Friday, July 27, 2007

Using Songs as Authentic English Language Texts

In English as a foreign or second language teaching (EFL, ESL), if you ever need to come up with an authentic English text of any kind, i.e., newspaper, magazine, movie clip, etc. that you need to present to the class and you’ve been powerfully influenced by music your whole life you might chose to take the song approach. You'll be okay using a popular song as authentic language text - which it certainly is. I'd go with popular songs, like "Imagine" by John Lennon, which have more appeal. You can get some additional mileage out of the song using cultural aspects as well as some others. Profiling, doing a biography of and discussing John Lennon as an example in this case.

Here are some ways to go about it.

Select and Concept Check the Lexis

Be sure to select at least six to eight key lexis (minimum) from the song. To aid in concept checking you should create a series of short exercises such as:

• a True - False exercise
• a short matching exercise and perhaps
• a fill in the blanks exercise

In each of these exercises you’ll be using the lexis (vocabulary) you've chosen. You might also try to find a few pictures or photos to visually - graphically illustrate both the key lexis and themes or phrases from the song. You can also prepare a re-order exercise using the song lyrics by cutting the lyrics into strips, mixing them up and having the learners re-order the lyrics line strips of the song by listening to it.

Re-Ordering Sequences

Play the song again afterwards to have learners check their re-ordered sequence. Try to have a picture or drawing that represents each of your chosen lexis for you to use to help elicit the key lexis from the learners before they hear the song. For a REAL test of this system (which I regularly use, by the way) is to find and use a song that you think the learners don't know!

You'll get kudos for this one for sure. It’s especially effective when the class is multi-cultural; that is, composed of learners from different countries and diverse language backgrounds. (Russia, Iran, South Korea, Mexico, and so on) Using a snappy but “unknown” song will help to ensure a ample amount of “learning” on the part of your students, in more ways than one.

Finding Unique Songs

So how would you find such songs – easy; just check out songs from other genres, songs sung in other varieties of English and popular songs from past eras aka “oldies but goodies”.

Some suggestions you might consider include:

• country and western
• oldies from the 40’s, 50’s, 60’s and 70’s
• jazz vocals
• soul or rhythm and blues songs (especially from previous eras)
• comedy songs
• Bluegrass songs
• Folk songs
• Ballads

Process Need Not Be Difficult

If you don’t have the time or inclination to do the extra preparation you can just go with the activities I've mentioned for your presentation. The process needn’t be overly difficult at all.
Let me know if you need any further guidance or some actual exercise examples.

I’ll be happy to send you some.

Good luck.

Larry M. Lynch is an Intellectual Development Specialist, ELT Teacher Trainer, expert author, photographer and experienced world traveler who teaches language at a university in Cali, Colombia. He helps language teachers to improve their skills and develop dynamic language classroom teaching techniques. His writing has appeared in Transitions Abroad, South American Explorer, Escape from America, Mexico News and Brazzil magazines, in addition to hundreds of online websites. He is the author of the astonishing new English language teaching system; “The BREAKTHROUGH! English Language Teaching System: Dynamic Techniques & Strategies for Teaching English to Any Learner Anywhere in the World”.

For no-obligation information, questions or comments send an e-mail to: After today your language teaching will never be the same.

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