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Peculiarities of teaching vocabulary through listening to english songs (for future school teachers)

К содержанию номера журнала: Вестник КАСУ №2 - 2009

Автор: Осколкова А. А.

Teaching vocabulary is the most essential part in the whole process of language learning and teaching. Without knowing foreign words or foreign vocabulary “items” a person will not be able to obtain four main skills (these are writing, reading, listening and speaking) that he needs in order to have a proper knowledge of any language. Vocabulary is supposed to be defined as all the words, lexis that a person knows, increases and enriches.

Teaching vocabulary through songs is not a new matter in TESL but it has always been actual and widely acknowledged by teachers and their students.

Nowadays songs are available and its supply is inexhaustible. Songs are important and invaluable tools in developing students’ abilities in listening, reading, writing and speaking. Songs alone are not able to teach anyone how to communicate in a foreign language but they can motivate and provoke, inspire and encourage students to communicate and practice their language skills.

A great number of research papers, articles, and reference and resource books have been already written and published by many well-known and professional methodologists, teachers and practitioners. For example, Reeve C. and J. Williamson and Gaudice G.D. All of them researched the very theme and developed their own means and ways how to use songs in a class properly and effectively. Song is a universal tool for teaching a foreign language as every nation has its own songs in their own languages. Songs are sung everywhere. While researching the topic these scientists cannot formulate one universal principle how to use a song for all the students as it is up to a teacher what song he/she will choose and how he/she will present it. One and the same song cannot be presented in the same way for different students. This is the key point that song is just a tool for learning when students and their teacher are responsible for the result of work with this song.

The aim of our master thesis is theoretical and methodical development of methods of using songs in teaching vocabulary.

The object is the process of EFL teaching.

The subject is to develop peculiarities of teaching vocabulary through English songs.

The objectives are:

- to analyze traditional and alternative ways of teaching vocabulary;

- to find out the students’ main difficulties with vocabulary perception through songs and enumerate the ways of their overcoming;

- to compare the main types of work with songs and develop some recommendations;

- to run an experiment and analyze its results.

Upbeat, inspiring, melodic original songs happen to be thematic, grammar-specific, and vocabulary rich, with accompanying lessons designed to complement and reinforce the teaching of English in college, university, and bilingual elementary classrooms. Presenting the target language through melodic music expands yet further the learning modality options you are providing for your students (aural-musical) - variety is the spice of life. Probably nothing imprints linguistic patterns better than words wedded to memorable music. Students will retain grammatical structures and vocabulary for the rest of their lives. Students' naturally high interest in good music makes them 100% on-task during the lesson The accompanying learning activities take full advantage of the song's thematic and grammatical aspects; all exercises which are challenging and "classroom tested" support what one is teaching and keep the students fully engaged. Recent studies show a correlation between music in the classroom and improved academic performance (and that was passive; this is active!) Creative culminating activities for proficiency and fun take learning the language to the next level: 1) storyboards, 2) dramatic interpretations, 3) karaoke performances (instrumental tracks 7-12 provided). Songs and activities can be used either to introduce new material, or re-enforce previously learned material.

Time spent in class might actually stimulate more learning-per-minute than standard approaches, not only because they are so tightly designed, but because all the multiple intelligences are addressed. The songs are directed from every possible pedagogical angle and presented to the students with activities that stimulate critical thinking and are also fun! Activities can be done in cooperative learning groups, thus promoting classroom cohesion. These combined skills help teach English to students through music - which they love.

The original songs in English hold the three indispensable keys to learning English through music the fun way:

1) The songs themselves are upbeat, melodic, and catchy, and appeal to people of all ages;

2) The lyrics are clever and literary, telling a story or painting a picture, yet at the same time emphasizing themes or grammar that are always taught together, or in sequence, in formal English texts and courses. Many songs are perfect listen to, at precise times during a beginning English course, to reinforce learning.

