Wednesday, November 07, 2007

How to Illustrate Rhythms in Language When Using Music to Enhance English Language Learning

So, you’re back for more of this series, are you? Okay, we’ll continue with how to precisely illustrate the aspect of rhythm in spoken language and connected speech.

Try This
Play the opening rhythm of a song in Spanish, Turkish, Chinese, Arabic or other first language (L1) of your learners. Then play the opening rhythms of a second, then a third song with one of the songs being an English (or other L2) one. Remember now, you don’t want to hear any words or lyrics, only the opening rhythm of the song. Now ask the language learners what language is song number one? Then ask about song number two and finally, song number three? Odds are they’ll have no trouble correctly identifying the language of each song. Why is that? It’s because they, and you, will easily recognize the rhythms that belong to the songs and the languages. You’d never mistake a Salsa song for an British folk ballad, a German or an Arabic one, now would you? You can just bet you wouldn’t. Why so? It’s because of the distinctive rhythms that unmistakably identify each type and genre of song, that’s why.

Photo: Salsa Dancers in Cali, Colombia – the Capitol of Salsa Music

Did You Notice
By the way, did you notice that you (and the learners) could quickly identify the language of the song by hearing ONLY the opening rhythms? That should come as no surprise. We identify music this way all the time. There was, years ago, a TV game show called “Name That Tune” where contestants tried to identify a song by hearing the fewest notes possible from the beginning of the song. Believe it or not, there were people who could correctly identify a song by hearing only the first note or two! It was absolutely amazing! The principle works just as well with the connected speech aspects and rhythms in English and other foreign language learning.

Now you can rest assured that the learners understand the difference between “syllable-stressed” and “accent-stressed” speech and language. Well not technically so, but at least they’ll recognize the difference between the two. English and Spanish are examples of this difference. Which one is which? Ah, YOU tell me!

Finding the Music and Songs You Need
Where oh where can I get the music and song examples that I’ll need to really be effective in using music to enhance my English language learners’ classroom experience? Relax, calm down, chill out – we’ll look at that particular aspect in the next article post of this series.

So, I’ll see you then.

Larry M. Lynch is an English language teaching and learning expert author and university professor in Cali, Colombia. Now YOU too can live your dreams in paradise, find romance, high adventure and get paid while travelling for free. For more information on the lucrative, fascinating field of teaching English as a Foreign Language, get your copy of his no-cost, full multi-media, hypertext-linked pdf ebook, “If You Want to Teach English Abroad, Here’s What You Need to Know” by sending an e-mail to with "free ELT Ebook" in the subject line. Need professional, original content and photos or images for your blog, newsletter, e-zine or website? Want more information, have a comment or special request? E-mail the author for a prompt response.

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