Effects of Music on Second Language Acquisition
Teachers often use music in the classroom to help students acquire their second language. Music can help students grasp what they are learning and understand topics and pronunciation through repetition and engagement. It has been studied in classrooms and has been reported as helpful for second language learners in acquiring vocabulary and grammar, improving spelling, and developing all 4 linguistic skills of reading, writing, speaking, and listening.
Singing songs and listening to music is generally an enjoyable experience for anyone, including students in the classroom. Many students will be happy or even excited to listen and sing along with the songs they know over and over again. It can be used as an engagement tool as it relaxes students and lowers the stress over having to learn their second language. While they are more relaxed, music is also proven to make them more focused and therefore more receptive to learning. “Through songs, students are exposed to “authentic” examples of the second language.”
Stephen Krashen, a linguistic theorist who closely follows the methods of nativism, posits the theory of ‘Input’ where he states that new and unfamiliar vocabulary and language structures can be learnt more easily if the meaning or the significance is clearer to the student. This meaning can be shown through extralinguistic support such as realia, visual aids, toys, actions, and, of course, music. Orally-read stories help students acquire unfamiliar vocabulary in a familiar setting. The same can be said about music. Story songs, or stories that are set to music, present pictures, illustrations, and gestures that provide the right kind of extralinguistic support for students to understand and remember new vocabulary.
Music’s use for language acquisition is also supported by the work of Howard Gardner’s multiple intelligences theory, in which exists eight areas of independent intelligence: musical, spatial, logical, linguistic, logical-mathematical, bodily-kinaesthetic, interpersonal, intrapersonal, and naturalist. Gardner argued that traditional education only focuses on promoting a couple of these areas, but in order for students to achieve a well-rounded understanding of a language, teachers should try to bring the focus of a lesson to more areas. He also added that some students may struggle in one or more of the areas, as students learn in different ways, so bringing in musical intelligence and different learning approaches to the classroom may help those students overcome learning issues, especially those who already have musical intelligence.
Music, particularly rhythm, has also been linked to improved rote memorisation. Memorisation of large chunks of new data is clearly a necessary function for language acquisition. Several pieces of research have shown that new information learnt alongside a rhythm or tune results in a better recall, much in the way that children often learn to chant their times tables when first learning maths.
Songs allow vocabulary and grammar to be modelled in context. However, one area of concern that teachers have with using songs in the classroom is the non-standard grammar that many songs use. This can confuse the student, so it is important that educators choose appropriate songs for their students that model mostly the correct language. Some exposure to authentic language use can prove worthwhile, especially in helping students understand native speakers, so this should be considered when choosing songs and music for the classroom.
As the auditory qualities of language within the music are more tangible than semantic ones, a considerable amount of research has been done on the effect of musical training on pitch and duration perception in speech. This means that through consistent musical inclusion in the classroom students have been shown to have better detection and reproduction of lexical tone and pronunciation. The experience of musical classes can be beneficial in a student’s ability to produce unfamiliar and difficult phonemes of a language, and will better understand the language segmentation.
While music and songs have been shown to be beneficial in many areas and language skills, we should always remember to use them in conjunction with other classroom tools. They should be used alongside other methods to have a well-rounded effect on the student’s learning. Always consider the topic of your lessons and how a song can be used along with your set activities or exercises of that lesson. They should boost each other and help the students get that extralinguistic support that they so need. Although it is especially beneficial with younger and lower-level students, music can be brought into any lesson to support learning and can be used as a fun and engaging classroom tool.