3) Comprehensive and challenging exercises which allow the student to demonstrate and develop understanding of the grammar concepts and vocabulary found in the song. Once this translation work is done, simple questions and answers are provided ("yes" or "no" type), to be done orally with a partner or written if you are working alone, followed by every conceivable exercise that takes advantage of the teaching points in the song. The analyses of the recent EFL literature on the problem in question (Graham, Murphey, Saricoban, Eken, Jedynak, etc.) makes it possible to suggest that among the methodological purposes with which music, songs and chants are used in class, it is possible to rank the following:

- Practicing the rhythm, stress and the intonation patterns of the English language.

- Teaching vocabulary, especially in the vocabulary reinforcement stage.

- Teaching grammar. In this respect songs are especially favored by teachers while investigating the use of the tenses.

- Teaching speaking. For this purpose, songs and mainly their lyrics are employed as a stimulus [1] for class discussions.

- Teaching listening comprehension.

- Developing writing skills. For this purpose a song can be used in a variety of ways - for example, speculating what could happen to the characters in the future, writing a letter to the main character, etc.

Though the list of publications devoted to the topic in question continues to grow yearly, and though no one would doubt the potential of the songs and music as a springboard to students' creativity, there are still several aspects in which music is overlooked in the classroom. First, songs, especially chants, are very popular with teachers whose target audience are young learners. Secondly, though a song is an inseparable unity of the music and its lyrics, it is the musical part that is constantly overlooked and ignored. Songs can be effectively used in an intermediate class for the purpose of teaching speaking to prospective EFL teachers. The main reasons for this are as follows:

- As a cultural phenomenon, songs can introduce students to the musical and cultural patterns typical for the target language [2] community.

- Songs belong to a synthetic genre, which includes both lyrics, and music and these two constituents may be used as a good incentive for speaking English in class.

- Songs can effectively contribute to the students' development of esthetic appreciation since they may help them shape their artistic tastes in formulating a critical evaluation of the songs they listen to and discuss.

- Prospective teachers of English, in order to be able to effectively use songs in their own teaching in future, should themselves be exposed to them in the context of a teacher training program.

The question that any teacher who is willing to use music in class has to wrestle with is 'what kind of music and what particular songs should we choose from the "ocean" of today's music?' A quick glance at the musical picture of modern society shows how picturesque and colorful it is. While using musical material in class for the first time, a teacher should choose the songs he/she knows and loves him/herself. This enables him/her to be more emotionally persuasive as he/she exposes his/her students to the songs and their interpretation of them. Later, while encouraging students to choose the songs for discussions, he/she should ask them to follow the following criteria (though they are not free from being subjective):

- The song must be an example of a particular musical trend.

- There shouldn't be any form of violence in it.

- The song should contain a certain artistic image.

The songs by the "Beatles," though composed more than thirty years ago, generally appeal to the tastes of 19-25 year-olds since they deal with such eternal problems as love, commitment and parents/children relationships. One must also not forget to mention that the words are very intelligible and easy to distinguish. They are deservedly considered to be classics of pop music, from which different musical trends sprang up.

The main purpose of using songs in an advanced class should be for the development of the students’ speaking skills and the promotion of their cultural competence. The model of speech development through songs was worked out with the tasks mentioned above in mind. This model should be comprised of three stages - preparatory, forming and developing - each of them having its own logistics (Natalia Orlova, University of Jan Evangelist Purkyne, Czech Republic):

• Preparatory

- Introductory talk: Micro-texts about different musical trends

- Activities aimed at vocabulary development

• Forming

- Listening and discussing songs; 7-step sequence:

1. Pre-listening tasks.

2. Listening to the song.

3. Answers to the pre-listening tasks.

4. Post-listening tasks.

5. Presentation of the text of the song. (Optional)

6. Second listening.

7. Song discussion.

• Developing

- Discussing different problematic issues and music genres

- Tasks for using songs in English language teaching.

The aim of the first stage is to form lexical subskills of monological speech and to develop the speech content. For this purpose students are encouraged to read texts, containing information about different musical trends as well as musical reviews about various groups and singers, to fulfill pre-reading and post-reading tasks. As an example may serve the pre-reading and post reading activities that follow.

- Rank the musical trends you like most in the decreasing order. Compare your list with the one by your fellow student.

