Monday, November 05, 2007

Using Music to Enhance English as a Second or Foreign Language Learning

In a previous article post, I talked about using music, from Mozart to enhance learning. Now, in response to reader comments, I’d like to expound on what areas music helps, and how it could be used with elementary school age children who are English Language Learners. When it comes to using music in TESOL, English as a foreign or second language teaching and learning, there are several viable options that can be applied depending on the purpose of the lesson, the facilities you may have available, your learners’ ages and profiles. Let’s briefly look at the rationale behind using music as a motivational tool in addition to some useful possibilities.

Photo: EFL Teacher Stephen Bradbury “Jazz Toots” in his off hours

Background Music
Have you noticed that music is often used to control or affect our moods while we are in a variety of public and commercial locations? Pay attention next time you’re at the mall, in a medical or dental practicioner’s office or clinic, in a restaurant or eatery, walking through strip malls or shopping districts, in an executive waiting area, in many commercial office settings, in elevators (the origin of elevator music) even “on hold” with a utility service, 800 number or the like. Likely you’ll find yourself almost inadvertently listening to music. This is definitely no accident. Why? Because a multitude of studies has shown that the public can generally be “controlled” or at least influenced to some extent by listening to certain types of music under certain types of circumstances. The company, Muzak, made millions based on this concept.

How Does Music Make You Feel?
Think for a few moments, about how different types music make you feel. When you hear classical, for example, how do you feel? Excited, anxious or relaxed and calmed? How about Rock music? Do you have the urge to relax then? Probably not. When you listen to smooth Jazz, do you “mellow out”? You do, huh? Guess why that’s what’s playing in medical and dental facility waiting areas. Instrumentals frequently have a soothing effect on most listeners too. If you’re in a “fast food” type of eatery that relies on volume sales for profits, you can almost bet that if they play music it will be quick-tempo (“Hurry-up”) beat to subtly aid you in finishing your food in short order. On the other side of the ledger, a strong, throbbing rhythmic beat that drives you to motion and action is the forte of nightclubs and discos worldwide. The louder the music beats (to help in overwhelming competing thoughts and feeling), the more bass and entrancing, the better.

In the Language Learning Classroom
What is it we’d like to convey using music in the English language learning classroom? According to research, one critical purpose of music is to aid in lowering the Affective Filter of language learners. (Krashen-Terrell, 1983) By lowering the learners’ Affective Filter we can actually:

• Encourage input, that is, improve the ease with which new language elements and information are learned or acquired

• Improve motivation and positive self-image

Given two learners with the exact same input or lesson, for instance, the one with the lower affective filter will acquire or learn more according to the Affective Filter Hypothesis mentioned previously. This strongly implies that by exercising some control over the learners’ classroom environment, we can in effect, help them to learn more and learn better.
This can be especially true with young learners. The how and why of this fact are truly fascinating.

In my next article post, we’ll continue with ways music can be employed in the English language learning classroom, useful activities in EFL or with English language learners. What kinds and genres of music might prove to be helpful and some free (I’ll bet your budget’s tight) sources for music to use in your class room with your language learners, regardless of the ages or profiles.

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 for your blog, newsletter, e-zine or website? Want more information, have a comment or special request? Contact the author for a prompt response.

1 comment:

Suzanne G. said...

I am a music teacher who learned German via folksongs when I was in Middle School. When I went to Germany years later I would sing with new friends and they were amazed at my knowledge of their music. The songs were also the bits of grammar that I retained as well as the vocabulary etc.

There are thousands of American and English folksongs and games that are amazing and could help your practice. The verbs involve movement, the phrasing is mimicked in changes of movement, and they are just plain fun.

What a wonderful project you have. What music are you using?