Monday, December 03, 2007

Using Music as a Matrix for English or Foreign Language Learning and Recall

Music to Soothe the “Savage” Learner

“Alex” leaned back in his seat, closed his eyes and let the sounds take him. At times he would hum softly. Other times his head would move in a distinctive rhythmic pattern. No question about it, music was his life. It could also be a way to reach him and teach him English like almost nothing else could.

If you find that most of your learners have a high musical tolerance you’re not alone. Not only that, but did you know that learners can be “programmed”, so to speak, to improve their mental function in a classroom using a musical background environment?

Graphic: The main areas of the brain: brain stem, cerebellum and the four lobes of the cerebral hemisphere: frontal lobe, temporal lobe, parietal lobe and the occipital lobe (from R.P. Lehr Jr.,

Types of Music
You probably don’t need me to tell you that all music is not created equal. That being the case, there are both “good” and “bad” types of music that can be employed in an EFL or foreign language teaching and learning setting. First, some “positive” music types useful in lowering learner Affective Filters (Krashen-Terrell, 1983).

Classical – a cornucopia f musical selections by the likes of Brahms, Beethoven, Mozart, et al can be highly effective when used as background music for learners

Instrumentals – with the obvious exception of heavy percussion, extensive trumpeting or marching music, instrumentals can be highly useful in the language learning classroom

Jazz – no matter how much they might pooh-pooh it at first, carefully selected Jazz instrumentals are not only highly effective, but the learners often like them as well The exclamation, “THAT?S jazz?” is a frequent one in some of my classes. Learners often don’t realize the breadth and range of musical genres outside of their normal listening venues

Foreign Language Vocals – another useful musical background venue is playing background music vocals in a language unknown to the learners. Try using Hindi vocals with European learners or Chinese ones with Latin American learners, Portuguese and French vocals can work well with North American, Asian and other language group learners too

Types to Avoid
However, in addition to music types which have proven to be useful, there are those which may tend at times to work against what you are trying to achieve. Some possibly “negative” music types tend to include:

L1 vocal songs – the last thing you want in most cases, is to use music and songs in the learners’ first language. Why? Because they’ll simply code switch into their L1 without any effort at thinking or functioning in English or the foreign language you’re trying to get them to work in

English vocal songs – if you’re using musical background, songs in English, even if you’re teaching English, may at first be disorienting or confusing. You want to use an Affective Filter lowering matrix, not generate a sing-along

Heavy Metal music, Hard Rock music, Trance – while music of these genres maybe pleasant or interesting to some of the learners, it is often not conducive to a positive learning environment. Not necessarily all of it is so, but a generous amount of screening may be called for to get a series of musical selections that are suitable for your purposes. The effort to screen lyrics and music are frequently not worth the hours I have to spend in advance to do it so I just avoid these genres in favor of easier ones to set up

Reggae, Rap, Hip-Hop, etc. – Again, music from these genres may not help to produce the desired classroom effects with using music as a background matrix for English or foreign language learning. This though, may well depend on where you and your learners are

In the next segment of this theme, we’ll consider some useful requisites for selecting music and genres that will promote foreign language acquisition in the English language learning environment. We’ll examine the use of music and its effects and exactly how music influences the brain functions in language learning and acquisition. Watch for "Music, Sound and Brainwave Activity: Using Music for English or Foreign Language Learning" coming soon.

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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