- Read the beginning of the essays on different musical trends and match them with the trend they refer to: Classical, Country, Electronica, Folk, Hip Hop/Rap, Pop, Rhythm and Blues.

It is at this stage that students do the activities aimed at vocabulary development, which also create the basis for song interpretation at the next forming stages. Below follow some examples of activities of this type.

- Match the words in Column A with their definitions in Column B.

a. Accompaniment

1. Simple tune, melody or song.

b. Song cycle

2. Vocal or instrumental part that compliments melody.

c. Motif/motive

3. A group of related songs unified by theme or lyric.

d. Ballad

4. Immediately memorable and appealing musical catch phrase.

e. Bridge

5. Individual song on an album;(vb) to record a song.

f. Air

6. A short melodic pattern or musical idea that runs throughout a piece.

g. Oldie

7. Segment of pop song that connects verses and chorus.

h. Bubblegum

8. A song that tells a story; In popular music, usually a love song in a slow tempo.

i. A cappella

9. Pop song from early ears.

j. Solo

10. (Slang) light, trendy, innocuous pop music.

k. Cut

11. Singing without instrumental backing.

l. Hook

12. Single instrumental lead played over rhythm section usually in absence of vocals.

m. Lip-sync (vb)

13. To mouth lyrics in sync with recording during performance.

• Music is an extremely powerful art. It may evoke a strong emotional response. Listen to the song (choose any song you like ) and determine the mood the song evokes as well as the feelings it arouses. Useful vocabulary: quiet, peaceful, active, buoyant, calm, restful, happy, dreamy, mysterious, self-pitying, intimate, sad, somber, festive, joyful, etc.)

- Music gives rise to our imagination and feelings. Bring to class several instrumental pieces of different genres of your preference. Play them and compare the associations caused by them among your fellow students.

• Describe the voices of the singers you know, using the words given below.

- Deep, gentle, soft, fresh, clear, lyrical, expressive, nasal, guttural, hollow, resonant, gruff, harsh, raucous, husky, mellow, metallic properly/not properly placed.

• It is possible to define the rhythm of a song in different words. Study the list of adjectives below and use them in the sentences of your own while speaking about the songs you prefer to listen to.

- Assured, distinct, crisp, regular, irregular, dense, scattered, impatient, regular dance, abrupt, jaunty.

- Models:

a) The song attracts me by its regular and assured rhythm.

b) I like the regular dance rhythm of this song, etc.

• Bring in class several songs you like and describe their vocal part with the help of the useful vocabulary given below.

- Useful vocabulary: to sing lead; to be on lead; to do lead; to sing backup; to be on backup; to do backup; to do backup vocals; to sing harmony.

• Fill in the grid with the phrases that follow.

Manner of singing and playing

Stage presentation

Establishing rapport with the audience.


• Introduce a fresh style of melody, of harmony, of rhythm; retain originality; have an outburst of new sounds; present an entertaining stage act; satisfy audience tastes; tend to be detached while singing; meet the tastes of the audience; put emphasis on vocal expression; shift emphasis from drums to bass; establish contact with the audience; be backed by drums; achieve variety of sounds; supply accompaniment; borrow old tunes; use familiar verses in new contexts; present an unusual interplay between vocal and guitar; echo one another; sing with high-pitched whoops.

The second stage is aimed at formation of speaking skills while interpreting and discussing the songs under consideration, with the 7-step sequence being used. As an example, let us consider the tasks fulfilled while working with the song "Yesterday." Pre-listening questions: Who is on lead vocal and what instruments accompany him?

Post-listening questions:

- What mood do the melody and lyrics evoke?

- What is it about the song that makes it sound like it comes from another time?

- What instruments contribute to this effect?

- Can you describe the person speaking?

- What kind of love is depicted in the song?

- Is the love story told emotionally or with a tinge of detachment?

- How can you describe McCartney's manner of singing?

Listen to the song again. How would you describe the interaction between the singer's voice and instruments in the song?

- What differences in the manner of singing and in the song over all can you point out? Which singer is more dramatic?

