your students’ learning experience.

(PS: We’ve even linked to some FREE music resources for young learners that you can get your hands-on).

So, let’s dive right into the benefits of using music in your ESL classroom.

Music Represents Updated Vocabulary and Slang

When using music in the ESL classroom you’re giving your students the opportunity of getting exposed to more “real-world” vocabulary. Even if your students have a basic level, you can find music with simple lyrics and go through them as a class.

If you’re using music with lower levels, make sure you have a copy of the lyrics so they can follow along without getting lost. With higher levels, you can choose songs that are a bit more complex, where the singer may sing faster or sing about a more complicated topic.

Using Music Helps keep Young Learners Motivated

We’ve seen first-hand just how much young learners love singing and dancing in English! However, many teachers fail to see this because they’re using out-of-date, relatively boring nursery rhymes that kids just don’t find entertaining anymore.

However, modern pop songs are usually way too advanced for young learners – so what’s a teacher to do?!

The trick is finding modern, updated music resources that are made specifically with young learners in mind.

To give you an idea of what we mean, we’ve included a video below showcasing one of our Planet Pop stars. All of our songs are written to mirror the popular songs kids are listening to on YouTube.

Music Helps New Vocabulary “Stick”

If you’ve ever learnt a second language yourself, you’ll know the pain of trying to memorize a bunch of new vocabulary.

Pulling out flashcards, repeating it over and over, testing yourself…
Only to constantly forget it!

This isn’t just ineffective, (the older we get the worse our ability to memorize becomes) but it’s also just plain boring.

Whereas, have you ever tried learning the lyrics of a song in a foreign language? One of our team members at ELT Songs studied Dutch about 10 years ago and has forgotten nearly all of it. However, she can still sing the lyrics to a popular Dutch song ‘elke tren wil naar Parijs’ and understand what she’s saying.

Not bad for only having studied Dutch for about 9 months in university nearly 10 years ago.

The lesson: using music to teach English as a second language will help your students actually retain the vocabulary that they’re learning.

Lots of Games can be Played with Music!

Music can be a great help in creating ESL listening activities for kids (and older learners too!) The extra benefit is that they usually don’t take any preparation time, or if they do it’s really not too much.

For instance, imagine if your lesson has finished ten minutes early and your young learners are getting antsy to leave. You can choose an appropriate song, arrange the class chairs in a circle and play a quick game of musical chairs.

Zero prep-time and a lot of fun guaranteed!

Teaching English with Music is Easy with Online Zoom Classes

These days a lot of classes have moved online due to the global pandemic. Many teachers have been forced to adapt their teaching to an online context and they aren’t sure how to make these lessons as engaging as face-to-face lessons.

However, thanks to the screen and audio sharing options of Zoom, you can incorporate music easily into your zoom class.

Check out our article about how to teach kids online with zoom to get some ideas about how to easily incorporate music into an online lesson.

Using songs as conversation starters

One of the biggest joys of using music to teach English as a second language is how easily you can use it as a springboard for conversation.

You can have your students listen to a song, go over the vocabulary and then ask questions about what the song is about.

Let’s take an example.

Imagine your class are all young learners who need to practice body parts. You could play them this video from the ELT Songs library:

And ask them the following questions:

  • What is the girl singing about?
  • What does she say about the boy’s ears?
  • What does she have on her face?

But let’s say your class are older and more advanced. Maybe you have a class of thirteen year olds and you want to expose them to some real-world English and have a discussion.

You could use a song like George Ezra’s “Shotgun” and ask them what they think he means when he says “I’ll be riding shotgun”?

Once you identify the main vocabulary from the song you could open a debate about road-trips and where they would like to visit and why. They could even pair up and plan out their own road-trip that they have to present to the class (and decide who’s going to ride shotgun!)

You can find a lyric version of the video on YouTube and sing it all together as a class at the end.

Ready to start using music to teach English in YOUR Classroom?

If you teach young learners and want to inject some life and dancing into your classroom, then we invite you to sign up for a FREE ELT Songs Account.

You’ll get instant access to 3 full units of our music video resources designed specifically for young ESL learners. We don’t just do music videos – we have grammar and conversation videos also to help build upon your students’ vocabulary.

You can create a free account and you’ll have instant access!

We’ll see you on Planet Pop!

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