- Choose a song you like most of all. Design your own activities for the 7-step sequence (see above). Bring the song in class and encourage your fellow students to interpret and discuss its lyrics, musical part and the artistic image created in the song.

The aim of the third stage of the presented model is to further develop speaking skills on the topic “Music” and to prepare students for using songs in the EFL classroom. At this stage students are involved in less teacher controlled activities, such as: discussions, simulations and role-plays. The examples of the questions for discussion as well as simulations might serve the following:

• Is it difficult to be an attentive and appreciative listener?

• What should a person need to know?

• Why do young people gravitate towards new rhythms?

• Should a teacher know and understand pop music in order to be able to discuss it with the pupils; helping them to differentiate between original and well-written music from second-rated ones of newly formed groups?

The task "Support or challenge the following statements" also serves the purpose of preparing students for discussion about the modern perspectives of development in music:

• Nowadays, young people prefer only that kind of music to which they can dance or just talk to friends. It should be simple, cheerful and up-to-date.

• The pop music rhythms may be new and vigorous, but they lack variety: it's the same monotonous beat again and again. The tunes are mostly primitive and as easily forgotten as picked up.

• Today’s pop music is at a crossroads. New and interesting composers and soloists have appeared. Established styles have been replaced by new ones. Some groups are trying to achieve alloys of different styles.

The concluding lesson on the topic may go in the form of a panel talk where students present their points of view on trends in modern music, supporting their presentation by musical pieces related to the discussion. Since the ability of using the songs and music in class is an important constituent of the would-be teachers preparation, the third phase should also include training, so that prospective teachers of English could have the knowledge and skill to do the following:

• Be able to select interesting texts on the topic music.

• Be able to analyze the didactic potential of a particular song.

• Know how to teach a song to the pupils.

• Critically evaluate songs with the purpose of including them in class activities.

To develop the skills mentioned above, it is possible to encourage the students to fulfill the following tasks:

• Study the song lyrics by your favorite group. Select those ones you believe would be effective for language teaching while discussing the topics “Friendship”, “Parents and Children”, “Love in Song lyrics and Poetry”.

• Collect interesting stories about music and musicians. Explain why these texts may be effective tools for language instruction; work out pre-reading and post-reading activities.

• Select five pieces of music that belong to different musical genres; etc.

• Listen to the song and think of the questions you could ask your pupils to help them understand the song.

• Give a two-minute introductory talk on the importance of being a careful listener.


1. Eken, D. K. (1996). Ideas for using songs in the English language classroom. English Teaching Forum, 34(1), 46-47.

2. Griffee, D. T. (1990). Hey baby! Teaching short and slow songs in the ESL classroom. TESL Reporter, 23(4), 3-8.

3. Lems, K. (1996). For a song: Music across the ESL curriculum. Paper presented at the annual convention of Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages, Chicago. (ED No. 396 524)

4. Maess, B., & Koelsch, S. (2001). Musical syntax is processed in Broca's area: An MEG study. Nature Neuroscience 4, 540-545.

5. Moi, C. M. (1994). Rock poetry: The literature our students listen to. Journal of the Imagination in Language Learning, 2, 56-59.

6. Moriya, Y. (1988). English speech rhythm and its teaching to non-native speakers. Paper presented at the annual convention of Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages. Chicago. (ED No. 303 033)

7. Murphey, T. (1992).The discourse of pop songs. TESOL Quarterly, 26(4), 770-774.

8. Poppleton, C. (2001). Music to our ears. American Language Review, 5(1), 23-26.

9. Puhl, C. A. (1989). Up from under: English training on the mines. (Report on 1988 research project conducted at Gold Field Training Services). Stellenbosch, South Africa: University of Stellenbosch. (ED No. 335 864)

10. Rauscher, F. H., Shaw, G., & Ky, K. (1993). Mozart and spatial reasoning.

[1] In physiology, a stimulus (plural stimuli) is a detectable change in the internal or external environment; something that causes activity.

[2] A target language is a language that is the focus or end result of certain processes.

К содержанию номера журнала: Вестник КАСУ №2 - 2009

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